A Hapless Victim of NATO/Zelensky’s Folly
Denying NATO Expansion as Root Cause of Ukraine War is Folly
As one who spent some years writing for major newspapers and commenting on current events in broadcast media in the US and Britain, as well as having held a professorship in Journalism, I have never been so disappointed at my colleagues in the press for their superficial biased reportage on the Russian/Ukrainian war. The old axiom:” The first casualty of war is truth,” has never been truer! Alas, the reportage and commentary is mostly sappy sophistry and ahistorical bullshit, as defined by Princeton philosopher Dr. Harry G, Frankfurt in his pathbreaking treatise “On Bullshit.”
The Princeton philosopher describes the bulk of media coverage in the mainstream media with uncanny accuracy:” It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.” Since most of the chattering wags commenting on the Ukraine/Russian conflict on local and national media are innocent of any in-depth knowledge of the facts, they are given to spouting bullshit.
As envisioned by the crafters of the First Amendment, the role of the press is to accurately inform the citizens about the critical facts regarding issues that will affect the quality of their lives, so that they can make good decisions. Since in a popular democracy, where ultimate power resides in the people, an informed electorate is essential. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, a leader of the American Enlightenment, and arguable the wisest of the Founding Fathers, declared: “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate.” And he prescribed a free and compulsory education for the citizenry sufficient to live as a responsible citizen a in a free society, buttressed by a free press, which Jefferson thought so important to a viable democracy that he once remarked that if given a choice “between a free press and no government, and a government and no free press, I’ll take the free press and no government.”
Clearly, both institutions Jefferson thought so vital to American democracy have failed miserably in the role he assigned to them. And in the present instance, that failure, coupled with our political leadership refusing the heed George Washington’s warning in his Farewell Address to the nation that Americans should “avoid foreign entanglements,” has placed us on the path to “Doomsday.” Which, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, the world’s foremost authorities on the probability and consequences of Nuclear War, we are only 100 seconds away.
Instead of thoughtful, fact driven, even handed analysis aided by the added dimension of historical perspective, the public is force fed pompous pious prattle, duplicitous drivel that confuses rather than enlightens. Which is fairly easy to accomplish when the mind of the masses is a tabla rasa – empty slate – upon which any jingoistic jive can be inscribed. And like the “cheerful robots” poignantly described by Dr. C. Wright Mill’s in “The Sociological Imagination,” they march on as directed by mass media without question or protest. This work followed Mill’s forgotten 1956 classic, “The Power Elite,” a book Americans could profit immensely from just now in order to better comprehend the forces that shape the message we are getting from mass media.
Dr. Wright pointed out that since the leaders of the major power sectors – political, corporate and military – hail from similar backgrounds, receive similar training and share objectives, they can arrive at similar conclusions about policy without engaging in a conspiracy of collusion. Hence the pervasive disinformation about the Ukraine War need not be the result of the editors and producers in major corporate news organizations getting together in covert meetings and deciding to convey the same message, which is perhaps best described as an exercise in obfuscation and mass distraction. It is quite enough to recognize that the mass media is owned by large corporations, whose owners and director’s concerns are in sync with the fundamental interests of the political and military elites. All of which are committed to furthering the objectives of the EU and NATO – European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Hence the master media driven narrative about the causes of the war proffers spurious ideas that have quickly become conventional wisdom in the absence of convincing evidence. On the contrary, much of this narrative fall in the categories of what professional historians call “special pleading” at best, and blatant propaganda at worse. For instance, the dominant media narrative is that the best explanation for Russian actions in the Ukraine is to be found in the personality and character defects of Vladimir Putin, the strong man ruler of Russian government. Defects which compel him to act out fantasies about restoring the Russian Empire.
For some of these wags the Russian invasion of Ukraine is inexplicable, it is presented as unrelated to anything the Ukrainian leadership and NATO has done. And while the ignorance and self-censorship of media shills can be accounted for if not excused, the repetition of this silly sophistry by jingoistic pontificators among the Professorate ensconced behind the pristine Ivy Walls of Academe is shameful…and dangerous! The danger lies in building up so much hatred for Russians that the US populace may push politicians into taking reckless actions abroad to satisfy a blood lust among the American public that they created with inflammatory rhetoric and ahistorical bullshit!
There is no mystery what is going on here: It is a clear case of Realpolitique! The imperative of nation states to pursue policies that serve its national interests. In this case, it is the national survival of Russia. And the constant expansion of NATO, an anti-Russian military alliance of 30 countries whose raison d’etre was the containment of Russian style Communism – thirty years after the Communist system has been eliminated in Russia – threatens their existence. That is certainly the way it looks from Moscow. And by no objective standard can this concern be simply dismissed as a paranoid delusion on Putin’s Part the way the ignorant irresponsible talking heads in the media are doing.
