WPost’s Anti-Putin ‘Group Think’

Exclusive: In a stunning display of “group think,” virtually the entire Washington Post editorial section was devoted to denunciations of Russian President Putin, especially his “crazy” belief that the U.S. government often ignores international law and applies “the rule of the gun,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Not since Feb. 6, 2003, the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell wowed the world with his slam-dunk speech “proving” that Iraq was hiding WMD, has the Washington Post’s editorial section shown this unity of “group think.” On Thursday, the Post presented a solid phalanx of denunciations directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Across the two editorial pages, Post writers and columnists stood, shoulder to shoulder, beating their chests about Putin as evil, mad or both. “A dangerous Russian doctrine,” screamed the lead editorial. “An elemental fear” was the headline of a George F. Will column. “Making Russia pay” was the goal of Sen. Marco Rubio’s opinion article. “Putin’s fantasy world” was explored by editorialist Charles Lane.

Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane appearing on Fox News.

Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane appearing on Fox News.

The one slightly out-of-step pundit was E.J. Dionne Jr. whose column ”Can Crimea bring us together?” agreed on Putin’s dastardly behavior but added the discordant note that most Americans weren’t onboard and didn’t want their government to “get too involved” in the dispute over Ukraine and Crimea.

All the other opinion articles marched in lockstep to the theme that Putin was crazy and delusional. The Post’s lead editorial favorably quoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying that Putin’s speech about the Ukraine crisis “just didn’t jibe with reality.”

This was the same John Kerry, who earlier in the Ukraine crisis, denounced Putin’s intervention in Crimea by declaring that “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” Kerry, of course, voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist.

However, what now should be painfully clear is that since almost no one in Official Washington paid any serious price for following neocon propaganda into the Iraq War a decade ago, the same patterns continue to assert and reassert themselves in other crises a decade or more later, often executed by the same people.

The Washington Post’s editorial page is run by literally the same people who ran it when all those Post’s opinion leaders were standing with the estimable Colin Powell on Feb. 6, 2003, and asserting the existence of Iraq’s WMD as “flat fact.” Fred Hiatt is still the editorial-page editor and Jackson Diehl is still his deputy.

Putin’s Thoughtful Address

Yet, contrary to the Post’s latest “group think,” Putin delivered a rather remarkable, even insightful speech on Tuesday, explaining Russia’s not unreasonable view of recent history. Recognizing the actual U.S. approach to the world not the fairy-tale one favored by Kerry and the Post Putin said:

“Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet [i.e. the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading.

“Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right.

“They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.”

Nothing in that key passage of Putin’s speech is crazy. He is stating the reality of the current era, though one could argue that this U.S. aggressive behavior was occurring during the Cold War as well. Really, since World War II, Washington has been in the business of routinely subverting troublesome governments (including overthrowing democratically elected leaders) and invading countries (that for some reason got in Washington’s way).

It is a challenge to list all the examples of U.S. interventions abroad, both in America’s “backyard” (Guatemala, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, etc.) and in far-flung parts of the world (Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Lebanon, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, etc.). These actions usually outside international law and in violation of those nations’ sovereignty have continued into the current century and the current administration.

It’s also true that the United States has behaved harshly toward Russia during much of the post-Cold War era, reneging on an understanding with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that his concessions to President George H.W. Bush regarding German reunification and Eastern Europe would not be exploited by the U.S. government.

Yet, the U.S. government and corporate America moved aggressively against Russia in the post-Soviet era, helping to plunder Russia’s resources and pushing the frontlines of NATO right up to Russia’s borders. For all his autocratic faults, Putin has moved to put a stop to these encroachments against Russian national interests.

Offending the Neocons

Putin also has helped President Barack Obama extricate the United States from dangerous situations in Syria and Iran while the neocons and Washington Post’s editorialists were pounding the drums for more confrontation and war.

And, therein may lie the problem for Putin. He has become a major impediment to the grand neocon vision of “regime change” across the Middle East in any country considered hostile to Israel. That vision was disrupted by the disaster that the American people confronted in the Iraq War, but the vision remains.

Putin also is an obstacle to the even grander vision of global “full-spectrum dominance,” a concept developed by neocons in the two Bush administrations, the theory that the United States should prevent any geopolitical rival from ever emerging again. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Grim Vision.”]

