Exclusive: American pundits are often more interested in scoring points against their partisan rivals than in the pain that U.S. policies inflict on people in faraway lands, as columnists Paul Krugman and Thomas L. Friedman are showing regarding Russia and Ukraine, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Among honest and knowledgeable people, there really isn’t much doubt about what happened in Ukraine last winter. There was a U.S.-backed coup which ousted a constitutionally elected president and replaced him with a regime more in line with U.S. interests. Even some smart people who agree with the policy of going on the offensive against Russia recognize this reality.
For instance, George Friedman, the founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, was quoted in an interview with the Russian liberal business publication Kommersant as saying what happened on Feb. 22 in Kiev the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych “really was the most blatant coup in history.”
Brushing aside the righteous indignation and self-serving propaganda, Stratfor’s Friedman recognized that both Russia and the United States were operating in what they perceived to be their own interests. “The bottom line is that the strategic interests of the United States are to prevent Russia from becoming a hegemon,” he said. “And the strategic interests of Russia are not to allow the U.S. close to its borders.”
Another relative voice of reason, at least on this topic, has been former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who in an interview with Der Spiegel dismissed Official Washington’s conventional wisdom that Russian President Vladimir Putin provoked the crisis and then annexed Crimea as part of some diabolical scheme to reclaim territory lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
“The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest,” the 91-year-old Kissinger said. “It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia” as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had suggested.
Kissinger noted that Putin had no intention of instigating a crisis in Ukraine: “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”
Instead Kissinger argued that the West with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine and making the grave mistake of quickly pushing the confrontation beyond dialogue.
While the comments by Henry Kissinger and Stratfor’s Friedman reflect the reality of what demonstrably happened in Ukraine, an entirely different “reality” exists in Official Washington. (Note that both interviews were carried in foreign, not U.S. publications.) In the United States, across the ideological spectrum, the only permitted viewpoint is that a crazed Putin launched a war of aggression against his neighbors and must be stopped.
Facts, such as the declaration in September 2013 from a leading neocon, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, that Ukraine was “the biggest prize” and an important step toward ousting Putin in Russia, do not fit into this story frame. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A Shadow U.S. Foreign Policy.”]
Nor do the comments of neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was caught in a pre-coup phone call, handpicking Ukraine’s future leaders and discussing how to “glue this thing.” Nor her public statements about the United States investing $5 billion in Ukraine’s “European aspirations.”
White Hats, Black Hats
Instead of dealing with what actually happened in Ukraine, U.S. pundits and politicians from conservative to liberal have bought into a fantasy version of events in which the coup-makers all wore white hats and the elected president and his eastern Ukrainian supporters along with Putin all wore black hats.
But there are, as always, rhetorical differences across the U.S. partisan liberal-conservative divide. On Ukraine, the American Right urges an escalation of military tensions against Russia while chiding President Barack Obama for weakness (when compared with Putin’s toughness) and liberals cheer on Obama’s supposed success in driving the Russian economy into a painful recession while accusing the Right of having a man-crush on Putin.
This liberal “theme” of jabbing the Right for its alleged love of Putin takes the Right’s comments about his forcefulness out of context, simply to score a political point. But the Right-loves-Putin charge has become all the rage with the likes of Paul Krugman, Thomas L. Friedman and other liberals who are bubbling with joy over the economic suffering being inflicted on the people of Russia and presumably eastern Ukraine.
Krugman, who is quickly jettisoning his reputation for thoughtfulness, published a second column on this topic in a row, showing that he has fully bought into all the propaganda “themes” emanating from the U.S. State Department and the compliant U.S. mainstream news media.
In Krugman’s mind, it was Putin who instigated the crisis with the goal of plundering Ukraine. Operating from that false hypothesis, Krugman then spins off this question: “why did Mr. Putin do something so stupid? The answer is obvious if you think about Mr. Putin’s background. Remember, he’s an ex-K.G.B. man, which is to say, he spent his formative years as a professional thug. Violence and threats of violence, supplemented with bribery and corruption, are what he knows.
