Exploring The Left’s Own Obsession

I said on Monday that there is “something seriously wrong” with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as others on the right who are suffering from an Obama-induced detachment from reality. Graham had blamed the invasion of Ukraine on the President, saying, We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

Whatever is wrong with Senator Graham (and, please, let’s stop blaming it on his primary election and the need to please radicals in his party; that makes what he’s doing worse, not better), the disorder has deepened. Yesterday he tweeted:

graham tweet

In comes the bizarre conservative obsession with Benghazi, which means that rational thought is on vacation. Even in times that call for some semblance of national unity, in the face of thuggish behavior by a thuggish despot, we get Benghazi. How sad that is.

But I don’t want to just pick on conservatives, when it comes to foreign policy obsessions. On the far left we have an equally strange and disunifying foreign policy obsession: Barack Obama and George W. Bush are the same people, just different colors.

A long-time follower of this blog, and a man of the left, Gerry Malan, commented on my piece on the right-wing’s hysterical reaction to what happened in Ukraine. He said,

We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.

When I asked him to provide such proof, he responded with this:

Not sure how you missed the Nuland recording where she and our Ukraine ambassador discussed cutting out the EU and putting in our own selected thugs. Here it is from Foreign Policy on Focus:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/21-8

Today on Common Dreams Ray McGovern explains more of the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/03/02-2

I highly recommend reading more from RT and less from Morning Joe.

So, I spent some time following those links and reading the content. And I’m still waiting for “proof” that the Obama administration tried to install “our own selected thugs,” or that there is any such thing as “the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea.”

On the day it was released, I listened to the famous secretly-recorded phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (hear it here or read a transcript here). That call featured Nuland saying “Fuck the EU.” Besides that one bit of profanity, what I heard during that call is not what some liberals, way too many I’m sad to say, heard in it.

As Gerry Malan’s comment makes clear, and as the writers he references also make clear, what some folks heard was a secret and grand attempt at American imperialism, executed by “neoconservatives” in the Obama administration. But what I heard was not some worrisome conspiracy to bring down a democratically-elected president, but two people discussing events in Ukraine that were not started by the United States, nor part of a plot to set up a “client regime” in that country, but events that lent themselves to some democracy- and better government-favoring manipulation by the United States. And I’d be disappointed if we were not doing that kind of “meddling” in such events, since I have a fondness for democracy and good government and believe we should help those Ukrainians who also have a fondness for those things. Especially when it doesn’t involve American troops and trillions of dollars.

As for that Russian-leaked phone call, let’s remember what Jonathan Marcus pointed out was the reason for it:

The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.

“For audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message.” I don’t want to be in that audience. I tend to side with my own guys when a Russian thug is hard at work trying to embarrass them. I’m sorry that some liberals don’t have that same disposition. Unlike too many lefties, I will need a whole lot more than what I heard in that phone call to get me to buy what the Russians, and to some extent folks in the far-left press, are selling.

And one guy on the far left trying to sell this conspiracy is Patrick Smith, who wrote one of the articles that Gerry Malan linked to and presumably helped him conclude that, “We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” Smith is a long-time journalist and foreign correspondent, but to give you an idea of the kind of pieces he writes these days, he recently wrote an article for Salon.com titled, The world is right to hate us: Arrogance, ignorance and obscene foreign policy,” and subtitled, “This White House was supposed to be different. But our arrogant foreign policy has been the same since the 1950s.” That sort of gives you an idea where Smith stands.

Now, on to what he writes about that intercepted phone call and the recent events in Ukraine:

…we get to hear two American diplomats talking about Washington’s plan, already in motion, to install a client regime in the Ukraine.

Ah. There is that “install a client regime in Ukraine” stuff. But think about it. Even if there were proof of such a plot, it is hard to see just what we would do with such a client regime, especially when the opposition who would lead such a regime are, in the words of Patrick Smith, full of “oligarchs of the new Russian model.” Just why would we want to get mixed up with those guys in such an intimate way?

But even Patrick Smith isn’t quite bold enough to make the claim that there is “proof” that such a vast neocon-led conspiracy was and is going on:

With Kiev again erupting in violent confrontation, an understanding of the possible role of covert activities is essential to a complete picture.