Thus, Putin must be portrayed as unstable and dangerous even though much of his account of the Ukraine crisis fits with what many on-the-ground reporters observed in real time. Indeed, many of the key facts are not in serious dispute despite the distortions and omissions that have permeated the U.S. mainstream press.

For instance, there’s no factual dispute that Viktor Yanukovych was Ukraine’s democratically elected president. Nor is there an argument about him having agreed to a European-negotiated deal on Feb. 21, which included him surrendering much of his power and moving up elections so he could be voted out of office.

After that agreement and Yanukovych’s order to pull back the police in the face of violent street demonstrations it was widely reported that neo-Nazi militias spearheaded the Feb. 22 coup d’etat which forced Yanukovych to flee. And no one is credibly saying Ukraine’s constitutional rules were followed when a rump parliament stripped him of the presidency.

Nor is there any serious doubt that the people of Crimea, which has historically been part of Russia, voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to separate from the coup regime now governing Ukraine. The difference between exit polls and the official results was 93 percent in the exit polls and 96 percent in the final tally.

Only in the neocon-dominated and propaganda-soaked U.S. news media is this factual narrative in dispute and mostly by ignoring or ridiculing it.

American Hypocrisy

However, when Putin politely takes note of these realities, he is deemed by the Washington Post’s editorialists to be a madman. To hammer that point, the Post turned to one of its longtime neocon writers, Charles Lane, known for his skills at bending reality into whatever shape is needed.

In his column, Lane not only denied the reality of modern American interventionism but cleverly accused Putin of doing what Lane was actually doing, twisting the truth.

“Putin presented a legal and historical argument so tendentious and so logically tangled so unappealing to anyone but Russian nationalists such as those who packed the Kremlin to applaud him that it seemed intended less to refute contrary arguments than to bury them under a rhetorical avalanche,” Lane wrote.

Lane then suggested that Putin must be delusional. “The biggest problem with this cover story is that Putin may actually believe it,” Lane wrote.

Lane also was offended that when Putin later spoke to a crowd in Red Square he concluded his remarks by saying “Long live Russia!” But why that is so objectionable coming from a Russian politician is hard to fathom. President Obama and other U.S. politicians routinely close their remarks with the words, “God bless the United States of America!”

But double standards have always been part of Charles Lane’s repertoire, at least since I knew him as a fellow correspondent for Newsweek in the late 1980s. Before Lane arrived at the magazine, Newsweek had distinguished itself with some quality reporting that belied the Reagan administration’s propaganda themes in Central America.

That, however, upset Newsweek’s executive editor Maynard Parker, who was a strong supporter of U.S. interventionism and sympathized with President Ronald Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America. So, a shake-up was ordered of Newsweek’s Central America staff.

To give Parker the more supportive coverage he wanted, Lane was brought onboard and dispatched to replace experienced reporters in Central America. Lane soon began getting Newsweek’s field coverage in line with Reagan’s propaganda themes.

But I kept messing up the desired harmony by debunking these stories from Washington. This dynamic was unusual since it’s more typical for reporters in the field to challenge the U.S. government’s propaganda while journalists tied to the insular world of Washington tend to be seduced by access and to endorse the official line.

But the situation at Newsweek was reversed. Lane pushed the propaganda themes that he was fed from the U.S. embassies in Central America and I challenged them with my reporting in Washington. The situation led Lane to seek me out during one of his visits to Washington.

We had lunch at Scholl’s cafeteria near Newsweek’s Washington office on Pennsylvania Avenue. As we sat down, Lane turned to me and, rather defensively, accused me of viewing him as “an embassy boy,” i.e. someone who carried propaganda water for the U.S. embassies.

I was a bit nonplussed since I had never exactly put it that way, but it wasn’t far from what I actually thought. I responded by trying to avoid any pejorative phrasing but stressing my concern that we shouldn’t let the Reagan administration get away with misleading the American people and Newsweek’s readers.

As it turned out, however, I was on the losing side of that debate. Lane had the support of executive editor Parker, who favored an aggressive application of U.S. power abroad and didn’t like his reporters undermining those efforts. Like some other young journalists of that era, Lane either shared that world view or knew what was needed to build his career.

Lane did succeed in making a profitable career for himself. He scored high-profile gigs as the editor of the neocon New Republic (though his tenure was tarnished by the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal) and as a regular guest on Fox News. He’s also found steady employment as an editorialist for the Washington Post.

Now, Lane and other Post columnists have made it clear who Official Washington’s new villain is and who must be loudly hissed: Vladimir Putin.

