Wake me when it’s over

Ukraine, Intractable polarization

I think at this point I’m mostly in “wake me when it’s over” mode on Ukraine. There is no argument I can offer that, even if heard, would change what happens on the ground at this point.

In truth, I’m watching the headlines, but really not trusting what I’m seeing on progress or lack thereof on progress of the invasion. Something to bear in mind is that Kyiv, the capital, is relatively and uncomfortably close to the border with Belarus (figure 1). If it falls, and this has yet to be seen, there is still a lot of the country left to conquer.

Fig. 1. Ukraine Map by EC-JRC (ECHO) – source, downloaded from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0, Link

The story about Tucker Carlson and a few other Trumpists blaming anyone except Vladimir Putin for the Russian invasion of Ukraine[1] nearly coincides with a Twitter thread from George Monbiot,[2] which I reproduce below, who is talking about “tankies.”[3] Tankies see the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the penultimate evil, the devil incarnate; in their binary view, this leads them to the inescapable conclusion that anyone who opposes these entities must therefore be deified or at least canonized as a saint. Any evidence or argument you might present in opposition is, for these people, “Western propaganda.”

I try not to engage with such assholes anymore; life is to short and arguing with them is futile. I am, in light of the invasion, aggressively blocking them. Here’s Monbiot:

For years I’ve been arguing with a faction within the “anti-imperialist” left, that is neither anti-imperialist nor distinguishable in its foreign policy positions from the far right. It is pro-Putin. It recycles Kremlin propaganda and whitewashes atrocities.
Thread/

I’ve been contesting its justifications of Vladimir Putin’s and Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities in Syria. Its attempts to justify Putin’s attacks on Ukraine are equally shameful.

In the approach to Putin’s invasion, this faction has blamed everyone but him. Its excuses for his imperialism happen to be identical to the Kremlin’s:
It’s all NATO’s fault
It’s about the Azov battalion
It’s about protecting Russians from Ukrainian aggression.

The people who have amplified these excuses are not, as they claim, anti-imperialists. They are rightly opposed to western imperialism, but will bend over backwards to accommodate Russian imperialism. Some are paid stooges. For others it’s “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

In Syria, echoing Russian propaganda, they have excused or denied some of the worst contemporary atrocities on Earth: Assad’s chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombing of civilians, mass imprisonment, torture and murder of those who resist.

Just as they characterised all Ukrainians who defied Russian imperialism as Nazis, they’ve characterised all Syrians who defy Assad as “head choppers”. They have sought to delegitimise all resistance to Putin and Assad.

In trying to counter this propaganda, I’ve found myself accused, bizarrely, of being a “warmonger”, an “imperialist” and a “US shill”. No, it’s about trying to apply consistent principles. About opposing the worse examples of inhumanity, regardless of the perpetrator.

(For the record, I was among the very few UK journalists to oppose the invasion of Afghanistan. I also set up the Arrest Blair campaign, to try to hold him to account for his criminal war in Iraq. Never mind, I must be a western shill and warmonger.)

Of course, I was not alone in calling out this appeasement. But we were few in number, while the pro-Putin faction has been noisy, highly visible and brimming with confidence and aggression. None of this has been any fun. But the propaganda had to be contested.

Now that Putin’s full-scale invasion has left them stranded, some of these people are mumbling “of course, we condemn all war.” But they haven’t and they don’t. For years they have carried water for Putin and other bloodthirsty tyrants, justifying their colonial aggressions.

True anti-imperialism is not about opposing only the west’s imperialism, essential as this is. It’s about opposing all imperialism, whether western, Russian, Chinese or other. It’s about opposing all aggressive wars, regardless of who’s waging them.

