The Game of Demonizing Putin

Official Washington influences the opinions of the American people about world affairs by demonizing certain foreign leaders, making them objects of both revulsion and ridicule, thus justifying “regime change” strategies, a particularly dangerous game when played against nuclear-armed Russia, as John Ivens explains.

By John Ivens

On the morning of Jan. 16 at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Clinton, Iowa, I met Madeleine Albright. She looked different than I remembered her as the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State during Bill Clinton’s second term. She looked less imposing than before, more like a little barn owl seeking refuge from a bitterly cold Iowa winter.

Secretary Albright was acting as a surrogate for Hillary’s campaign. That Saturday, she was motivating volunteers to canvas and make phone calls for Hillary. I sensed that Secretary Albright came to Clinton, Iowa, to energize older folks on the same weekend Chelsea Clinton was in Davenport appealing to voters of younger generations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

But I thought Secretary Albright might be a good source of insight into Hillary’s perspectives on foreign policy. In Clinton’s 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, Hillary identified Albright as her “longtime friend and partner in promoting rights and opportunities for women.”

I asked Secretary Albright how she would advise Hillary Clinton when negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She replied that we should keep talking to Putin, but we should be wary that he expands Russian influence at every opportunity. Secretary Albright said we should “draw the line” when “little green men” invade other countries (a reference to events in Crimea in 2014, I presume).

Secretary Albright told about when she accompanied Bill Clinton to a summit in June 2000 with Putin. She wore a button showing three monkeys, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” Putin asked why she was wearing this button: “We always watch what pins Secretary Albright wears. Why are you wearing those monkeys?”

And Albright said, “because of your evil Chechnya policy.” Putin was not amused. He protested, “You shouldn’t be dealing with the Chechens.” President Bill Clinton gave Albright this look like “Are you out of your mind? You have just screwed up the summit.”

In retrospect, the monkey pin incident might be thought of as a humorous aside, but perhaps Secretary Albright besmirched both nonhuman primates and Russians, a dubious example of tact and diplomacy in one of Bill Clinton’s first summits with the new Russian President.

The fighting on both sides of the Chechnyan conflict deserves a great deal of scrutiny by a war crime tribunal; nonetheless, Putin was fighting an insurgency of violent Islamic jihadists in league with Osama bin Laden. This is why Putin was among the first national leaders to express support and sympathy for the United States after 9/11. That is the sad irony of Madeleine Albright’s monkey button.

At a $1,500/plate fundraiser in March 2014 during the early phase of the crisis in Ukraine (after a U.S.-backed putsch had overthrown elected President Viktor Yanukovych and as ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s south and east were under attack from the new regime and seeking protection from Russia), Hillary was quoted in regards to Putin’s response: “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s. All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

In 2014, Bill Clinton was quoted, “Putin wants to re-establish Russian greatness, not in Cold War terms, in Nineteenth Century -empire terms.”

In Hard Choices, Hillary devotes an entire chapter titled “Russia, Reset and Regression,” dealing with her issues with Putin. She narrates her awkward experiences negotiating with Putin, and she seems frustrated about her working relationship with Putin as a negotiating partner. But oddly enough, she makes no such comparisons of Putin to Hitler anywhere in this chapter. Instead, she recommends a “pause” button instead of a “reset” button, adding:

“But we should hit the pause button on new efforts. Don’t appear too eager to work together. Don’t flatter Putin with high level attention. And make it clear that Russian intransigence wouldn’t stop us from pursuing our interests and policies regarding Europe, Central Asia, Syria and other hotspots. Strength and resolve were the only language that Putin would understand.”

I thought, “Enough Already! Enough dark arts of demonizing leaders of other countries! Enough references to ‘He who’s name must not be spoken, the dark lord Vladimir.’“

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, despite his notoriety, is an accomplished negotiator. He has recently advised that such demonization reveals a failure in foreign policy.

As Americans, we don’t get to vote for a Russian president. That particular right to vote belongs to Russians who live in the largest nation on the planet, spanning ten time zones and possessing an arsenal of nuclear weapons comparable in numbers to ours.

