The ultimate victim of name calling and diatribes as a substitute for reasoned argumentation is the quality of policy being formulated. The claqueurs who rule over our magazines of political commentary written by and for the educated classes are pointing the country and the world in its grip towards disaster. Read on…
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The uncivil war being waged in America’s East Coast-based, liberal magazines of commentary
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
In Ukraine, a full-blown civil war announced itself in the atrocity perpetrated in Odessa two days ago, when some 46 civilian protesters against the provisional government in Kiev were torched, burned alive in the Trade Unions building by pro-Maidan extremists, with the firefighters and police looking on passively. Thus, calls for the physical extermination of the Moskali which have criss-crossed the Ukrainian informational space, whether originating from the long-time extremist Dmitry Yarosh and his marginally fascist Pravy Sektor movement or from the seemingly upstanding oligarch and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with her leaked, violently anti-Russian telephone conversation of several weeks ago intended to kick-start her presidential candidacy, these incendiary summons to violence are being realized in the literal sense.
Meanwhile back in the United States, in the country which in February installed the unelected, radical nationalist regime in Kiev and which publicly backs the military crackdown on opposition activists in southern and eastern Ukraine, setting the context for the infamous crime in Odessa, an uncivil war of words has broken out within the intellectual community. It is fed by the unfolding disaster in Ukraine and what it means for relations with Mr. Putin’s Russia.
One arm of the offensive has been led by The New York Review of Books, which has published a series of rhetorical bombs by the Yale scholar turned pundit Timothy Snyder. Willingly serving as the mouthpiece of Maidan on American shores, Snyder has rounded on Putin in each of his lengthy essays appearing at intervals of several weeks over the past six months. Putin is the autocrat, the crusher of liberties in Russia for whom a genuinely democratic Ukraine is anathema; he is the nationalist promoter of Russian hegemony in the region; he is the thief who stole the Crimea and now has designs on large chunks of Ukraine; he is the rogue, the revisionist in power who has upset the entire Post-Cold War security structure put in place by the United States and its allies.
But Snyder does not stop there. He takes on with gusto all those who suggest that the Maidan heroes in power in Kiev might have less than honorable pasts, not to mention their possible fascist inclinations and behavior. See the following remarks in his NYRB article “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda”:
“Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter, through The Nation and the Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist or even Nazi coup d’état.”
Jim Naureckas’ expose of Snyder in Fair Blog, http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/03/07/denying-the-far-right-role-in-the-ukrainian-revolution/, called out the dirtiness of Snyder’s line of attack on his political opponents by associating them with the Moscow positions: “In other words, not only Russian and ex-Ukrainian officials, but also various Western media outlets–with the most oddball and marginal listed first–are putting forth the “propaganda” claim that Yanukovych was overthrown by the far right.” Naureckas went on to show that Snyder could not disprove the validity of those arguments in his overly long article that at the very end conceded there was some truth to the role played by extreme nationalists.
Notwithstanding his seeking to discredit countrymen holding views contrary to his own by accusing them of propaganda, the WASP-ish Yale professor would appear to be the perfect gentleman compared to others. I think in particular of the latest attack on the alleged apologist for Putin and his Ukrainian policies, Professor emeritus of Princeton and New York University Stephen F. Cohen.
Julia Ioffe’s article entitled “Putin’s American Toady at ‘The Nation’ Gets Even Toadier’ marks the resurrection in The New Republic, an iconic temple of East Coast liberalism, of the worst hallmarks of McCarthyism. The piece is so obnoxious that James Carden, writing in the aptly named American Conservative on 2 May, denounced Ioffe for what he called scurrilous, ad hominem attacks on the work and character of ‘perhaps the country’s foremost scholar of Russian studies.”
Carden wonders what could have evoked the venom in Ioffe’s essay which is nominally just a critique of an article appearing in The Nation a few days before written jointly by Cohen and his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor-in-chief of that magazine. The couple had done nothing more than describe in some detail the obvious: that the Obama administration has rolled out a New Cold War without there being much public debate in the media over this sharp change in the direction of our relations with Russia that carries great risks. Indeed it is clear that the media are lined up like so many ducks on the question of Russia.
The reasons for Ioffe’s biliousness are not so hard to find. The unpleasant thing is that they lurk in the mine field of ad hominem realities, taking us back to issues of national origins and religion where few commentators venture to go lest they lose their virginity. It is all about the history of the Neoconservative ideology that has swept the American political spectrum from right to left ever since the Reagan administration and given us a bipartisan foreign policy in the worst sense, meaning without any internal debates. This is a foreign policy that is uniformly Russophobe whether it is advanced under the Democratic or Republican party label. In what I am about to say, I take comfort from the trail blazed by none other than the greatest popularizer of Neocon ideas, Francis Fukuyama, namely his brief chronicle of the movement in his book After the Neocons, which represented only a tactical retreat and temporary suspension of his membership card.
It is no secret that the Neoconservative movement can be traced back to a cohort in City College in Manhattan among predominantly Jewish intellectuals who were predominantly of Trotskyist political persuasion. As colorfully explained by the godfather and leading publicist of the Neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol, these leftists were eventually ‘mugged by reality’ and turned fiercely against their former illusions and against the land which promoted those illusions, the Soviet Union. The successor state to the USSR, today’s Russian Federation, picked up the opprobrium when it stood in the way of the Neocon crusade to sweep the world of all remaining challenges to the American century, beginning with its opposition to their Iraqi adventure in 2003.
Apostasy is always vengeful towards those who do not follow the change of religion, read ideology. Ioffe does not fail to remind us that Cohen is a ‘lefty,’ nor does she let us forget his sympathy for the subject of his past scholarly labors, the political thinker and Bolshevik leader, Bukharin. This and Cohen’s family ancestry were evidently quite sufficient to trigger Ioffe’s rant at the impertinence of Professor Cohen in his questioning America’s present-day Neocon consensus on Russia and much else.
As evidence that however uncivil and ultimately irrational it may be, the hatred otherwise educated people bear for those who do not bend with the wind transcends national borders and is not limited to my American compatriots, I would cite a similar phenomenon in France, where the left revolutionary generation of the 1960s became disillusioned over time with their sympathies for the developing world. Heroes of their youth, like the great American dissident Noam Chomsky, who was once celebrated for his brave opposition to America’s war on Vietnam, are today ignored at best, ridiculed at worst by the apostates who now occupy the leading positions in the French universities and magazines of commentary.
The ultimate victim of name calling and shouting as a substitute for reasoned argumentation is the quality of policy being formulated. In this regard, we have reason for alarm. The light-weight counsellors of our President in foreign policy decision-making and the claqueurs who rule over our magazines of political commentary written by and for the educated classes are pointing the country and the world in its grip towards disaster.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2014
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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.