Indeed, some of our most knowledgeable observers of Russian affairs have admitted that Putin’s security concerns are justified, and that no American President would tolerate the situation that a US led NATO and the EU has placed Putin in! After all, the US still operates under the Monroe Doctrine, a 192 year old policy that was crafted in the third decade of the 19th century during the Presidency of James Monroe, which forbids a hostile foreign power from forming an military alliance with any nation in the Western Hemisphere from Canada to Chile!
And our history is filled with examples of how the US enforces this doctrine from the Spanish- American War in the late 19th century, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the middle of the 20th Century – and numerous covert actions conducted by the CIA that has assassinated leaders of movements and overthrown governments the US deemed hostile to their interests. And these kinds of actions – covert and overt – have also been carried out all over the world, as the US has deemed itself the global policemen, responsible to no one. Korea, Vietnam, the Congo, Ghana, Chile, Iran, Iraq, Grenada, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, et al are poignant examples. To discuss the present Russian military action against Ukraine in the absence of this historical perspective, is the essence of dangerous ahistorical bullshit!
Among those who concede that NATO poses an existential threat to Russia are Professors John Mearsheimer and the late great Russian specialists Dr. Stephan F. Cohen. Dr. George F. Kennan: a distinguished scholar, diplomat and policy wonk who was America’s most influential thinker on Russian affairs for most of the 20th century. Ambassador Jack Matlock was the staff person in the US embassy that translated the communiques between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, during the harrowing days when the world hung on the razor’s edge of nuclear destruction. Matlock was also the Ambassador to Russia when Gorbachev led the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
Among these outstanding analyst Dr. George Kennan deserves special mention. He was one of the earliest Russian specialists in the US State Department, being stationed in the US Legation at Latvia during 1931, before it became part of the Soviet Union. Equipped with a fluency in the Russian language, Kennan monitored Russian economic policy. He would later serve in diplomatic post in several Easter European countries that would become part of the Warsaw Pact, and was assigned to an important post as a Russian specialist in the Moscow embassy in 1944. In 1952 he served a brief stint as Ambassador to Russia before he was declared “persona non grata” by the Soviet government – due to an article he wrote – and recalled.
After leaving the diplomatic service he would go on to get his doctorate and become a long time Professor of Russian history and politics in the Institute For Advanced Studies at Princeton. An elite multi-disciplinary academic haven that had once employed Dr. Albert Einstein. There he would become arguable the nation’s most able scholar on Russian affairs, authoring many important articles and books, twice winning the coveted Pulitzer Prize, and a prestigious National Book Award.
But most consequential analytical treatise he ever penned, to his later chagrin, was the famous “Long Telegram/Memo” from Moscow in 1946. The 8000-word policy paper was published in the influential journal Foreign Affairs, under the by-line X. Since the journal is widely viewed as the voice of the US Foreign Policy establishment, and Kennan was stationed in the Moscow Embassy upon publication, he thought it best to conceal his identity. The policy recommendations laid out in this memo – capsulized in the term “Containment Strategy,” prescribed a policy of active American opposition to the expansion of Russian Communist influence on all fronts: Economic, Diplomatic and Militarily. The ideas put forth in this memo became the basis of the Truman Doctrine on Russian Communism in 1947, and guided American policy toward Russia until the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, nearly half of the 20th century.
Hence, when the US decided to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance into Eastern Europe, incorporating countries that had once been members of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Past, Tom Friedman – the three times Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, to solicit the views of Professor Kennan on the move. In a May 2, 1998 column titled, “And Now A Word From X, “ Freedman tells us Professor Kennan viewed the decision of President Bill Clinton – a Rhodes Scholar who was often lauded for his foreign policy acumen – to expand NATO thusly:
”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war, I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. NATO expansion was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was”
The analyst cited here comprise the deepest and most objective thinkers on the causes of the Russian/Ukraine war. From carefully listening to their analysis several indisputable facts become clear:
A- Actions by the US, EU and NATO are the to blame for the present military conflict.
B-The troubles began when the US failed to honor US Secretary of State Jim Baker’s pledge that NATO would not move “one inch” to the East toward the Russian Sphere of Influence.
C-From 1991, when the Soviet Union was voluntarily dismantled and the Russian Communist Party was removed from power, until 2008 when Russia invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, to prevent their incorporation into NATO, there was no armed conflict between Russia and their neighbors.
D- The 2014 coup that drove the democratically elected pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yevtushenko out of office was orchestrated by Victoria Nuland, the Under-Secretary of State for European Affairs.
E-The refusal to take Russian security concerns seriously, as demonstrated in their refusal to agree that Ukraine should not become a part NATO or the EU. And NATO’s refusal to honor the Russian demand to back up their forces from the Russian border.
