Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Neoliberalism’s War Against the Radical Imagination. By Henry Giroux.

Neoliberalism’s War Against the Radical Imagination. By Henry Giroux. Tikkun, February 11, 2014.

Good Riddance to Sykes-Picot. By Selim Can Sazak.

Good Riddance to Sykes-Picot. By Selim Can Sazak. The National Interest, February 12, 2014.

Secretary ScarJo. by Bret Stephens.

Secretary ScarJo. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2014.

Demonizing Israel; Demonizing ScarJo. By Jonathan S. Tobin. NJBR, January 28, 2014. With related articles and video.


Last month the Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic blew himself up as he tried to open an old booby-trapped embassy safe. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered a cache of unregistered weapons in violation of international law. Surprise.
Then the real shocker: After prevaricating for a couple of weeks, the Palestinian government apologized to the Czechs and promised, according to news accounts, “to take measures to prevent such incidents in the future.”
As far as I know, this is only the second time the Palestinians have officially apologized for anything, ever. The first time, in 1999, Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary Clinton was there. Palestinian officialdom mumbled its regrets.
In other words, no apology for the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. No apology for the 1973 murder of Cleo Noel, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, and his deputy, George Moore. No apology for the 1974 massacre of 25 Israelis, including 22 schoolchildren, in Ma’alot. No apology for the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, where 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed.
And so on and on—straight to the present. In December, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the Coastal Road attack, as “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader.” Dalal Mughrabi, the Palestinian woman who led the attack itself, had a square named after her in 2011. In August, Mr. Abbas gave a hero’s welcome to Palestinian murderers released from Israeli jails as a goodwill gesture. And Yasser Arafat, who personally ordered the killing of Noel and Moore, is the Palestinian patron saint.
I mention all this as background to two related recent debates. Late last month Scarlett Johansson resigned her role as an Oxfam “Global Ambassador” after the antipoverty group condemned the actress for becoming a pitchwoman for the Israeli company  SodaStream. Oxfam wants to boycott Israeli goods made—as SodaStream’s are—inside the West Bank; Ms. Johansson disagrees, citing “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement.”
The second debate followed rambling comments on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from John Kerry at this month’s Munich Security Conference. Israel, he warned, faced a parade of horribles if talks failed. “For Israel there's an increasing delegitimization campaign that’s been building up,” he said. “People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.”
So here is the secretary of state talking about the effort to boycott Israel not as an affront to the United States and an outrage to decency but as a tide he is powerless to stop and that anyway should get Israel to change its stiff-necked ways. A Secretary of State Johansson would have shown more courage and presence of mind than that.
But Mr. Kerry’s failure goes deeper. How is it that Mr. Abbas’s glorification of terrorists living and dead earns no rebuke from Mr. Kerry, nor apparently any doubts about the sincerity of Palestinian intentions? Why is it that only Israel faces the prospect of a boycott? When was the last time the U.S., much less the Europeans, threatened to impose penalties on Palestinians for diplomatic or moral misbehavior?
In 2011 the Palestinians defied the U.S. by making a bid for statehood at the U.N.; then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice warned there would be “adverse negative consequences” for the Palestinians. Of course there were none, and the administration fought behind the scenes to make sure there wouldn’t be any. Type the words “Kerry condemns Abbas” or “Kerry condemns Palestinians” into a Web search and you’ll get that rare Google event: “No results found.”
No wonder one Israeli government minister after another has taken to calling the secretary “insufferable,” “messianic” and “obsessive”—and that’s just what they say in public. The State Department has reacted indignantly to these gibes, but this is coming from the administration that likes to speak of the virtues of candor between friends. Its idea of candor is all one-way and all one-sided.
This is a bad basis for peace. If one expects nothing of Palestinians then they will be forgiven for everything. If one expects everything of Israel then it will be forgiven for nothing, putting the country to a perpetual moral test it will always somehow fail and that can only energize the boycott enthusiasts. It all but goes without saying that the ultimate objective of the BDS movement isn’t to “end the occupation” but to end the Jewish state. Anyone who joins that movement, or flirts with it, is furthering the objective, wittingly or not. One useful function of an American diplomat is to warn a group like Oxfam that it is playing with moral fire.
Instead, the job was left to Ms. Johansson. How wonderfully commendable. “One gorgeous actress with courage makes a majority,” said Andrew Jackson—or something like that. We could do worse with such a person at State.