Russian national history begins four centuries before American natives had their first encounter with Columbus. Russians are as well educated and typically speak more languages than Americans. There are three nations that need to join together in agreements to address urgent climate change problems in the Arctic: the United States, Canada and Russia.

What Americans can do, is to vote for a president who can make peace with Russian leaders. More questions about peacemaking and diplomacy need to be asked and answered in the 2016 election cycle.

John Ivens is a retired psychology professor and now peace activist, living in DeWitt, Iowa. As a member of Veterans for Peace, he recently helped to organize a speaking tour, “Barnstorming in Iowa” – Sept. 24-30, 2015, by Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley. During the Vietnam War John was an Air Force pilot, flying C-141 jet transports on global airlift missions.

18 comments for “The Game of Demonizing Putin

  1. Wayne Yacoboski
    January 25, 2016 at 05:56

    This website is full of Putinists. The man is a murderer and a pedophile. It’s amazing how silly people become when they don’t use reason or logic to make their decisions. The smartest Russians are deserting the sinking ship.

    • R McHewn
      January 26, 2016 at 00:48

      Bloody Hell!

      There seems to be a nasty echo.

      Or is it just “repeat until true”.

      • jets
        January 27, 2016 at 19:06


        Two thumbs up for your comment.

  2. Wayne Yacoboski
    January 25, 2016 at 05:56

    This website is full of Putinists. The man is a murderer and a pedophile. It’s amazing how silly people become when they don’t use reason or logic to make their decisions. The smartest Russians are deserting the sinking ship.

    • Joe Wallace
      January 25, 2016 at 06:22

      “It’s amazing how silly people become when they don’t use reason or logic to make their decisions.”

      I’ll say!

    • Kiza
      January 25, 2016 at 19:25

      No, Putin distributes Viagra to his soldiers just like Ghaddafi did, to rape innocent Poles and Nazis of Ukraine. This is clear in the minds and in the words of the State Department liars, such was Hitlary Clinton.

  3. Rusofilka
    January 24, 2016 at 19:19

    Correction: Eleven time zones!

  4. Bart
    January 24, 2016 at 14:10

    Were that this essay could appear in the New York Times, where Putin bashing is in full flower.

    • Wayne Yacoboski
      January 24, 2016 at 15:43

      As soon as I read that “in Ukraine (after a U.S.-backed putsch had overthrown elected President Viktor Yanukovych and as ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s south and east were under attack from the new regime and seeking protection from Russia)” I knew this John Ivens knows nothing about Ukraine. The statement of his above is complete bullshit. I am an English teacher in Ukraine and have been hear for the last 12 years. I teach many people including ethnic Russians who are Ukrainian citizens and they will tell you that what happened in the Donbass was created by Russian citizens, invading the east. I do admit that there are some Putin supporters there but they mostly consist of ex BerKut police that lost their jobs and criminals who lost their sources of illicit money after the kleptocrat Yanukovych fled. I bet this idiot writer has never even visited Ukraine and his News source is RT. He’s really a fool and obviously a Putin lover. All hot air!

      • Threadzilla
        January 24, 2016 at 20:30

        Your comment is obviously false or wildly exaggerated on its face. There is simply too much support in the Donbass and Crimea to consist only of ex BerKut police and Russians invading from the east. How could a flood of Russians, even assuming it were true, do anything if the local population were not supportive or sympathetic of their presence? The citizens of the Donbass were overwhelmingly supportive of Yanukovych. Why on earth would they support a right wing coup against their preferred, democratically elected leader by nationalist/fascist groups with overtly anti-Russian rhetoric and polices?

        It sounds like you and your students are just as deluded by Western Ukranian coverage of events as many American citizens are of events in America from after being distorted by the Western media.

        Ukraine itself is not free of fools and Bandera lovers. There’s hot air enough to go around.

        • A sane Kashube
          January 24, 2016 at 22:55

          This guy is an American with Polish ancestry. Having grown up in Chicago I know such types very well. They have a congenital hatred of Russia and all things Russian. They will believe any anti-Russian propaganda put forth by the U.S. state department and/or the CIA. What’s more, they seem eager to fight in the vanguard of the next World War with Russia–consider how Poland is begging America to send them ever more NATO troops and weapons, in spite of the fact that Russia is no threat whatsoever to their country. Putin is not suicidal like the Russophobic Poles.