“And for years he had no incentive to learn anything else: High oil prices made Russia rich, and like everyone who presides over a bubble, he surely convinced himself that he was responsible for his own success. At a guess, he didn’t realize until a few days ago that he has no idea how to function in the 21st century.”
But Krugman is not only operating from a false hypothesis the reality was that the Ukraine crisis was forced on Putin, not that he went seeking it Krugman also has a simplistic view of the KGB, which, like the American CIA, certainly had its share of thugs but also had a significant number of smart analysts. Some of those KGB analysts were in the forefront of recognizing the need for the Soviet Union to reform its economy and to reach out to the West.
Putin was generally allied with the KGB faction which favored “convergence” with the West, a Russian attitude that dates back to Peter the Great, seeking Russia’s acceptance as part of Europe rather than being shunned by Europe as part of Asia.
Putin himself pined for the day when Russia would be accepted as a part of the First World with G-8 status and other big-power accoutrements. I’m told he took great pride in his success helping President Obama in 2013 resolve crises with Syria over the mysterious sarin-gas attack and with Iran over its nuclear program.
As Kissinger noted, Putin’s hunger for Western acceptance was the reason he obsessed so much over the Sochi Olympics and even neglected the festering political crisis in neighboring Ukraine.
In other words, Paul Krugman doesn’t know what he’s talking about regarding Ukraine. His stab at offering a geopolitical analysis suffers from what an economist should recognize as “garbage in, garbage out.” [See also Consortiumnews.com’s “Krugman Joins the Anti-Putin Pack.”]
A Spreading Idiocy
Still, this liberal mindlessness appears to be catching. On Sunday, the New York Times’ star columnist Thomas L. Friedman weighed in with his own upside-down analysis, smirking about the economic suffering now being felt by average Russians because of the U.S.-led sanctions and the Saudi-spurred collapse of oil prices.
Friedman wrote: “In March, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, was asked on ‘Fox News Sunday’ how he thought President Obama was handling relations with Russia versus how President Vladimir Putin had been handling relations with the United States. Rogers responded: ‘Well, I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles. And I don’t think it’s even close.’
“Hmmm. Marbles. That’s an interesting metaphor. Actually, it turns out that Obama was the one playing chess and Putin was the one playing marbles, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say today that Putin’s lost most of his, in both senses of the word.”
Ha-ha-ha. Putin has lost his marbles! So clever! Perhaps it also wouldn’t be wrong to say that Tom Friedman has lost any credibility that he ever had by getting pretty much every international crisis wrong, most notably the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 when he was just as smarmy in paving the way for that bloody catastrophe.
Washington Post liberal columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. also joined in the “group think” on Monday, writing “even some of [Obama’s] older bets were paying off. The Russian economy is reeling from sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine (and from low oil prices). An approach seen by its critics as not tough enough is beginning to show its teeth.”
Beyond the propagandistic quality of these columns refusing to recognize the complex reality of what actually happened in Ukraine, including the overwhelming referendum by the voters of Crimea to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia there is this disturbingly smug pleasure at how the U.S. actions are hurting the people of Russia.
Whatever you think of Putin, a key reason why he has remained so popular is that he brought some stability to the Russian economy after the “shock therapy” days of plunder under Boris Yeltsin when many Russians were pushed to the brink of starvation. Putin pushed back against some of the corrupt oligarchs who had amassed vast power under Yeltsin (while also striking alliances with others).
But the cumulative effect of a more stable Russian economy was that a fragile middle class was taking shape in a country that has notoriously failed to generate one over the centuries. Because of the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine, which essentially forced Putin’s response and then led to Obama’s sanctions, the Russian middle class is losing its modest savings as the ruble’s value collapses.
In other words, the part of Russia’s population that could best propel Russia toward a more democratic and progressive future is being dismantled, in part, by punitive U.S. policies while liberals Krugman, Friedman and Dionne celebrate.