Israel’s Big Question. By Thomas L. Friedman.

Israel’s Big Question. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, February 11, 2014.

Israel May Pay for Tolerance It Shows to Killers. By Alan Howe.

Israel may pay for tolerance it shows to killers. By Alan Howe. Herald Sun, February 10, 2014.

Banking While Russian. By Masha Gessen.

Banking While Russian. By Masha Gessen. New York Times, February 11, 2014.

Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, February 11, 2014.

Presbyterian Church group: Zionism is the problem. By Lazar Berman. The Times of Israel, February 11, 2014.


In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.
As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.
As a work of political science or history, Zionism Unsettled is unworthy of serious discussion. Its argument rests on the prejudiced assumption that the Jews are the one people on earth that are unworthy of self-determination or the same rights to a homeland as any other on the planet. It smears those who sought to create the Jewish homeland and whitewashes those who have waged war and engaged in terrorism to destroy it. Ignoring history and the reality of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice in the Arab and Muslim world, it claims Jewish life would thrive in the region if there were no Israel. If that absurd assertion were not enough to strip it of even a vestige of credibility, it goes so far as to claim that the tiny, intimidated remnant of Jewish life in an Iran ruled by a vicious anti-Semitic regime is a model of coexistence.
With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it sees only black and white. In Zionism Unsettled, the Jews have no right to Israel and no right to defend themselves. On the other hand, it rationalizes and even justifies violence against Israel.
But the argument goes further than anti-Zionism. The pamphlet actually criticizes the Catholic Church for its historic efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people, saying the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate that rejected the Deicide myth against the Jews “raises as many questions as it answers.”
Unlike past controversies in which Jewish groups sought to bridge the divide between the two communities, the distribution of a publication that is driven by sheer hatred and a determination to see Israel destroyed requires a more forthright response. The response to this screed should be unequivocal. Any Presbyterian Church USA that chooses to distribute it is not merely offending supporters of Israel. It is endorsing hate speech and seeking to spread a doctrine that seeks Israel’s destruction and views Jews who do not reject Zionism as guilty of complicity in the “crimes” of the Jewish state. With this publication, the PCUSA has crossed a line that divides people of good will from those who promote racism or anti-Semitism. The many decent members of congregations affiliated with the PCUSA can no longer stand by mutely while the good name of their church is sullied in this manner. They must either actively reject this ugly publication or forever be tainted by association with the vile hatred to which their leadership has committed them.


