Useful idiots are out in force, armed with moral equivalence and ‘realism’

Witness Prof. John J. Mearsheimer of Chicago University and specifically his Foreign Affairs article bearing the self-explanatory title Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault.

Prof. Mearsheimer’s stock-in-trade is a foreign policy based on what he calls ‘neorealism’, and at first I thought it had something to do with those old Italian films.

Not so. Prof. Mearsheimer has simply decided to coin a new term for what’s normally called realpolitik, politics based on national interests and power play rather than ideology.

I’m with him on this one, but with a proviso. Realism, be it neo- or paleo- , can only succeed when wielded by those capable of figuring out what the national interests are and how best to advance them.

Prof. Mearsheimer evidently doesn’t fall into this category. Instead he belongs to the group Lenin ungratefully called ‘useful idiots’, Westerners who swallow and disseminate Russian propaganda wittingly or otherwise.

Prof. Mearsheimer shows that this group has outlived bolshevism and is thriving as an apologist for Putin’s kleptofascist state.

His arguments are easy to refute, and in fact he does a good job of it himself. On the one hand he castigates the ill-advised urge (incidentally more neoconservative than ‘liberal’, as he calls it) to impose democracy on places ill-suited for it.

Here I’m prepared to jump up and cheer, except in the next breath Prof. Mearsheimer hails Putin for regarding as “a last straw” “the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president – which he rightly labelled a ‘coup’.”

Prof. Mearsheimer has to decide whether democracy is a universal vindicator of virtue or not. He can’t have it both ways.

Proceeding in the spirit of neorealism, I’d suggest that neither all elections nor all coups are created equal. Not all elected presidents are paragons of virtue, nor all coups unseating them evil.

A coup against a democratically elected Hitler, for example, would have been healthy, and so was the one against Yanukovych, a petty criminal who used to rip fur hats off people’s heads in the old days, making a few roubles, and then graduated to being Putin’s puppet, making billions of dollars.

That, to be fair, isn’t the core of Prof. Mearsheimer’s argument. He sets out to prove that Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine was perfectly justified and provoked by the West.

It’s good to see that Prof. Mearsheimer allows his views to evolve. In 1993 he vociferously insisted that the Ukraine should never relinquish her nuclear deterrent. Since the new country’s independence wasn’t threatened by anyone other than her old master, by inference it was Russia that the Ukraine needed nuclear weapons to deter.

Yet now that Prof. Mearsheimer’s erstwhile view has been vindicated, he has abandoned it. Russia, according to him, never intended to attack the Ukraine. It’s the West that has provoked the aggression.

How exactly? Why, by expanding Nato membership to include former Russian colonies, such as the Baltics. When the threat arose that the Ukraine was to follow suit, Putin had to act, and quite right too.

Prof. Mearsheimer never explained why, neorealistically speaking, the expansion of Nato into eastern Europe is so threatening to Putin.

True enough, ever since 1917 Russia has been bellyaching about being encircled by enemies craving her extinction. That vile category was in the past defined as all non-communist countries and now it’s supposed to mean… well, whatever Putin says it means.

It’s true that most nations within Russia’s reach tend to fear her, can’t imagine why. This didn’t start in 1917. Back in the 19th century, Russia was widely called ‘the gendarme of Europe’ and ‘the prison of nations’, soubriquets that indeed didn’t bespeak excessive affection.

But in those days Russia didn’t openly proclaim her intention to conquer the world, or at least Europe to begin with. This changed in 1917, when the Bolsheviks began to cull their own people, promising to do the same to the world at large.

Nato was eventually formed to preempt this. Its aim was defensive: to prevent Russia from turning all of Europe into the same contiguous concentration camp Russia herself was.

After Russia downscaled the camps (a development known as perestroika), Nato didn’t disband just in case. The West, this side of Prof. Mearsheimer and his ilk, still harboured residual suspicions.

These proved justified when Putin embarked on a giant rearmament programme. This was accompanied by his outspoken laments about the demise of the Soviet Union, which he described as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’, one that he, Putin, was out to reverse.

True to his word he butchered Chechnya, attacked Georgia and now the Ukraine. Fair enough, Putin may see Nato, even in its present enfeebled state, as an obstacle in the way of Russian expansionism.

But containing Russia’s predatory intentions is a far cry from being a threat to the Russians, and only a pro-Putin ideologue would fail to see this.

No sane Westerner would think for a second that Nato could ever attack Russia. If it didn’t do so when the USA had a nuclear monopoly, it’s sheer madness to suggest it would contemplate anything like that in conditions of approximate nuclear parity.

Yet Prof. Mearsheimer, at his neorealist best, takes Putin’s side of the argument, repeating verbatim and without attribution most of his points.

Russia, he says, is a great power that has a right (the kind made by might) to control what happens in her backyard. Moral equivalence rules, okay? Didn’t the Americans threaten nuclear war when the Russians installed missiles on Cuba?

Cuba was an independent country and, as such, claimed she was entitled to form alliances with anyone, whichever form such alliances took. Yet the USA, correctly pursuing her national interests, made sure Cuba’s right to possess weapons capable of wiping out Washington, D.C., was curtailed.

Likewise, argues Prof. Mearsheimer, Russia is within her right to prevent, by force if need be, her neighbours from forming alliances Russia finds objectionable.

This is a bit too realistic even for an old cynic like me.

The Soviet Union was the most murderous state in history, and one that made no secret of its plans to conquer the world. It was thus entirely possible that Soviet missiles 60 miles from Miami were a factor of danger to the USA and hence the West.

Conversely, Nato bases in Poland or Lithuania are there not to launch an aggression but to contain one. They would only present a danger to Russia if Russia revived the Soviet ambition to conquer Europe or portions thereof.

Yet Russia, what with her “one-dimensional economy and declining population” doesn’t need to be contained, claims our neorealist from the height of his academic credentials.

I don’t know exactly which one dimension Prof. Mearsheimer has in mind. If, as I suspect, it’s hydrocarbons, then he’s leaving another significant – and relevant – dimension out: arms production. Russia is arguably second to none in both the quality and quantity of new weapon systems, and it’s way ahead of Nato in the most vital weapon of all: the will to fight.

Her population is indeed declining. In 1900 the population of Russia proper (not including the Empire) was 132 million, versus 87 million in the USA. Today the respective numbers are 142 and 318 million.

Much of this disparity is owed to the 1917 advent of Social Justice, what with its propensity to murder millions of Russians and wage wars with no regard for the human cost.

Most of the millions were murdered before the Second World War, when the Russian population was declining at its most precipitous rate. That, however, didn’t keep Stalin from creating an army outgunning and outnumbering the rest of the world combined.

Nor did Russia’s perilous demographics prevent her from planning a war of conquest against Europe, an ambition only nipped in the bud by Hitler’s preemptive strike.

The Russians lost a further 27 million in the ensuing war, exacerbating the demographic catastrophe. Yet they still managed to grab half of Europe, nonetheless failing to teach Prof. Mearsheimer a lesson in realism.

A Western nation in the same economic and demographic position as Russia’s wouldn’t be a danger to anyone. Russia, on the other hand, is at her most dangerous precisely in that position.

With her economy failing and her population declining, Russia may well see conquest as a way of either solving both problems or at least banging the door on the way out.

Any realist would realise this and consequently call the West to arms. Instead, Prof. Mearsheimer blames the West for not making things easier for Putin. If that’s realism, I’ll take idealism any day.

















Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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