Pundit Ping Pong on Russia

partisan102808.jpgWe often pointed out the amusing foibles of those who attempt to inject Russia issues into the U.S. partisan debate. Sometimes it seems that liberals find themselves cowed into a defensive posture, praising the public benefits of Putinist authoritarianism, while other times it’s the far right which can barely hide its envy and admiration for the efficacy of sovereign democracy. These ideological convictions and disagreements have become especially pointed since the invasion of Georgia. Case in point, there is a small “war of the pundits” going down right now over at Reason.com, concerning who is making excuses for who with regard to the Putin regime. It all started when the libertarian Cathy Young (representing the “right wing” – I know, confusing…) published an attack piece against Salon.com‘s Glenn Greenwald, who had earlier written a column criticizing some (alleged) McCain statements about the war in Georgia being “unprovoked.” Young points out that McCain never described the war as “unprovoked” during the debates, and then remarks that Greenwald and others appear to be confusing their past sympathy for the social ideals of the Soviet Union with today’s Russia: “The Putin/Medvedev Russia is the opposite of everything today’s left supports: It’s a land where billionaires flaunt their $20,000 watches and $350 million yachts, social services are slashed to a minimum, religion is entangled with the state, ethnic bigotry flourishes, labor unions are trampled, and homophobia is rampant and officially condoned.” Greenwald then published a response, and a rousing game of pundit ping pong took off from there. He writes:

Every time the major party candidates now mention Russia/Georgia — including in the debates — there is full, unequivocal agreement on everything, all premised on the comic-book, Good v. Evil narrative that Georgia is our stalwart democratic ally which, through no fault of their own, was victimized by an expansionist, war-seeking Russia, and we owe them our full protection and unwavering support. There is never a word of criticism toward Georgia or an acknowledgment of the role it played in provoking the conflict, in starting the war. That is the truth that cannot be spoken.Ever since Obama was pilloried for the crime of issuing a mildly “even-handed” statement at the start of the war — one which he was compelled quickly to rescind in favor of an uncritical defense of Georgia which heaped all blame on Russia — the truth of what happened, of Georgia’s role in provoking the war, has been forbidden to be uttered by mainstream politicians upon pain of being accused of “softness toward Russia” or harboring pro-Putin sympathies.And that’s the point: it is now almost as forbidden in mainstream American political circles to criticize Georgia as it is to criticize Israel. Georgia is the new, little neocon project — armed by Israeli (and U.S.) industry, with its soldiers trained by Israel and, shortly before the attack on South Ossetia, by the U.S. — and the same blind, uncritical allegiance which has long been demanded of American politicians towards Israel is now being applied to Georgia.

But wait! We’re not done. Cathy Young again responds to the response of her response…

Greenwald thinks the notion of autocratic Russia trying to snuff out Georgian democracy is too simplistic. Really? Few dispute that Russia has engaged in a covert war against Georgia since 2004, when Saakashvili came to power after the “Rose Revolution.” One of Russia’s tactics in this covert war was to create a class of “Russian citizens” within Georgia by issuing Russian passports to thousands of South Ossetians. (If the Bush administration gave the status of expatriate U.S. citizens to thousands of people in a separatist Iranian province and then used their “protection” as a pretext to invade Iran, would Greenwald see moral ambiguities in this situation? Somehow, I doubt it.) Over the same four years, Russia turned South Ossetia into the world’s most militarized region – essentially, an armed camp run by Russian military and security officers and a launchpad for small-scale warfare against Georgia. (For more on the subject, see this speech at the Cato Institute by former Putin advisor Andrei Illarionov.)

Will Greenwald keep the debate going? I sure hope so … although it’s a sad reminder of how wonky I must be if I actually enjoy plowing through all this minutiae.