“Zionism Unsettled” praises Jews who speak out against Zionism, and claims that a growing wave of Jewish criticism is underway: “Contemporary voices are breaking the taboos that have stigmatized and punished critical examination of Zionism and its consequences.”
To do so, the report argues, these brave Jews, including Peter Beinart, Ilan Pappe, and Philip Weiss, must withstand a concerted effort to silence them from the 51 member groups associated with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who are “committed to the suppression of any criticism of Israel in the mainstream American media, in American civil society, and even within their own organizations.”
“Zionism Unsettled” strives to paint Zionism as an ideology foisted initially upon an unsupportive Jewish public, and increasingly outside of the authentic Jewish mainstream today. Most Jews, it claims, reject Zionism with their feet, choosing to live outside of Israel. Were it not for Zionism, Jewish life would be thriving across the Middle East. One graphic presents Jewish life in Iran as “alive and well,” a model of ancient coexistence shattered by the intrusion of Zionism into the region.
It blames the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands as “blowback” from the “perceived injustice of the enforced partition of Palestine, the creation of a Jewish state, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-48, and the Sinai War of 1956.”
Zionism has done far worse to Palestinians, according to the study guide. It accuses Israel of intentionally depopulating Palestinian villages in 1948, a process that continues to this day. “Now, 65 years later, the Zionist quest for demographic control of the land in still underway – not only in the occupied territories, but within Israel itself. State planners pursue the goal of ensuring a ‘contiguous Jewish presence’ in every area within Israel.”
Moreover, the book argues, Israel is entirely uninterested in peace, and does not negotiate in good faith. “It is hard to find any evidence,” the authors write, “that recent Israeli governments have any intention of negotiating a just peace with Palestinians.”
In “Zionism Unsettled,” Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, and other anti-Zionist authors are treated as authoritative, with no critical examination of their positions. The chapter, “A Palestinian Muslim Experience with Zionism,” features several pages on Mustafa Abu Sway of Al-Quds University’s argument that while the Quran is inclusive and peaceful, Zionism is inherently racist.
The authors implicitly compare the Palestinian treatment at the hands of Israel to the Nazi treatment of Jews in World War II. After a paragraph on Abu Sway denouncing the Holocaust in speeches at Yad Vashem, “Zionism Unsettled” continues, “In like manner, the Nakba (catastrophe) that befell the Palestinian people in the late 1940s should never have taken place. The Palestinian story is one of suffering at the hands of the international community, which authorized the division of Palestine in 1947, and at the hands of the Zionists who planned, organized, and implemented systematic ethnic cleansing . . . They slaughtered untold numbers of Palestinian men, women, and children.”
The work could even be seen to justify some violence against Israel. “International law allows resistance to military occupation and dispossession,” reads one of the discussion questions. “What kinds of Palestinian resistance to Jewish expansionism and oppression do you feel are justified?”
In fact, apart from one brief timeline mention of a suicide bombing, Palestinian terrorism is absent from the book. The only group labelled ‘terrorist’ by the authors is a Jewish one, the Irgun.
“Zionism Unsettled” trips over itself at times. It criticizes Israel for ignoring UN resolutions it should accept as authoritative, then decries the UN for giving the Jews a “disproportionate share of territory” in the 1947 partition plan.
. . . .

Identifying with the “powerless” against the “chosen”
Why would an American church take such firm positions on a conflict half the world away, and why has it accepted the Palestinian narrative so completely?
In an email interview with The Times of Israel, Christian-Jewish relations scholar Murray Watson identified three reasons behind positions taken by mainline Protestant churches against Israel.
The first, he said, is “a deep rootedness in liberation theology, a stream of theological thinking and analysis that emerged from Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Central to liberation theology is the Biblical assertion that God seeks freedom and justice for all His people, and is actively on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the powerless and the marginalized — and, conversely, against those who oppress His people and deprive them of their legitimate rights.”
For many Western Christians, continued Murray, co-founder of the Centre for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Learning at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, Palestinians are seen as the poor, the weak, the oppressed, while Israel is seen as the powerful, oppressive force. “Therefore, the Palestinian narrative deserves to be given a privileged place in theological analysis, since God is ‘on their side.’”
The second reason, said Watson, is that many Western Protestant churches either have Palestinian counterpart churches, or have a formal form of affiliation with Palestinian Christian churches. “Sometimes this results in a very uncritical acceptance of anything that any Palestinian Christian group proposes.”
The final reason lies in a Christian misinterpretation of the Jewish idea of “chosenness.”
“To a generation that has grown up with the idea of radical equality — that all people are fundamentally equal, and certainly equal in terms of God’s love and care, the idea that any particular group could claim to be ‘chosen’ in a way which makes them qualitatively different from others, strikes some Christians as arrogant, as if ‘chosenness’ was to be equated with ‘moral superiority,’” Watson explained. “I have said for a long time that this interpretation of chosenness is actually a Christian caricature, and doesn’t correspond to Jewish thinking or theology, which speaks of that ‘chosenness’ as something of a burden or a responsibility that is borne, often at great expense, for the sake of God’s love.

“The term ‘chosen people’ grates on the ears of some Christians, and so they react against it and, by reacting against it, feel the need to ‘put down’ Jews, whom they perceive to have used ‘chosenness’ to ‘lift themselves up’ above others.”

The Value of Putin. By Victor Davis Hanson.

