Blame the West Again, Shall We?

By: Guest Authors

By: Jeffrey Schmidt

The invasion of Georgia by Russia provides the establishment media with yet another opportunity to display its moral bankruptcy. Case in point, the commentary of journalist Michael Hirsh, who wrote in Newsweek Online (“Pushing Russia’s Buttons”) that the West shares culpability in the Russian attack. Imagine that. A journalist blaming the West – particularly, the United States – for Russian predation.

For Hirsh, Russian aggression, though to be condemned, is mostly the result of a series of Western provocations. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States and its European allies had the audacity to extended NATO membership to former Soviet satellites, the likes of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungry. Support was given to democracy in the Ukraine and Georgia. Provocations, all.

In Hirsh’s world, there are spheres of influence. The West has its sphere, and the Russians have theirs. And, according to his rules, the Russian sphere is inviolate. He writes:

“…the seeds of Russia’s aggression lie in the sense of humiliation that Moscow’s proud power elites have felt at the hands of the West going back to the Clinton administration’s unceasing efforts to bring what used to be the Soviet bloc—and post-Soviet Russia itself—into the West’s sphere of influence.”

Evidently, we are to believe that nations, formerly Soviet vassals, have no right to their sovereignty. Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Latvians, Ukrainians, Georgians and others have no right to self-determination – or if they do, it must be proscribed by the Russians. No right to self-defense or to enter into alliances to better safeguard their freedom and independence.

These Eastern European nations and peoples know recently and well the yoke of Russian tyranny. They know well the knock at the door in the middle of the night. They know the prison or labor camp, or threat thereof. They know that men and women of conscience die when the State deems their very existence threats.

Yet, Hirsh writes that with the advance of democracy eastward, with sovereign nations electing to join NATO, “we aggravated anew the raw nerve of Russian paranoia about Western intentions.”

One can only respond to Hirsh that if the Russians are indeed paranoid, then they cannot be reasoned with. Paranoia is an illness of the mind not susceptible to reason. Nor will concessions placate it – not for long, in any event. For the healthy minded, the West’s intentions are manifest. For the peoples of Eastern Europe, the West has welcomed them into the community of free and civilized nations. It’s offered them the right to participate in a collective defense.

But to satisfy Russian paranoia, what is the West is to say to Georgians or Latvians or Ukrainians, that they have the misfortune of falling within the Russian sphere of influence, and that they must accept, if not outright Russian domination, then subservience? A cold calculation, this, and morally indefensible.

But Hirsh persists. He quotes no less an authority than Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet dictator, and as Hirsh is wont to inform us, a “Nobel Peace Prize winner,” as if that or any award can remove from Gorbachev the stain of his participation in the cruel Soviet system. Hirsh references Gorbachev, from an article about Georgia that Gorbachev penned for the Washington Post.

Gorbachev asserts “that the United States made a ‘serious blunder’ by pressing into the Caucasus, which Russia has dominated for centuries.” And Hirsh continues:

“It is difficult to exaggerate the sense of dismemberment and existential dread that Russian elites felt especially at the loss of the Ukraine, the breadbasket nation that has always been central to their concept of a ‘Greater Russia.’ Georgia, another breadbasket and location of a critical pipeline, is the birthplace of Stalin, who’s enjoying a new revisionist popularity in Russia.”

The contention has an eerie quality to it, as if Hirsh is writing about postwar Germans, who pine for liebenstrum and have developed a nostalgia for Adolf Hitler. To pacify the Russians, is the West to grant a Greater Russia and indulge the Russian taste for Stalin, a ghoul and killer of historic proportions?

Hirsh adds that advances east disregarded Vladimir Putin, “[who] warned repeatedly that he would never permit NATO in the Caucasus, but we kept shrugging this off as more bluff and bluster. Once you’ve driven a bear into a cave, it may be wise to stop poking him with a stick. We seemed to delight in it.”

Here, Hirsh doesn’t stop at blaming America; he accuses it of a certain gleeful sadism.

It is not that Hirsh is entirely blinkered. He’s taken the measure of the Russians. He references an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as describing Russia’s political system as “nearly ‘fascist.’” In dealing with these new fascists, though, he counsels “some practical realpolitk and, frankly, a degree of accommodation.” To arguments that have been made here and elsewhere that former Soviet satellites and republics have opted for democracy and NATO membership, he argues that that “doesn’t really wash.”

“When you’re dealing with great powers, you have to make adjustments,” he concludes almost blithely.

One wonders if Hirsh lived in the Ukraine or Poland, or had family in either place, if he’d be as willing to surrender freedom and security to accommodate Russian fascists. It is easy to ask others to surrender what one will not have to give up oneself.

And then Hirsh drags President Bush into the picture, citing “Moscow experts” who have suggested that Bush and Putin may have cut a deal, quietly. Russia would cooperate in the War on Terror and help contain Iran. In return, the President was to stay out of the Russia’s “backyard.” If such a deal was cut, writes Hirsh, “America didn’t honor it.” Pushing NATO membership for Georgia and the Ukraine were deal breakers. That and dismissing Russian objections to missile-defense plans.

No commentary blaming America would be complete without somehow blaming the President… or blaming, yet again, missile-defense. And all on hearsay from unnamed sources.

What has history taught the Michael Hirshes about excusing, placating or accommodating dictators or authoritarian regimes? If the history of the last century is any teacher, whether its Germans or Japanese or Russians, accommodation, at best, buys a little time. As was learned from Hitler, Tojo, and Stalin, concessions rarely satisfy for very long. More is demanded to stave off aggression or keep the peace. And when that is not enough, then there is war.

In Hirsh’s commentary, where is the exposition on the evil of Putin and of the system he’s creating and the track that Russia appears headed down? Where is the moral outrage that Russia wishes – again – to steal the freedom and independence of long-suffering peoples in the name of hegemony? Where is the defense of liberty and natural rights?

Abstractions, he might say. Not the stuff of realpolitk or great powers or a world carved into and governed by spheres of influence. The world Michael Hirsh describes, and seems to accept, is a brutish world. He should read Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest. Perhaps he wouldn’t find the brutishness and inhumanity they describe so easy to accommodate.

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