“Possible role of cover activities”? Possible? Proof is more than speculation. Proof is more than saying it is wise to have “an understanding of the possible role of covert activities” in the confrontation going on in Ukraine and in what Gerry Malan and other liberals are calling a “plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” If there is proof, present it. That intercepted phone call is not proof. But there is evidence all over the place that what led to the fall of the government in Ukraine was homegrown frustration with corruption and malfeasance. Whether the protesters went too far and committed their share of violence, and whether there are neo-fascists and other miscreants among their ranks, is another question. We are debating here whether the United States government deliberately toppled a democratically-elected president.

I admit I am suspicious of anyone, like Patrick Smith, who tries to make the case for a conspiracy to install that new client regime but who also says that “demonizing Yanukovich is a distraction.” What? Viktor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, caused turmoil in the country, ordered the killing of civilians, and looted the treasury. I don’t find demonizing him a distraction and I’m suspicious of the motives of any writer who could so cavalierly dismiss his role in the mess.

I also find suspicious the writer’s motives when he says things like this:

There is a tendency among the East European nations to idealize the West, as if westernizing is the solution to all problems. I see this among the Kiev demonstrators. It is a mistake. Disillusion is never far when people follow this line of thought to its end.

That sounds like good old-fashioned lefty-loathing of Western civilization, a disease that some liberals just can’t shake. And for some of them the disease gets worse when a Democrat is in the White House. I wish I had the cure for such an illness, but I don’t. Western civilization, for all its faults, is better than the alternative. Therefore I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. I wish all Westerners did.

As for the actual speculation on this client regime stuff, Mr. Smith writes:

More interesting by far are the machinations Nuland and Pyatt describe. The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovich government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception.

And what exactly is wrong with such manipulation, so long as it is not accomplished at the point of a gun? I’d like for any liberal to explain to me why it isn’t a proper component of our foreign policy, as part of a larger Western strategy, to attempt to curb the appetite of a Russian despot? Mr. Smith also says:

The West unites around the thought of undermining Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions and pushing institutions such as NATO up to his doorstep.

So? Isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t “undermining” people like Putin a worthy objective? Or have liberals become so critical of Western civilization that they can no longer distinguish between the good and the bad? At one point Ambassador Pyatt says during the phone call with Assistant Secretary of State Nuland:

I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together.

Is that some awful conspiracy? Keeping those “moderate democrats together.” What next? Will we have the gall to advocate for a chicken in every Ukrainian pot? Seriously, this left-wing criticism is surreal. Since when are liberals opposed to democracy and good government and thwarting the ambitions of thugs? So what that we publicly said we were peace-loving brokers regarding the uprising, while behind the scenes we are trying to make good things happen more than we dared to publicly admit. God, I hope we do that stuff all the time. We have national interests, even if sometimes they President-elect Putin watches the tactical exercises of Russia's Northern Fleet in the Barentsevo Sea on April 6, 2000. He has been at the helm during a decade of Russian economic growth fueled by natural resources of gas and oil.are only what should be non-controversial interests (at least for Americans) in seeing to it, the best we can, that good democratic governance has a chance to flourish where it is wanted. To me, that is better—and much different—than invading Iraq and forcing it on people, like the real George W. Bush did.

What I find appalling about all this is the idea that what the United States was trying to do, shape events as best they could in favor of better democratic angels in Ukraine, is worse than what the Russians were and are doing, including endorsing the use of deadly force against Ukrainian civilians and still implicitly threatening such force. If this is what hard-core liberalism has become, count me out. I think I can still tell the good guys from the bad ones, even if, in this case, one of the “good guys” is Victoria Nuland, a career foreign service officer who, after she worked for Bill Clinton, then worked for neocons like Bush and Cheney, before working for Barack Obama. In any case, even if we were talking about bad guys, we aren’t exactly talking about torture or starting a war on false pretenses here, even though one of the commenters on Smith’s piece wrote,

Obomba is a thug who heads a thug state (see Engelhardt’s article of yesterday here at CD), and it seems that by now this ought to be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to his appointments, his bellicose foreign policy, and assassination program. No different in fact from Bush the Lesser and an entire lineage of U.S. presidents who threw their weight around all over the planet, plundering, occupying, killing, etc. That is (why) Nuland was appointed as she was. She is the perfect agent of a rogue state.