The Value of Putin. By Victor Davis Hanson. National Review Online, February 11, 2014.


Vladimir Putin has the world’s attention this week. The circumstances will remind everyone that reset with Russia is dead. Its working hypothesis — that it was the George W. Bush administration, not the Putin regime, that had either inadvertently or provocatively offended the other’s sensibilities — was invented before the 2008 election on Obama’s partisan and political considerations, not empirical observation.
Under reset, the incoming Obama administration, more nuanced than the outgoing Bush administration and drawing on more enlightened thinking, would appeal to the better angels of Putin’s Russia. The more complex Obamaites would help enlighten the Putin autocracy to the fact that the U.S. and Russia had common interests in improving free trade. We really both wanted to calm world tensions while discouraging proliferation, combating terrorism, working with the United Nations, quelling international crises, and promoting human rights. Once Russians had been tutored about America’s good intentions, we could undo (“reset”) the damage done by the swaggering braggadocio of the interventionist prior administration. Misunderstanding and ill feelings, not ill intentions and malfeasance, were Russia’s sins.
And what is the result of reset? It is open Russian promotion of the Syria/Hezbollah/Iran axis that was active in Iraq and is now more so in Syria. It is Russian obstruction at the U.N. of most American initiatives. It is another round of strangulation of the former Soviet republics. It is satisfaction that a frustrated United States has been reduced to appeasement instead of taking serious steps to thwart Iranian nuclearization, as Putin eggs Iran on. It is more pressure on Eastern Europeans to look to the East, not to the West. It is humiliation of the European Union over Ukraine. It is more internal oppression of a brutal sort. And it is a gratuitous delight in exposing the Obama administration as sanctimonious and weak, while the U.S. lectures Russia on human rights, as if its tepid moral remonstrations de facto translate into shamed abidance. In sum, what the Obama administration is for, Putin is mostly against.
All that said, there is a value for us in Putin. I don’t mean the strange Pat Buchanan–style admiration for Putin’s creepy reactionary social agenda and his tirades about Western social decadence. Rather, I refer to Putin’s confidence in his unabashedly thuggish means, the brutal fashion in which a modern state so unapologetically embraces the premodern mind to go after its critics, be they journalists or academics, or stifles free debate without worry over Western censure. Putin is a mirror showing more than just what we should not be.
We in the West get into fiery debates over civil union versus gay marriage as the appropriate legal means of recognizing homosexual unions, with all the accompanying charges of insensitivity — without much notice of how the vast majority of gays are treated elsewhere in the world. In contrast, Putin, mostly to global silence, does nothing as his thugs with impunity terrorize gay activists (who mostly demonstrate for basic freedom of speech, not marriage). Miley Cyrus insults our sensibilities and becomes fabulously rich; the Pussy Rioters go to jail.
We in California divert life-saving water to save a baitfish; Putin’s $50 billion Olympics may prove to be an ecological disaster. We worry about global warming; Putin takes a subtropical resort and with enough crooked cash and smoky carbon fuel fabricates sufficient unnatural snow for the Olympics — without calling up Al Gore to see how many Amazon trees he needs to buy to win a carbon-offset exemption. We worry about the victims of WMDs in Syria; Putin worries whether the mass murderer Assad has enough sarin gas to do what he thinks necessary to preserve power. Putin breaks missile agreements; we consult legal dictionaries to ascertain whether he has. We try to convince Putin that our anti-ballistic-missile plan for Eastern Europe is to protect only against Iran. He knows it is. He also knows that we worry whether he knows it is intended only for the Iranian threat. And so he says it isn’t. And, presto, it isn’t.
Americans often talk grandly in melodramatic fashion of “speaking truth to power” — mostly on silly issues about which liberals talk tough to moderates, usually in the faculty lounge or at a Senate hearing, often before sharing cocktails afterward. Putin speaks power to truth — an unpredictable, unapologetic brute force of nature.