Statements by all of the analyst mentioned here are linked at the bottom of this essay, which makes this a multi-media presentation, a marvel of the cyber age. However, as with all technology, Cyber-Science can be used for good or evil. It all depends upon the objectives of those employing it. Emil Sayegh, a leading authority on Cyber-Security, has warned us of the destructive capacity of this technology. In an article published by Forbes 8/16/2021, “When Cyber War Becomes Real War” he tells us: “Threats against the country and infrastructure are on a exponential rise and the nation now considers a tangible military response to a cyber attack as a potential and appropriate course of action.”
Considering the increasing sense of desperation and feelings of rage at the US led Sanctions against his country, which Putin has already called “an act of war,” we should all be afraid for the future…very afraid. Dr. Roderick Wilson, a leading Computer Scientist/Engineer, in response to a question about the demonstrated destructive power of hostile cyber-hacker attacks upon American banks, corporations, and critical infrastructure- such as the Colonial Pipeline that nearly paralyzed the East Coast of the USA for a week – told this writer in a recent interview:
“The thing that will be different this time is that when you are dealing with someone who feels he has nothing to else to lose then it becomes a suicide mission. In the cyber world this hasn’t been experienced because cyber criminals were always looking for monetary gain or to influence an outcome of a situation. It was never just outright destruction of a country’s infrastructure, as in a time of war, where nothing is off the table to make your adversary suffer.”
There is one voice that should be heard above all others at this dangerous moment in world history, and that is the voice of Robert McNamara. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the world came within a single decision by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev of being incinerated by nuclear bombs, Mr. McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense charged with giving the order to launch a nuclear attack on Russia. He was fully prepared to issue the order and the experience haunted him the rest of his life.
He later became so depressed from prosecuting the War in Vietnam, that President Lyndon Johnson became concerned that he might commit suicide, like a former Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal had done in 1949. It should be noted that Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy when the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, a hideous crime against humanity! Although Johnson took McNamara out of the war business and appointed him head of the world bank, where he spent the rest of his professional career helping developing nations to achieve their economic goals, he never got over the fact that he had once come very close to making a decision that would have destroyed the earth.
Hence, decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara was still haunted by the realization that “intelligent, college educated, sane men” had nearly destroyed the world. And he set out to contact his counterparts and interview them to finally discover if they were also ready to launch their nuclear weapons…because he surely was. The result of this fascinating quest was the Academy Award winning documentary film: “The Fog of War.” The most important lesson that McNamara learned from his investigation was that a lot of killing could have been avoided if we could learn to view conflict situations through the eyes of our adversaries.
One of the shocking things that McNamara reveals in his discussion with his North Vietnamese counterpart is the near total ignorance of the US government of what the Vietnamese resistance were fighting about, what the war meant to them. And the fact that this misunderstanding led to three and a half million Vietnamese being slaughtered by Americans. Which would be equivalent to 27 million Americans based on population differentials!
That is the same number of Russians killed by the Nazi invasion during World War II. Yet the Nazi slaughter is regarded as a great crime against humanity, while little is remembered of the atrocities committed in far more recent US invasion of Vietnam. Some of which – like the cancers and deformed babies born long after the war due to the saturation of Vietnamese soil with the chemical Agent Orange – they are still suffering from. There can be but little doubt that one reason for this collective amnesia is that Russians are white, and Vietnamese are brown. This is especially true in America, and to a great degree in Europe, where most issues are viewed through the lens of color.
This also explains the different reactions to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq by the US, with the clearly stated goal of “regime change” in that small far away country that posed no threat to the US, and the US/EU response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country on Russia’s border where they have critical issues of national security.
A Critical Caveat
In critiquing the character and quality of US press coverage of this conflict – which, if a diplomatic solution is not soon found, could degenerate into an accidental nuclear war – my intention is neither to endorse nor justify the Russian invasion, but to add the kind of historical perspective and objective analysis that will enable Americans to better understand it. And a big part of understanding it is to recognize that Putin has done nothing that any American president placed in similar circumstance would not have done. And several have done worse without nearly the provocations that the EU and NATO has presented Russia with. Demonizing Putin as a deranged monster will only make matters worse, and the world deserves better.
I also recognize that the Russians are even worse in terms of objective reportage and commentary by their mass media. But then, the Russian government is far more repressive in their actions toward journalist. Fortunately, American Journalists are protected from government coercion by virtue of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press from government censorship.
