Likely Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s likening of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler has TNH’s Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and Agora debate rival Dan Georgakas knocking heads over it.
Dino, you’ve made no secret of your antipathy to the prospect of Hillary Rodham Clinton as President of the United States. What about her speech at a fundraiser in which she said Putin’s actions in the Crimea were “reminiscent” of Hitler’s aggressive claim that the German-speakers in Czechoslovakia were part of the new Reich? Clinton added that Russian Leader Vladimir Putin was trying to re-Sovietize the nations on Russia’s periphery.
The Hitler comparison is strained. Russian troops are in Crimea under an agreement with Ukraine that also recognizes the Crimean port of Sevastopol as the home base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea, in fact, has been Russian for centuries and only became attached to Ukraine by an administrative action by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954.
Hillary’s declaration ignores the fact that a significant portion of the “democratic forces” now in control of Ukraine are a cluster of heavily armed, neo-Nazi parties referred to as the Right Sector.
These organizations are virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Russian, anti-immigrant, and even anti-EU. Embrace of such extremists is “reminiscent” of the decision by Zbigniew Brzezinski during the Carter years to arm Islamic fanatics such as Osama bin Laden as a means of expelling the Russians from Afghanistan.
Putin’s proposed economic arrangements with neighboring states are far less binding than EU regulations and more like the NAFTA agreement between Canada, and Mexico, and the United States.
From the Russian perspective, it is the U.S. that is acting aggressively in the Ukraine. The U.S. State Department currently funds 65 programs in Ukraine. The new Ukrainian government, in turn, has hired 100 American mercenaries from Academi, the renamed Blackwater Group that has been the State Department’s biggest private security contractor.
Various American politicians have suggested Ukraine should become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To propose that any Russian leader would allow the present headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet to become a NATO port of call is playing with fire.
A number of libertarian Republicans have noted that NATO, which began as a defense alliance against Soviet expansion in Europe has become an aggressive alliance intervening in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They also note that Ukraine in NATO would mean any attack on Ukraine would mandate an American intervention.
Ukraine is an economic basket case in the Greek category with 18% unemployment and chronic corruption in all parties. At least a billion dollars is needed for just a modest recovery.
Even then, Russia would still be providing nearly 100% of Ukraine’s oil and gas, meaning it can turn the lights off whenever it wishes. Nor are European sanctions are likely to be rigorous as Russia provides Europe with 40% of its oil and gas.
Given these realities, James Collins, former American Ambassador to Russia under Bill Clinton has concluded that Hillary’s speech “simply resulted in inflaming Russian public opinion” against the United States.
Putin, to be sure, is not a nice fellow and hostility to Russia in some nearby states is real. America’s attempts to take advantage of these factors via schemes aimed at regime change and nation building have mired us in politically unwinnable wars.
Rather than questioning these strategies, Hillary’s intemperate comments were mainly designed to show she is “tough” on foreign policy, her supposed area of expertise. She also seems to be alerting voters to the vigorous anti-Russian policies she would adopt if elected.
Although she was Secretary of State from 2009 to early 2013, Hillary has been unable to offer the public a reasonable analysis of the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, she does not seem to grasp how weary Americans have become of perpetual war and of being told of the need for fiscal austerity at home when billions of dollars are readily available for subsidies abroad.
Dan, ironically, this may be one of the rare times when I defend Hillary Clinton, as I did in my column last week (Is Hillary Clinton the New Iron Lady? Mar. 14). I defend her neither because I take any pleasure in the prospect of war – now or ever – nor because I think U.S. foreign policy is beyond reproach. Far from it, in fact.
In terms of dealing with Russia and any other nuclear power, however, I am considerably less nuanced than I am about most other issues. Moral equivalences aside and at the risk of oversimplification, we are the good guys, and the Russians are the bad guys. Period. I don’t mean the Russian people, or many of the Russian leaders – but I mean Putin and his ilk.
And maybe we have him all wrong – maybe he’s just misunderstood. Doesn’t matter – we can’t afford to miscalculate. We have to err on the side of treating him like a bad guy.
Of course Putin wouldn’t want the Ukraine to join NATO – that makes complete sense. It also makes complete sense that what he wants is most often diametrically opposed to what is in our nation’s best interests. In fact, we should be striving to achieve precisely what Putin doesn’t want.
Your points about the neo-Nazi factions in the Ukraine are well-taken. Again, it doesn’t matter. They’re small potatoes compared to Putin – and right now our aim ought to be to ensure that Putin understands his role in the world.
He was part of the Bad Guys team. He lost. He doesn’t get to play superpower anymore. He can help his country prosper, modestly, as a high-tier second-level non-superpower, and as long as he stays fenced inside his own yard.
As much as the post-2006 neocons labor to distance themselves from George W. Bush’s “I looked into Vladimir’s eyes and saw a window to his soul” comments – and as much as the Bush-bashers thrive on using that as fodder to enhance their “Bush is a moron” mantra – maybe Bush did see something good in Putin that the rest of us laypersons cannot. Again – it doesn’t matter.
Putin was head of the KGB of the Soviet Union, and now he’s the head of Russia, which may be post-Soviet in name, but not necessarily in denouncing expansionism, and certainly not in terms of a diminished nuclear arsenal.
Accordingly, to me Putin is in jail. If he’s a model prisoner, good for him – but under no circumstances should he be let out on parole. He’s another “Willie Horton” in the making if ever there was one.
Even more often than I blast Hillary Clinton, I sing the praises of Newt Gingrich (who should be President right now). As usual, Gingrich’s comments were the wisest of all at the annual CPAC conference.
He said the United States should export as much energy as possible to Europe and tell Putin that we will bankrupt him if he doesn’t comply. “A poverty-stricken Putin is not a dangerous Putin,” said Newt.
As for Hillary, I’ll back her on this one. Good for her. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
One final thought, Dan, to consider: if we really, really wanted to, we, the United States of America, could have taken over the entire world when we were the sole possessors of the atomic nuclear bomb – right after we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and before the Soviets or anyone else go their hands on nukes. But we didn’t. And I’m glad we didn’t. That’s not what we’re about, and I’m proud to be an American because of it.
We are the only world power in history to have had the opportunity to control the entire planet, but we said “no thank you.” Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone else would have opted for world domination – it just means we are the only ones ever to have been put to the test.
Dan, I think I know what you’d say if I asked you: in that situation, what would Hitler have done? But instead, I ask you: what would Putin have done?
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?