What really seems to matter to these pundits is getting a shot in at their conservative rivals, not the fate of average Russians. This attitude reminded me of an earlier phase of these mindless liberal-conservative food fights in 1990 when conservative Robert Novak looked for ways to resolve Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by accepting Saddam Hussein’s private offers to withdraw rather than resorting to war.
Yet, when Novak appeared on CNN’s “Capital Gang,” Al Hunt, a centrist who played the role of liberal pundit on the show, ridiculed the old “Prince of Darkness” for his uncharacteristic peaceful bent. Hunt hung the nickname “Neville Novak” around Novak’s neck, comparing him to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who sought to appease Adolf Hitler before World War II.
When I later asked Hunt why he had derided Novak for looking at more peaceful solutions to an international crisis, Hunt defended the “Neville Novak” line by noting all the times that Novak had baited opponents for their softness against communism. “After years of battling Novak from the left, to have gotten to his right, I enjoyed that,” Hunt said.
Yet, the human consequences from the failure to resolve the Kuwait crisis peacefully have been almost incalculable. Beyond the hundreds of U.S. and coalition deaths and the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed, the Persian Gulf War set the stage for a decade of harsh economic sanctions against Iraq and marked a turning point for Saudi Osama bin Laden to begin targeting the United States.
Arguably, if Novak had been listened to if Hussein’s peace feelers had been taken seriously history might have taken a very different and less violent course. However, among Washington’s insiders, it seems that nothing is more important than their sparring with each other, in television and in print.
Now, these liberal columnists are enjoying bashing conservatives over their supposed love of Putin and their tolerance for Putin’s “invasion” of Ukraine. Not only are the likes of Paul Krugman, Thomas L. Friedman and E.J. Dionne Jr. spreading dangerous propaganda, they are setting the stage for a new Cold War and possibly even a nuclear confrontation.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest 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.
In 1999 when Mr. Putin came to power, the Russian GDP was 196 billion and now it’s 2.097 trillion, GDP per capita was 1,330 and now it’s 14,612. Population is growing. Compare it to what happened under Yeltsin or in Ukraine. I would like to see how Paul Krugman will explain those numbers. Every one who hates Russia should understand that this country the biggest and richest in the world and all effort by neocons and “liberals” have the opposite effect. It only makes Russia stronger and unite people. Yes, there are some temporary problems; inflation and … not enough “ferrari” in Moscow dealership. But who doesn’t have problems. In few years when Russian GDP will double again Mr. Krugman will pretend that he never said a word, same as nobody remember how they were cheering up the Iraq war.
Unfortunately, all these stupid asses at Washington still haven’t got not a one goddamn clue from history, still don’t understand who we are, the Russians! They probably think that all these lousy attempts can enrage nation against its leader. Aha-ha! Guys, Russians have endured so many disasters throughout their lives that You even didn’t dream!! On contrary, the whole nation ascertained once again, that the prase of our tsar Alexandr III is the forever. Once again we make sure that the West is not a partner at all.
I remember the 90’s, I was a child and my family had no money for simple things, we had a lack of food, because of all these Western bastards and Russians betrayers and thieves, the only thing that was – a roof over the head from great Soviet’s time… and You, fools, think that You can scare the average Russian? Dumbass. Nothing can scare common Russian.
At some adjoining article someone mentioned about gay’s rights infringement in Russia. Some kind of nazis… You’d better turned off Your propaganda channels, dudes and took a ticket to any Russian city to see that Your brains have washed out already. By the way, You’d better look after Your own garden. Maybe You, “Westernians”, will see beam in Your own eye!
Have nothing against Western people, moreover, I love Western music, movies more. However, there’s no subject for me to which side to pick out at the end!
Peace to our planet … and send out these freaks from Earth, lets say, on the Sun, like Korean astronaut did.
As usual, insightful and informed analysis; and another surgically withering indictment on the so-called liberal media and its fave pundits.