I’m sorry to bring all this up again. It’s uncomfortable, in fact frankly pretty horrible to engage with. But we do no one – except Putin and his acolytes – any favours by pretending it isn’t happening.[4]

Of course, the likes of Carlson are hardly arguing in the same manner as tankies. Trumpists are about toxic masculinity[5]—the bare-chested Putin riding a horse or the photoshopped image of Donald Trump’s face on Rambo’s body, for example—and assess Joe Biden as “weak;” hence a way to blame Biden.[6]

It is, of course, all so asinine as to merit sarcasm, for which I promptly got myself in trouble in my Twitter replies. I can hardly blame those who missed it as I have failed similarly myself. Sarcasm is unwise and even reckless on Twitter, where a 280-character limit on posts imposes an easily misunderstood brevity. But my always limited—I remember this being a problem even in junior high school—and steadily decreasing tolerance for inanity seemingly compels it.

Anne Applebaum, “There Are No Chamberlains in This Story,” Atlantic, February 20, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/munich-security-conference-chamberlain/622872/

John Hudson and Missy Ryan, “U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation,” Washington Post, February 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/02/20/ukraine-russia-human-rights/

David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/

Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine

Ann M. Simmons, Yaroslav Trofimov, and Matthew Luxmoore, “Putin Orders Deployment of Troops to Breakaway Regions in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-alleges-ukrainian-incursion-kyiv-says-moscow-makes-up-fake-incidents-11645453512

Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php

Philip Bump, “‘Genius,’ ‘Savvy’: Trump reacts to Putin’s moves on Ukraine exactly as you’d expect,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/22/trump-reacts-putins-invasion-ukraine-exactly-youd-expect/

Anthony Faiola, “The moment when Putin got real,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/02/22/putin-speech-analysis-ukraine-russia/

Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/

Frank Jordans, “Ukraine-Russia: Germany suspends Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline,” Associated Press, February 22, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-germany-europe-berlin-79e3dafb0d231f6a033613b7dab78cdf

Andrew Restuccia and Tarini Parti, “White House Calls Russian Moves an Invasion After Initially Refraining From Using Term,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-calls-russian-moves-an-invasion-after-initially-refraining-from-using-term-11645549648

Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson, “Biden announces sanctions against Russia for invasion of Ukraine,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-02-22/biden-allies-taking-calibrated-approach-in-response-to-putin-as-russian-tanks-invade-ukraine

Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181

Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, “Top senator warns Putin cyberattacks could trigger bigger war,” Axios, February 23, 2022, https://www.axios.com/mark-warner-putin-cyber-attacks-ukraine-40c5e959-5093-4d79-bf24-8d4731edb293.html

Jon Allsop, “Propaganda, confusion, and an assault on press freedom as Russia attacks Ukraine,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 24, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/propaganda-confusion-and-an-assault-on-press-freedom-as-russia-attacks-ukraine.php

Miriam Berger, “Putin says he will ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Here’s the history behind that claim,” Washington Post, February 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/24/putin-denazify-ukraine/

Julian Borger and Angelique Chrisafis, “Decision to invade Ukraine raises questions over Putin’s ‘sense of reality,’” Guardian, February 24, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/24/putin-russian-president-ukraine-invasion-mental-fitness

Shira Hanau, “Declaring war on Ukraine, Russia’s Putin cites goal of ‘denazification’ of country with Jewish president,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 24, 2022, https://www.jta.org/2022/02/24/global/declaring-war-on-ukraine-russias-putin-cites-goal-of-denazification-of-country-with-jewish-president

Chico Harlan and Taylor Telford, “Stocks claw back after Russia’s attack on Ukraine roils markets,” Washington Post, February 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/24/ukraine-europe-markets-russia/

Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s New Iron Curtain,” Puck News, February 24, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-new-iron-curtain/

Matthew Karnitschnig, “How Germany helped blaze Putin’s path into Ukraine,” Politico, February 24, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/how-germany-helped-blaze-vladimir-putin-path-into-ukraine/

Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay, “Explainer: Why Russia and Ukraine are fighting for Chernobyl disaster site,” Reuters, February 24, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/why-russia-ukraine-are-fighting-chernobyl-disaster-site-2022-02-25/

Reuters, “Factbox: How Ukraine’s armed forces shape up against Russia’s,” February 24, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/how-ukraines-armed-forces-shape-up-against-russias-2022-02-01/

Reuters, “Oil soars past $105 as Russia’s attack on Ukraine rattles markets,” Al Jazeera, February 24, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/24/oil-soars-past-105-as-russias-attack-on-ukraine-rattles-markets

Adario Strange, “Kyiv or Kiev? How to pronounce the name of the capital city of Ukraine and why,” Quartz, February 24, 2022, https://qz.com/2133021/this-is-why-the-name-of-ukraines-capital-is-kyiv-not-kiev/

Robin Wright, “Putin’s Historic Miscalculation May Make Him a War Criminal,” New Yorker, February 24, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/putins-historic-miscalculation-may-make-him-a-war-criminal

Yuras Karmanau et al., “Ukraine’s capital under threat as Russia presses invasion,” Associated Press, February 25, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-vladimir-putin-volodymyr-zelenskyy-boris-johnson-business-08f569df695831ee467979527ea2e241

Farrah Tomazin, “Biden calls invasion ‘a dangerous moment for freedom around the world,’” Sydney Morning Herald, February 25, 2022, https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/biden-calls-invasion-a-dangerous-moment-for-freedom-around-the-world-20220225-p59zk0.html

Adam Gabbatt, “Tucker Carlson leads rightwing charge to blame everyone but Putin,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/feb/25/tucker-carlson-fox-news-russia-putin

Reuters, “Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now,” February 26, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-russia-what-you-need-know-right-now-2022-02-26/


Supreme Court

Much to my astonishment, Joe Biden is nominating a former public defender, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the Supreme Court. “[H]er confirmation could be a jurisprudential break from a man [Biden] who repeatedly voted with law enforcement over individual rights.”[7] I thought sure this would go another way and I hope she will indeed be brilliant in her own way[8]—I very much fear she will need to be.

Irin Carmon, “The Other First: What it means to nominate a veteran public defender,” New York, February 25, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/02/ketanji-brown-jacksons-public-defender-experience.html


  1. [1]Adam Gabbatt, “Tucker Carlson leads rightwing charge to blame everyone but Putin,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/feb/25/tucker-carlson-fox-news-russia-putin
  2. [2]George Monbiot, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, February 26, 2022, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1497511988322258948.html
  3. [3]I am not quite so constrained in my definition as Noah Smith, in “Tankies!” Noahpinion, December 31, 2020, https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/tankies. Smith constrains his understanding to those who allegedly support Marxist-Leninism, but is sloppy in labeling the People’s Republic of China or Josef Stalin as “Marxist/Leninist” or “communist” when they can at best be regarded as authoritarian socialist or, today, state capitalist. The question of economic system is of extremely limited relevance today and will be for the foreseeable future. Most crucial in my understanding is a false dichotomy valorizing any opposition, regardless of merit, to the the United States or North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
  4. [4]George Monbiot, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, February 26, 2022, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1497511988322258948.html
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Hate, Pittsburgh Style,” Not Housebroken, February 26, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/04/06/hate-pittsburgh-style/
  6. [6]Adam Gabbatt, “Tucker Carlson leads rightwing charge to blame everyone but Putin,” Guardian, February 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2022/feb/25/tucker-carlson-fox-news-russia-putin
  7. [7]Irin Carmon, “The Other First: What it means to nominate a veteran public defender,” New York, February 25, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/02/ketanji-brown-jacksons-public-defender-experience.html
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Ilya Shapiro is wrong and yes, Joe Biden should nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court,” Not Housebroken, February 1, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/02/01/ilya-shapiro-is-wrong-and-yes-joe-biden-should-nominate-a-black-woman-to-the-supreme-court/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.