      • Stefan
        January 24, 2016 at 22:07

        Or maybe unicorns staged the coup in Ukraine?

        Actually, applying the principle of parsimony, Occam’s Razor tells us that neither unicorns nor russians staged a coup and lit the fires of hell in Ukraine; but rather Washington, led by the neocons and neolibs, just as the current data and evidence clearly show us.

        • Joe Tedesky
          January 25, 2016 at 00:37

          If I may add to your comment;
          Putin wasn’t the one handing out cookies.

      • Kiza
        January 25, 2016 at 02:37

        From your surname one could guess that you are of Polish extraction (probably a US Pole). Now, your ethnic group is famous for objectivity about the Russians (LOL). Therefore, I am sure that you would always see and hear what you want to see and hear, damn be the reality. Ukrainian Poles suffered terribly from the Ukrainian nationalists in the past, the same ones that run Ukraine now, after the US-organized coup. But this time, you all think you can unite against the Ukrainian Russians to murder them, pillage them and ethnically cleanse them. Good luck with that plan, it will end up in tears as it always had in the past. But your comment, of an ethnically related outsider, is a clear indication that peace cannot exists in Ukraine. Because all Western Ukrainians have gone nuts with blood lust.

      • Dmitri
        January 25, 2016 at 03:33

        Well, I don’t need RT to get an idea on what is going on in Ukraine – my brother is in Crimea, and my wife’s cousin and several other relatives live in Donbass (specifically, in Gorlovka, one of the cities most suffered from the war there). So, if there is, using your words, a “complete bullshit”, that’s your comment.

        • Стенька Разин
          January 25, 2016 at 20:02

          Hi! Read my comment :-)

      • Стенька Разин
        January 25, 2016 at 20:01

        Dear Wayne, you simply repeat the stories Ukrainians keep telling each other and especially to foreigners. I’m Russian and I’ve met people from most parts of Ukraine, including Donbass after the mentioned events. The people from Donetsk I spoke two (FYI they were not pro-Russian) 1) didn’t confirm the presence of Russian soldiers in their region (instructors, technicians etc. can of course be secretly working there), 2) were unhappy with Kiev bombing their region, some also blamed the rebels for engaging into war.

        Why don’t you tell the full story? That Ukrainians consider Donbass a depression region filled with genetical trash (=people), descendants of prisoners who historically came from all corners of the Russian Empire? And that during the fighting many Ukrainian forums and websites were full of images of dead local men, women, children with messages “This is what you get for pro-Russian attitude”. I’ve seen all this with my own eyes. Also that the Ukrainian government embargoed trade and all social payments (pensions, social support) to all inhabitants of ‘occupied’ territories. I’m not against Ukraine and Ukrainians, they ar emu brothers,, but I think the US readers deserve to know this as well.

        When Ukraine decided to leave the USSR, Russia let her go. Even the Chechen wars were not caused by suppressing separatism. Why can’t Ukraine do the same?

        PS As a Christian, I forgive all people, but I will not forget what some people do.
        PSS Для тех, кто сомневается, что я русский, напишу данное предложение на родном языке!

        • Slavodar
          January 26, 2016 at 16:27

          Thanks for the details Stenka.

          It is surprising that when the pro-West and US-funded ukrainians took over government buildings in Kiev, it was broadcasted by the western media as something good to do and some even describing it as “proggress towards democracy”.

          On the other hand, when the ukrainians in the east expressed their disagreement over what just happened and did exactly the same thing that was done in Kiev, by overtaking government buildings in the Donbass Oblast, the western media reportred this as an outrageous, separatist and even terrorist act.

          After this incident in the Ukraine and especially how it was reported by the western media, I have no faith in the mainstream media of EU or the US and I have a serious doubt about the US Freedom and Democracy as well.
          It seems that Robert Parry’s [and his team] efforts, is the only source of honest and objective news in the USA – let’s hope that others will join him.

          Я родился в ЧССР и как мы ужэ в наших школах изучили – Россия есть наш братский народ. “Так было, так есть и так будет всегда !”

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