Like many I had high regard for Mr Krugman who over the years offered a voice of reason especially in economic matters in the wake of the Great Financial Trainwreck. But his views on the Ukraine situation vis a vis Russia are incomprehensible and out of whack with reality. Methinks that Krugman has been sipping the neo-con Kool-Aid on the QT as it were, or has lost his own bag of marbles.
It’s either that or this is another sign of the grip the neocon lunacy has on the zeitgeist, and not just Krugman but his notionally liberal fellow travellers have all succumbed to the temptations of hegemony because they don’t want to be left out. What amazes me and I’m sure many others alike is that the utter failures and the catastrophes of the neo-con groupthink are staring all of us in the face, yet these supposedly intelligent, circumspect opinion leaders can’t see the wood for the trees in the way.
As for Mr Thomas Friedman, I’ve always felt the fellow was/is overrated – by himself as much as anyone else. Methinks the man has never met a mirror he didn’t like. The difference being it would appear between Friedman and his NYT stablemate Krugman is that the former is getting high on his own supply, not someone else’s. And in keeping with his character and style it would seem, he’s not doing it on the QT!
And Tommy boy, didn’t your mum ever tell you no-one likes a gloater!
Postscript: Consortium Readers should note very carefully the following for additional context and perspective on this topic. Here is an extract from the piece that George Friedman (the more sensible “Friedman” namechecked in Mr Parry’s above piece, and presumably no relation the other one already mentioned) from Stratfor wrote recently, the full text of which can be found at the link here.
“….Russia has not been booted out of the SWIFT payment system as Iran as the international financial system will collapse if Russia unilaterally ceases to supply energy to Europe in the form of natural gas and oil. If Europe cannot buy Russian natural gas and oil, it will die. It will drag down the entire international financial system. This time as in Lehman Bros the issuance of trillions of dollars of credits will not save it as that cannot overcome a shortage of natural resources.
The supplies of natural gas and oil from the stans and central Asia between China and Russia are essentially under Russian control. If they decide to block it, that potentially could remove 24 million barrels a day from the world economy and huge amounts of natural gas if we add to the central Asian cutoff Russia itself.
What will the EU and the United States do? Launch nuclear missiles at Russia?
If Russia moves to currency controls, the concomitant step would be to declare a moratorium on the payment of interest and principle on external debt. This in itself would deliver a massive shock to the western financial institutions holding the over $600 billion in debt. It must be remembered when this happened in 1998 during the Russian financial crisis, the financial weapon of mass destruction of Long Term Capital Management imploded with $1.3 trillion in derivative exposure.
The quadrillion (Ed. Note: no typo here) of derivatives according to Warren Buffett contain numerous financial weapons of mass destruction that can implode the entire western financial system. Stratfor does not want to talk about it but that is what is boiling under the surface. The west has raised the ante and risked their entire financial system in this crisis.
It is true that if Russia pulled the plug on the EU by stopping their natural gas and oil exports, it would have an adverse effect on Russia. But it would have a calamitous effect on the EU. It would trigger implosions in the quadrillion of derivatives. And Russian need only do this for three to six months to achieve the desired victorious counterattack as in war laying the west low as they are doing to them, and there is no doubt that this is war.
Economic war precedes military conflict as we saw when the United States, Britain and the Netherlands cut off 92% of the oil used by Japan through an embargo on July 25, 1941, which was a declaration of war on Japan as the west is declaring war on Russia. Anyone who does not realize this is acting like an Ostrich with his head in the sand. The west is hoping against hope that if they keep raising the ante when they have no cards, that Russia will throw their cards on the table.
This will not happen.
They also hope that they will be able to lower the temperature any time they want to avoid all out economic and or military conflict, but history shows that once the Pandoraâ€™s box is opened it is nearly impossible to put the evils back in the box.
The catalyst of the Ukrainian situation was nothing less squalid than the western financiers who were formerly looting Russia of hundreds of billions fearing that Putinâ€™s move in the Ukraine would stop their looting operation in the Ukraine.”