Again, what is Putin? He is a constant reminder to the postmodern Western mind that the human condition has not yet evolved beyond the fist. He is a bumper-sticker example of Aristotle’s dictum that it is easy to be moral in your sleep, given that verbiage without power is hardly moral or difficult. He is also a reminder about what is important in the most elemental sense. As we debate former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s remonstrances on oversized Cokes or Michelle Obama’s advocacy of celery sticks, Putin has dogs shot down to spruce up the Olympic grounds. We calibrate to the point of paralysis just how large a carbon footprint the Keystone Pipeline may or may not have; Putin ignores the Arctic tundra to enrich kleptomaniac Russian oligarchs and prop up his dysfunctional state.
Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns — what Obama dismisses as “tough-guy schtick.” Perhaps. But Putin is almost saying, “You have ten times the wealth and military power that I have, but I can neutralize you by my demonic personality alone.” Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport. It reminds us of Stafford Cripps being played by Stalin during World War II. “Make no mistake about it” and “Let me be perfectly clear” lose every time. Obama’s subordinates violate the law by going after the communications of a Fox reporter’s parents; Putin himself threatens to cut off the testicles of a rude journalist.
Putin is a reminder not just of our dark past, where raw force, not morality, adjudicated behavior, but, more worrisome, perhaps of a dark future as well, in which we in the West will continually overthink, hyperagonize, and nuance to death every idea, every issue, and every thought in terror that it might not be 100 percent fair, completely unbiased, absolutely justified. We will do anything to have the good life above all else; Putin prefers the bad life on his own terms.
Putin dares us to enforce an old treaty, to stop his clients using poison gas, or to prevent a lunatic regime from getting nukes. In our fearful hearts, we almost sense that Putin might like us better, or at least show a greater measure of respect, if we were to cut out the sermons and back up what we preach. Putin is the evil hired gun, Jack Wilson (“Prove it!”), in the movie Shane, whose only law is what he believes he can get away with. We are the Hamlet-like sodbusters who one day are ready to pack up and leave, the next terrified lest we really have to. We dream of having Shane stand up to the gunslinger Wilson, but then again, we suspect that so does the psychopathic Wilson himself.
True, Putin hated us for going into Iraq, but not just for going into Iraq. Rather, he despised us for not quickly dealing with the insurgency and then for pulling out abruptly once we did. He felt double-crossed about signing on to U.N. sanctions in Libya, not just because we lied about the nature of those resolutions and then exceeded them, but because we ended up being weak and leaving Libya a mess without order. His problem with us in Syria was not just that we issued a deadline, but that we could not even enforce it. For Putin, being weak is worse than being wrong. Putin’s problem with the Tsarnaev bombing was not that in furor we might send a Hellfire into his Caucasus, but that a Caucasian terrorist would make a mockery of our jurisprudence.
With such a coiled cobra it is always wiser to stay quiet and keep strong than to speak loudly while appearing weak. One does not lecture a Stalin but rather reminds him that you, unlike the pope, do have plenty of divisions.
You see, Putin is the dark side come alive without apology in a self-congratulatory age when he supposedly should not exist. That his economy is unsustainable, that his corruption ruined the promise of a new Russia, that his oppression is nihilistic, that we are mostly right, he usually wrong, bothers him not at all.
If Putin has any utility at all, it is the faint suggestion that even he would prefer — even believe that he himself might be better off — if we were more resolute. Putin is almost Milton’s Satan — as if, in his seductive evil, he yearns for clarity, perhaps even a smackdown, if not just for himself, for us as well. He is not the better man than Obama but, again like Milton’s Satan, the more interesting, if only because he reminds of us of our own limitations.
He ends up existing to warn us in the West of what we are not, and to demonstrate that in a strange sort of way our loud principles without toughness are not much better than his toughness without principles. In that regard, he gives us a valuable look into ourselves — we the hollow men, the stuffed men of dry voices and whispers.
After all, were not the Lotus-eaters nearly as dangerous as the Cyclopes, the nonviolent Eloi almost as pitiful as the savage Morlocks? And is not the triple-talking postmodern man often as empty as the premodern brute?

