Don’t ring for the men in white coats yet.
I haven’t suddenly fallen in love with Putin, and neither do I think he’s qualified to pass judgement on any serious matters.
What shows how deeply we’ve sunk into a hole isn’t anything Putin has said. It’s what he does and what he is. And specifically how we respond to what he does and what he is.
I know this parallel has been flogged to death, but the last time so many Westerners got things so cataclysmically wrong was in 1938.
Then well-meaning idiots talked about “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”.
Today’s ‘useful idiots’ are different from yesterday’s well-meaning ones. They don’t acknowledge ignorance – even those who make illiterate statements in every paragraph know it all.
That, however, is half the trouble, as the Russians put it. No one can be expected to be in full command of every fact, and people like Christopher Booker and Peter Hitchens certainly know enough to form a coherent opinion.
What spells trouble with a capital T is that their moral and intellectual premises are so staggeringly wrong.
Since both men get most other things right, one wonders why they talk wicked nonsense on this subject. Then again, many clever men were just as wrong in 1938.
I’ve commented on Hitchens’s Putinophilia often enough, and today he’s again talking about “the Kiev junta whose violent, lawless seizure of power we so stupidly backed last winter.”
Hitchens has been saying exactly the same thing for months now, and since he obviously has nothing to add to this gibberish, neither do I have anything to add to my earlier comments.
However, Booker’s article in yesterday’s Telegraph deserves a comment. After all, one seldom sees a piece that gets everything so wrong. Everything – every little thing.
In the lead paragraph Booker refers to Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine as “the civil war”. One is supposed to infer that one group of Ukrainians is fighting another, like the Americans did in the 19th century or our own Roundheads and Cavaliers in the 17th.
But surely anyone who has been following the events knows that most of the fight is carried to the Ukraine by units of the Russian army, such as the 76th Airborne Division?
That even the original Ukrainian ‘separatists’ were trained, armed and led by Russian officers? That their first commander, Igor Girkin-Strelkov, is a Russian Muscovite born and bred who has never even lived in the Ukraine? That Putin’s proxy troops include people from all over the former Soviet Union?
Pontificating out of ignorance is never commendable, but then of course there’s another possibility. Booker may ignore the facts he knows for the sake of indulging in ideological demagoguery. If so, that is a serious problem bespeaking a tragic character flaw.
If Booker can get so many things wrong in just two words, ‘civil war’, imagine the depth of the hole he can dig for himself in a longish paragraph. To wit:
“It cannot be said often enough that what triggered the crisis was not Mr Putin’s desire to restore the boundaries of the Soviet Union, but the ludicrously misguided ambition of the West to see Ukraine absorbed into the EU and Nato. There was never any way that either Mr Putin or all those Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and Crimea were going to take kindly to seeing the country which was the cradle of Russian identity become part of a Western power bloc. Russia would be even less happy to see the only warm-water ports for its navy taken over by a military alliance that had been set up to counter Russia in the first place.”
A reader of mine expressed a similar thought more crudely by referring to Putin’s “pacifist statesmanship” which is “in stark contrast to the degenerate warmongers in Washington, Brussels, Kiev and NATO.”
The foray into the Ukraine is the third war Putin has started in less than 10 years, Chechnya and Georgia being his previous victims. That’s pretty good going for a pacifist, and one can only guess what kind of mayhem he’d wreak if he were bellicose.
As to ‘degenerate warmongers’, that’s exactly how Hitler described England and France in 1938, just as they were desperately trying to appease him. (That tired old parallel again, it simply won’t go away.)
But at least my reader chose private correspondence as his medium. Booker, on the other hand, went public, which was a mistake.
Chaps, the Ukraine is an independent European country of 45 million souls. She hasn’t been independent, or indeed unified, for long, and neither did she have long spells of independence and unity throughout her history.
Yet the same can be said about many other countries in the world, and certainly in Europe. Remember the seven lands that used to add up to Yugoslavia? Fourteen out of 15 Soviet republics? Most African countries? Quite a few Asian ones?
We may snigger at their present status, but few of us would regard it as casus belli. What matters is that those former provinces of larger entities are now sovereign countries.
Not all of them are nice. Not every one of the governments was elected fairly if at all. Yet, unless they threaten us or our allies, none of this is our business. As sovereign countries, they can run their affairs as they see fit.
I despise the EU, and distrust Nato, every bit as strongly as Messrs Hitchens, Booker et al. Nonetheless a sovereign nation’s desire to join either organisation or both doesn’t give its more powerful neighbour any legal or moral right to launch an aggression. The Ukraine provoked Putin’s aggression in the same sense in which a man wearing a bespoke suit provokes a mugger.
It’s a gross fallacy to regard only a universal democratic vote as a legitimising factor of a nation’s founding. How many Americans voted for independence in 1776? How many Germans voted for unification in 1871?
Does Hitchens talk about the American junta or the German one? Does Booker, along with other democracy mongers, feel the two regimes are illegitimate? Then why do they describe the overthrow of the petty criminal and Putin’s puppet in such terms?
In his democratic fervour Booker actually goes so far as hailing the “96 per cent of Crimeans [who] democratically voted in March to join Russia.”
He probably doesn’t know that the indigenous Tartar population boycotted the referendum, that the option to preserve the status quo wasn’t on the table, that the actual turnout was closer to 30-40% than to the 83% claimed, or that every poll conducted over the last three years showed only a 34% support for reunification with Russia.
These facts may have slipped his attention. But surely a lifelong political commentator should smell a rat when any proposition polls 96%, especially in a place occupied by foreign troops? Apparently not. Ideology can override the olfactory sense.
Neither is the Ukraine ‘the cradle of Russian identity’. Kievan Rus was founded and run by Scandinavian conquerors, and neither Russia nor especially the Ukraine was even a twinkle in their eye.
True enough, the statue to Grand Duke Vladimir erected by Ukrainians in Holland Park identifies him as “ruler of Ukraine”, but this is another example of ideology trumping facts. The word ‘Ukraine’ was never even mentioned in history until half a millennium after Vladimir’s death (1015).
As to the possibility of Nato taking over the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, this is a figment of Booker’s inflamed imagination. The Russians maintained a long-term lease on the base, and no Ukrainian government, Nato or no Nato, would have cancelled it – any more than Cuba can cancel the American lease on the Guantanamo base.
When otherwise intelligent people start uttering ignorant drivel, one should examine not their minds but their psychology. Though this isn’t my field, I can recommend the services of my psychiatrist friend. He’ll be glad to help.