However, the censorship imposed by the capitalist corporations is no less effective because they can kill your stories or fire you. And they can effectively silence Russian media presenting the Russian view like RT –Russia Today. Which was easily accessible before the outbreak of this war but has now been forced out of the US media market – a practice that is roundly denounced when the Russian government blacks out western media. But it is deemed acceptable that corporate America has the last word about what we shall hear or say in US mass media. That’s why when the great Frederick Douglass – an escaped Afro-American slave who became one of the most able and courageous Publisher/Editor/Journalists of the 19th century – was asked while on a European tour, if there is “really a free press in America?” Douglass answered: ”Yes, if you happen to own one.”
This is a fact that is barely understood by the average American as I write. But it is a dirty little secret among journalists, the most thoughtful among whom routinely practice “self-censorship.” Which means that they understand that there are several hot-wire stories they are not to interrogate in their reportage, and opinions they must not express in their editorial commentary. Anyone who denies this is either a charlatan or a clueless fool. And there is the wreckage of careers to prove the veracity of my narrative: From Chris Hedges, to Dan Rather, to my own. Hence, I know firsthand of which I speak.
Any journalist worthy of the title ought to know that the Russian invasion was sparked by the purposeful actions of President Zelensky, more than any sudden fit of madness by Putin. It was Zelensky’s decision to try and gain membership in NATO and the EU for Ukraine, a former member of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, after repeated warnings from Putin that such an alliance would pose a grave threat to their national security. Hence this outcome was predictable, but then, Mr. Zelensky is not a seasoned statesman, he is a professional fool, a comic actor who used to play the president on television then became president in real life. Sorta like Americans electing Dirty Donald Dimwit, a bonafide fool with no experience in public service of any kind. And like Ukraine, we are paying a dear price for it. I suppose the moral of this story is: If you elect a clown you are going to get a circus!
Of course, the western press – US and EU – is so busy casting Zelensky as the hero of this deadly tragi-comic fiasco to even mention this possibility. The result of this one-sided coverage is that it impossible for the American public to empathize with the Russians, to view the conflict from their point of view, to see their side of the story. This is kind of political blindness is exactly what Secretary McNamara said led the world to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
I experienced this event with a deep sense of apocalypse because only a few months earlier I had been stationed on a Strategic Air Command base up on the DEW – Distant Early Warning – line in Glasgow Montana, on the Canadian border. Since I held a Top Secret security clearance, I was well informed about both the weapons and the mission of the base, which was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union. That was 60 years ago, yet here we are again alas. Never was there a time when the wisdom of one man could make such a great difference in world affairs, if only Robert McNamara could be heard!
Linked below are selected videos of lectures and interviews from scholars and political actors who, in their own words, illuminate and enlighten by their deep knowledge and objectivity. It is a welcome counter-narrative to the pious piffle and ahistorical bullshit that media during this crisis.
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
March 13, 2022
Lessons On the Roots of the Ukraine/ Russian War
Ambassador Jack Matlock:
Served as diplomat in the US Embassy during Cuban Missile Crisis and was US Ambassador, during the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
Secretary of Defense During Cuban Missile Crisis and Escalation in Vietnam
Excerpts from “The Fog of War”
Dr. Stephen F. Cohen
Was Director of Russian Studies at Princeton and Columbia and Putin’s Biographer. One of America’s most distinguished Russian scholars, he was like the watchman of Russian/American Affairs, constantly warning that US policies was leading us into another “Cold War” that was unnecessary and dangerous! On this Video, excerpted from a lecture at New York University, Dr. Cohen puts the question of American hypocrisy regarding NATO expansion. No one has said it better in so few words!
On What NATO Expansion Means to Russians
Dr. John Mearsheimer
John Wendell Harrison Distinguished Professor of Political Science U of Chicago
A brilliant and unconventional thinker, Dr. Mearsheimer has provided some of the clearest Analysis on the causes of the present Russian/Ukrainian war. He has been sounding the alarm for years that NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders would lead to this.
On the role of the US/EU in Sparking Ukraine Crisis
Mr. Posner is unique among journalists, the rare bi-lingual reporter/commentator who possesses a deep understanding of both Russian and American culture, society and politics. I first became aware of him when he and the enormously popular US talk show host Phil Donahue, hosted a series of joint TV shows called “Town Halls,” in which ordinary citizens of the US and Soviet Union expressed their views on contemporary issues of mutual concern. These were enormously important, because it provided an opportunity for the two peoples – citizens of nuclear armed nations locked in a “Cold War,” which would lead to the extinction of our species if it ever grew hot – to get to know each other as human beings. These programs helped pave the path to better relations between the Russian and American people at the end of the cold war. But, alas, the American government’s policies toward Russia resulted in an intensification of Russian nationalism. Here Mr. Posner gives his views on how these policies helped to empower Putin. A phenomenon of which an overwhelming majority of Americans are oblivious. The highlight of this highly informative and insightful Yale lecture is his warning about the increasing danger of accidental nuclear holocaust!
How the US Created Putin