Here is a humor piece my son Justin wrote five years ago. It was widely linked and re-posted at the time, but it is still current. No direct connection, but Justin is now a frequent contributor to the Times.
“Thomas Friedman Clogged My Toilet” atÂ http://www.jehsmith.com/1/2009/06/thomas-friedman-clogged-my-toilet.html
It is MOST distressing to see a liberal star go all in with this Russia group think.
I have carefully corrected every person I meet who off handedly refers to Russia or Putin as invading Ukraine or any other sort of slur.
Our media is wholly owned by the same six corporations all of whom spew propaganda against Russia while stretching 2 minute hate into a 24/7 cycle.
I have never seen any news or interview segment that offers a speck of truth on television or in print.
Even the big voices who allegedly run antiwar spots casually say Putin annexed Crimea or whatever.
Is there any way to hijack the story? Will anyone EVER tell us about Victoria Nuland, her cookies for Nazi goons, the massacre burning people alive and mocking them as they suffocated, or the punisher brigades in Eastern Ukraine with Wolfsangle insignias crucifying children in front of their mother?
The sad fact is America is so controlled, anyone I tell these atrocities about looks at me and suggests a tinfoil hat.
The problem of getting it wrong is not limited to “liberal” commentators. So-called “liberals” in Congress have gone along with propaganda vilifying Hamas, Iran and Russia relayed in the media. Despite 142 international authorities declaring Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in July was a violation of international law, every US senator and all but a miniscule number of US representatives approved of Israel’s slaughter and quick replenishment of expended weaponry.
Putting one’s self in others’ shoes has often helped me understand events of which I have little immediate knowledge–the Ukraine and Crimea for example. When Russia gave up many border territories it was with the understanding the NATO forces would not encroach on these boundaries allowing Russia to feel less threatened. I also looked at the map and realized Russia is essentially land-locked; no egress with navigable waters threatens economic and military options. It was immediately apparent that NATO’s encouragement for Ukraine to sign up was establishing a real military threat on Russia’s borders. And control of Crimea was an essential and unique warm water exit for both economic and defense necessities. I too would have been paranoid imagining the enemy’s (NATO’s) intent…Not unlike Hitler’s incursion into Poland, but in the opposite direction from Europe to Russia. I very much appreciated the recognition of this geographical detail; I’ve not read or heard it in the MSM. Thank you Mr. Parry for once again shining a bright light on the obvious we choose to ignore at our peril!
Amerika has lost credibility because Amerika is blinded by it’s delusional exceptionalism wherever it goes whatever it destroys in its own image. No one takes this country seriously because everybody knows the script as it squats deleteriously globally creating not solving trouble spots. No wonder the EU wants to deal with Putin first and foremost. The US just gets in the way even if it does underwrite NATO. USMPs should stop obsessing about themselves might be a good start
I’ve never read Krugman, and still know little about him. But the notion that anybody considers Thomas Friedman a “liberal” is a bit mind-blowing.
Krugman and the rest of the liberal group think have stooped to the level of trying to assume the average comprehension of their partisan readership is somehow all of a sudden lower than the third grade. It is just more evidence of how the partisan lines are drawn with corporate contracts, not actual identities, modus operandis, & “party ethics”, but profit driven decisions coming from movers & shakers like Soros, Adelson, Saban and more. Soros is now gunning for the National Bank of Ukraine position, nothing to see there. Recently Kiev announced rolling blackouts in the East as well as a new “draft” for 2015, funny things to be doing right before attempts at peace. The backhanded nature of Obama’s recent sanctions on Crimea, while stating at the very same time that he would not impose further sanctions on Russia, seems to hint that the Liberal Group think in the press is doing a fine job of echoing the White House’s inability to look in the political mirror.