What a load of America-loathing bullshit. But this thinking, engendered by the kind of writing Patrick Smith does these days, represents what some folks on the far left think. They fail to differentiate between bad, better, and best. It sounds so much like what I hear a lot of Obama-hating conservatives say. As I said, count me out as wanting to join that kind of liberalism, which I find every bit as darkly conspiratorial as anything Glenn Beck could fantasize into existence. And thank God or Allah that Obama isn’t that kind of liberal either, just like he isn’t the same kind of neoconservative thinker that led us to a foolish war during the Bush administration.

For the record, as many mistakes as America has made in its foreign policy, and believe me there have been a lot, trying to seek out and help “moderate democrats” in Ukraine doesn’t rise to the level of the “assassination program,” for God’s sake. Those of us on the left, who value the principles of good-government democracy, shouldn’t let an obsession with misguided neo-conservative “regime change” philosophy get in the way of appreciating the fact that we, as a nation of freedom-loving democrats, should still be friends of liberty everywhere, even if we screw things up now and then.

The deal about all this “fuck the EU” business is that the U.S. diplomats were expressing frustration at the slow-walking EU folks, who want to avoid a confrontation with Russia and a mean-spirited despot like Putin, who controls much of their energy needs. In that context, we all should be applauding what these two U.S. diplomats were trying to do, not accuse them of evil. It’s not exactly like they were trying to establish the Ukrainian version of the bleeping Third Reich.

As for Gerry Malan’s other link to an article by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern—who was a daily briefer for George H. W. Bush but who now thinks Julian Assange is a “hero”—I will only quote one passage:

In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?

What? There is no evidence, not to mention proof, that the United States pushed “the putsch” that ended Yanukovych’s presidency. Protests in Ukraine initially began in November of last year, after Yanukovych backed away from signing a free trade agreement with the European Union, mostly under pressure from Putin. There were also issues with the Ukrainian constitution. But, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out, wanting closer ties with Western Europe wasn’t enough to get “[m]iddle-class professionals, blue-collar workers, students and retirees” out to “form ranks of street fighters armed with Molotov cocktails.” The biggest reason for the unrest was a familiar one:

The demonstrations reflected the appalling state of governance in Ukraine. The Yanukovych government was a kleptocracy. Policy goals were subordinate to the enrichment of the president and a privileged elite, known colloquially as “the family.” In international rankings of corruption, Ukraine was recognized as one of the most corrupt regimes on Earth.

There you have it. The tumult in Ukraine was not a coup d’état (as Russian expert and Putin apologist Stephen Cohen claimed) plotted by Barack Obama and the U.S. government. And if someone, anyone, claims it was then they have to offer up more evidence than a Russian-provided telephone call between two American diplomats.



  1. This seems like a fair assessment to me. And, relative to the intercepted Nuland phone call, it’s clear that the State Department needs to update its security guidelines, and maybe its equipment. But, her language doesn’t upset me either. From what I could tell, she wasn’t revealing some neocon conspiracy but rather voicing an opinion and, as Duane says, trying to support people who desperately want real democracy. Our Secretary of State and the President need to hear their subordinates opinions, even the more extreme ones, and people need to feel free to give them. Old Puty-put very likely seldom hears a dissenting voice among his “advisors”.


    • I couldn’t agree more that some updating is needed to the security system, if the Russians can get a crystal-clear recording like that. How bleeping embarrassing that was. Of course we all know that lapse in security is also Obama’s fault. His everlasting weakness as a leader enabled Putin to intercept that call so adroitly. That would never have happened under George Bush, right? About the only thing that happened under his watch, besides the invasion of Georgia by the same Russians, was 9/11 and the death of 3,000 Americans. Of course that’s before he put his man-pants on, so all is forgiven.


  2. King Beauregard

     /  March 5, 2014

    I used to think the Left more or less had their heads screwed on straight, but Jesus, more and more of them reveal themselves to be as broken as the Teabaggers. Syria’s another one, where these f’in retarded Lefties are furious at Obama for having a secret neocon agenda, and thank God Assad and Putin were able to stop that rampaging savage negro.

    When you’re making heroes of the guys who kill thousands of civilians with poison gas, and you’re mad at the guy who’s trying to stop the use of poison gas, it’s time to consider that you might literally be evil. At the very least, you’re broken in some profound way that really should stop you in your tracks, astonished at what you have become.