Sochi and Schadenfreude. By Andrew Cohen.

Sochi and Schadenfreude. By Andrew Cohen. Ottawa Citizen, February 10, 2014.

Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. By Julia Ioffe. NJBR, February 8, 2014. With related articles.


It is open season on Russia. Angered by its contempt for human rights, its rampant corruption, its intimidation of Ukraine and its president-for-life, the West piles on.
The context — or pretext — is the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. There, a carping foreign media revel in unfinished hotels, inadequate venues, empty seats and suffocating security.
Julia Ioffe of The New Republic, a former Moscow correspondent who has written critically of the regime, has one word for the early reviews from Sochi: schadenfreude. The Western media delight in any misfortune that befalls Russia’s Olympics, hoping it all goes bad.
But if there is schadenfreude, it isn’t hard to see why. Our liberal sensibility is offended by a swaggering strongman who picks the wrong friends at home and abroad, jails his enemies and wants to rule forever.
We’re offended by an Olympics that displaces people and despoils the environment. We’re offended by spending some $50 billion on a show. And beyond the real estate play by the Black Sea, we have a catalogue of other grievances: Vladimir Putin’s support for Syria and Iran; his heavy-handedness toward Ukraine and his proposed economic union to rival Europe’s; his offering refuge to whistleblower Edward Snowden.
We are outraged by how Russia treats its gays and lesbians. At a time this issue is all but settled in Europe and North America, we consider Russia’s repressive law antediluvian.
And so we should recoil, for so many reasons. That’s why we talked of boycotting the Olympics. It was a natural if ineffective response to “do something” about something appalling.
The ethical problem for us is that, while we are quick to condemn the Russians, we accept no responsibility for the regime. We didn’t create Vladimir Putin, but he lays bare our own hypocrisy and amnesia.
When it comes to Russia, we forget that the West missed an opportunity to form a partnership with our old enemy after the end of the Cold War. For this failure, we blame the recalcitrant Russians.
To Stephen F. Cohen of New York University, one of the world’s leading Russian scholars, the Americans and their allies are at fault. He thinks that we have missed opportunities to engage the Russians in a way that would have eased their transition from communism and authoritarianism.
In the 1990s, Cohen says, Bill Clinton took an “aggressive triumphalist approach,” which imposed Western economic policies on Russia, moved NATO into Russia’s security zone and broke strategic arms promises.
After Sept. 11, 2001, for example, when Putin provided assistance against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Cohen calls the treaty “the linchpin of (Russia’s) nuclear security.”
Did we think of the consequences when NATO (of which Canada is a charter member) decided to expand east and build missile defence installations near Russia’s borders? Did we think as we broadened our own sphere of political and military influence, that Russia, with its understandable insecurity, would want a zone of its own?
This doesn’t excuse Putin’s regime. But our indifference helped create a climate of anxiety among a proud people who had lost their empire, their stature and much of their dignity. We were insensitive to that.
In demonizing Russia, as we do so easily today, we forget the 20 million who died in the Second World War. We forget that it was the Russians who were killing Nazis (equipped with American arms) before we opened a second front in Europe in 1944. We forget the impact of their revolution, civil war, collectivization, purges and famines. Honestly, did anyone suffer more in the 20th century?
In rounding on Russia, what some call Russia-phobia, we scarcely acknowledge the country’s dazzling achievements in literature, music, art, architecture, science and space.
Like all Olympic hosts, the Russians celebrated themselves at the opening ceremonies, sumptuously if selectively. But if nothing else, we should be reminded that these are a great people.
At the same time, we might recall how relatively uncritically we marched to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where the assault on human rights goes far beyond gays and lesbians. Did anyone ask then what was done at Tiananmen or in Tibet? To a degree, yes, but the threat of official boycott was far stronger this time, and was fuelled largely by one issue, the mistreatment of gays and lesbians. Call this selective ethics.
Fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, John F. Kennedy asked Americans to rethink the Russians. He wasn’t embracing tyranny or exonerating communism. He was humanizing them.
“We all breathe the same air,” he said on June 11, 1963. “We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
We don’t have to like Putin and his regime. But had we been less sanctimonious and more perceptive, we might be seeing a different Russia behind those Olympic Rings today.