â€œWhich brings us to two big questions. First, why did Mr. Putin do something so stupid? â€¦â€¦The answer to the first question is obvious if you think about Mr. Putinâ€™s background. Remember, heâ€™s an ex-K.G.B. man â€” which is to say, he spent his formative years as a professional thug.â€
I was stunned when I read these comments by Krugman. Supid because he kept US/NATO from securing the Sevastopol naval base? Stupid because he’s preventing US/NATO missile bases in eastern Ukraine on Russia’s border? I don’t believe that Krugman is uninformed about the reality of the situation in Ukraine and the U.S. neocon inspired financial attack on Russia. This is a modern version of the 1980’s neocon Team B propaganda, unfortunately for this generation of neocons the Internet offers access to the truth. Look at the neocons (there are many more behind the curtains in various branches of government) like Nuland (Kagan in drag) and Gershman who are quite publicly trying to provoke Putin and destroy the Russian economy. It is difficult for me to believe that Krugman is just misinformed or only reads the propaganda of the MSM. I think he is purposely promoting the neocon agenda, time will tell why.
The US inspired aggrandizement and involvement of NATO as a helper in the ‘neocon’ agenda is the history of the past 20 years. Propaganda is one thing , historical fact something else – even when interpreted for ‘goodness’. America is no longer a ‘force for good’ in world affairs, that stopped on a helipad in Saigon.
Jim Bissett was there, lived it.
Both Krugman and Friedman are notorious “liberal” shills for war, though “suck on this” Friedman is arguably the more depraved:
What these tools say and write is not “idiocy” — it is “psyops” propaganda for an era of “hybrid war”.
Despite Krugman’s insistence, when speaking about Russia and China, that “Conquest is for losers!” (NYT, 22 December 2014), his enthusiasm for “weaponized Keynesianism” places him squarely in service of the US military-industrial complex.
Heck, why not stimulate the US economy by “giving” military hardware to the regime in Kiev? Krugman would argue “such a program would probably work, for the same reason that defense cuts would raise unemployment” (NYT 31 October 2011).
However paradoxical, a war shill by any other name…
It would be interesting to know how many of our “liberal” pundits laughed at Bush’s skit about non-existent WMDs at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner â€“March 24, 2004 = http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/181100-1. My understanding is that David Corn was the only correspondent at that dinner to be offended by the skit and had the courage to walk out.
They certainly weren’t throwing any shoes at the smirking chimp.
Really good piece by Robert Parry. It makes more sense to me now why Krugman is harping on an issue about which he is clearly pretty ignorant: it’s a way for him to participate in pro-Dem messaging, which is something he has been doing more and more of recently. As to why he is choosing to sacrifice his credibility for the cause of Obama and the Dems, I have no idea.
Incidentally, as another example of “mindless liberal-conservative food fights”: I recall in the 2008 campaign where McCain latched onto something hawkish Obama had said about Pakistan (I honestly don’t remember the details), and McCain weirdly kept on him about that, making it sound like Obama was a scary hawk *on this one point*, while still running the larger campaign on the usual Repub=strong/Dem=weak grounds. Of course McCain got crushed, and they’re both warmongers, but getting that partisan dig in was its own reward, I suppose.
“Krugman, who is quickly jettisoning his reputation for thoughtfulness, published a second column on this topic in a row, showing that he has fully bought into all the propaganda â€œthemesâ€ emanating from the U.S. State Department and the compliant U.S. mainstream news media.”
You got that right, and thanks for stating it so clearly. Krugman is history, as far as I am concerned. I am kind of sad—I set a lot of store by his words and positions and under the Bush regime he seemed to be one of the few influential voices making sense. But no more. Better to understand this now, in a context that I and other readers of alternative news sources seem to understand a whole lot better than Krugman. Now I won’t pay too much attention to him when he opines on topics of which I know less. I always knew that Friedman’s views were worthless but I sure didn’t think Krugman would become a parrot of these ludicrous and off-target views.
It’s unfortunate that Krugman, who is so good in economics, has strayed into a field he knows nothing about and has destroyed his credibility. Sometimes people just never learn to stay in their own lane.
Krugman is polishing his bona fides for a job in the Clinton administration.