    It’s the same old song and dance with the f’in retarded Lefties, I go through the same litany at least once a week:

    FRL: Obama’s a shill for the insurance companies, that’s why we don’t have a public option.

    KB: Really? Then tell me where all 60 Senate votes were going to come from to beat a filibuster.

    FRL: The filibuster isn’t in the Constitution, the Senate just requires a simple majority.

    KB: But the Constitution also lets the Senate make their own rules and procedures, and the filibuster is just such a rule.

    FRL: The Democrats could junk the filibuster any time they want to with a simple majority!

    KB: No, they can do that only at the start of a new Congress

    FRL: But they just eliminated the filibuster, that proves they could have done it at any time!

    KB: They lowered the cloture requirement on appointments, that’s by no means the same as eliminating the entire filibuster. No Senator thinks you can just wish the filibuster away.

    FRL: You Obamabots shouldn’t be running interference for Obama; he’s a shill for the insurance companies, that’s why we don’t have a public option.


    • As far as I can tell, from the New Left on, there has been a problem on the far left of not differentiating between those who do evil and those who, however misguidedly or haphazardly or stupidly, are trying to stop it. The problem is that a lot of that nonsense obscures the reality that sometimes the U.S. is in the wrong and needs to be called on it. But when everything is a conspiracy, people start to tune out or get all jingoistic.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  March 7, 2014

    I will try to be brief in supporting Duane’s blog above, by and large. What it boils down to, at least for me, is the simple observation that the virulence of domestic politics should stop at the water’s edge. Like it or not, the art of geopolitics is the appropriate application of power to achieve national objectives. If we get all tangled up in left, right political ideas on the “appropriate use” of power, then we remain stymied and ununited, nationally, as we attempt to deal with the “other side” and how they choose to apply power.

    Can anyone commenting on this blog read the tea leaves to really understand “What do the Ukranian people really want” in terms of their form of government and which way it “leans” geopolitically? Without a full and free campaign, followed by a free and secret ballot election, who knows for sure? But that won’t happen today, like it or not.

    So both sides, Russian and European (OK, Western) influences are brought to bear to try to convince “the people” what is best for them. Russian leaners call westerner’s “thugs” for meddling in their affairs. Westerner’s call Putin, and thus any Russian leaners in the Ukraine, “thugs” as well.

    Does the U.S. have national interests in which way Ukranians “lean”, geopolitically. Yes it does, just as we were interested in how Poland resovled its release from the Soviet Union’s influence in Poland. But would we have gone to war to protect Poland a few decades ago. I doubt it, just as we refused to go to war over “revolts” against the Soviet Union and the imposition of communism is post WWII Eastern Europe many decades ago. Is the Ukranian issue today any different?

    For all the hand wringing lefties, worried about war, or for militant righties ready to smack down any thug that comes our way, back off is my suggestion. No way can or should the U.S. consider using military power in the Ukraine, today, nor does NATO have the courage or capacity to use it there either. So what is left to use by the West to influence events in the Ukraine and Russia as well?

    But I will pose one question along such lines. “What if” some masked “thugs” storm and burn an American diplomatic enclave in the Ukraine, today? Are we in fact ready to protect and defend American personnel in that volitle region today? We refused to take any protective action some 18 months ago in the face of “lawless thugs”. Think Putin watched such events and wondered ………?

    As you consider such possibilitiers, reflect back on the 2009 speech in Cairo by President Obama. I wonder what ties might be found that bind Russia and America today that can thwart the upheaval in the Ukraine, today, as opposed to the evident “forces that divide us”.

    Figuring out that dilemma in terms of American interests or vital interests is the issue facing our President today, is it not?



    • You’re right that there is a lot to figure out. Iran, Syria, and Ukraine all have one common thread: Putin, who may have made a strategic blunder by his actions in Crimea that Obama may be able to exploit elsewhere. All of this would, however, be a whole lot easier to figure it out if the American right-wing wasn’t denigrating our commander-in-chief and calling him a sissie on Fox and elsewhere, while praising Putin as a great “leader.” It has been a sickening display of unwarranted and unsupportable disunity on the part of your friends on the right. Something I will never, ever forget.


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