[For more of Consortiumnews.com’s exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see “Neocons’Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit”; “Mainstream US Media is Lost in Ukraine”; “Corporate Interests Behind Ukraine Putsch”; “Can Obama Speak Strongly for Peace?”; “Neocons Have Weathered the Storm”; “Crimea’s Case for Leaving Ukraine”; “The ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Group Think”; “Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?”; “America’s Staggering Hypocrisy”; “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”; “Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many?”; “A Shadow US Foreign Policy”; “Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine”; “Neocons and the Ukraine Coup.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

5 comments for “WPost’s Anti-Putin ‘Group Think’

  1. March 22, 2014 at 14:47

    Do you suppose that Putin will show the American people this:

  2. incontinent reader
    March 20, 2014 at 22:43

    Meant to include the following language:

    “…It is so simple and yet so profound, and it is one Franklin Delano Roosevelt contemplated when the United Nations was created. It is one grounded on the international law embedded in the U.N. Charter and United Nations institutions established to implement it…”

    “….Putin has already used pragmatic and visionary diplomacy to bail us out of two potential bloody and costly wars, and is now using a measured and reasonable, albeit swift and firm response to the Western engineered putsch in Ukraine, while protecting Russia’s legitimate core interests….”

    “…It was clear however that the additional killing and devastation it would entail didn’t matter as long as the U.S. could pretend it had left with honor). In essence Chou was saying, if you’re wrong to be there, and you know you are, then why not just leave? We must put aside all of the complicated trappings of hegemony and just do the right and lawful thing, and Putin has been the one leading the way on that.”

  3. incontinent reader
    March 20, 2014 at 21:36

    Putin has a way of getting to the core of the matter without having to engage in faux diplomatic double-speak niceties. At the bottom of it all is a different approach to the architecture of mutual security and the rules which should bind the respective nations in their international relations. It is so simple and yet so profound. And when one reads the media demonizing him as a new Stalin, and omitting the substance of what he is saying from the public discourse, one realizes that the Administration and media have spread so much propaganda so much of the time that maybe they do believe their own lies when they force feed it to the rest of us. In addition to the speech Putin delivered Tuesday to the joint Federal Assembly on the proposed accession of Crimea (and Sevastopol) to the Federal Republic of Russia, I recommend listening to the one he gave at the 43rd Munich Security Conference in February, 2007, and while following it, also watch the reactions of the Western leaders, including Tzipi Livni, as they are being oh, so subtly, and not so subtly, shamed by what he was saying. It is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wH0eHekt84g

    Putin has already used pragmatic and visionary diplomacy to bail us out of two potential bloody and costly wars, and is using a measured and reasonable response to the events in Ukraine. It’s time our leaders acknowledged what he has done and learn something from it if they have the courage and the capability.

    I recall feeling something similar when reading the transcripts of the private meetings between Chou Enlai and Henry Kissinger, where Chou cut to the chase, while Henry, certainly more sophisticated than John Kerry, was still held back by the need to project an appearance of power he and Nixon felt the was needed when the U.S. was ready to withdraw from Vietnam (notwithstanding the additional killing and devastation it would entail). In essence Chou was saying, if you’re wrong to be there, and you know you are, then why not just leave. We must put aside all of the complicated trappings of hegemony and just do the right and lawful thing.

  4. F. G. Sanford
    March 20, 2014 at 18:00

    Maybe if we listen to a little Russian wisdom, we can still save the America we thought we were born in. Here’s a little sample that would be funny, if it weren’t so true. Go to YouTube and watch:

    Dmitry Orlov: Ukraine-Crimea Update, U.S. Will Self-Destruct in Near Future Update & More

  5. Rick
    March 20, 2014 at 17:35

    The U.S. is morally bankrupt and literally Out To Lunch – Domestically and Internationally. It’s truly unbelievable that it’s as bad as it is but……………..We’re F***ked.

    These people are Seriously Delusional…………….. Literally Full Blown Nut Jobs.

    Given the people that are running the country and reporting on it’s affairs for the most part, it’s hard to not at least wonder if these people aren’t

    1. Out on a some kinda warped “pushing for the end of the world” binge.
    2. Seriously in need of therapy (and a whole lot of it)
    3. Just so greedy they can’t see beyond a profit margin (nothing like war spending)

    At Any Rate – I Repeat………………………….We’re F***ked.

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