How should libertarians assess the crisis in Ukraine? Some would have us believe that a true commitment to liberty entails (1) glorifying the “Euromaidan revolution” and the government it installed in Kiev, (2) welcoming, excusing, or studiously ignoring US involvement with that revolution and government, and (3) hysterically demonizing Vladimir Putin and his administration for Russia’s involvement in the affair. Since Ron Paul refuses to follow this formula or to remain silent on the issue, these “NATO-tarians,” as Justin Raimondo refers to them, deride him as an anti-freedom, anti-American, shill for the Kremlin.
Dr. Paul takes it all in stride of course, having endured the same kind of smears and dishonest rhetorical tricks his entire career. As he surely knows, the price of being a principled anti-interventionist is eternal patience. Still, it must be frustrating. After all he has done to teach Americans about the evils of empire and the bitter fruits of intervention, there are still legions of self-styled libertarians whose non-interventionism seems to go little further than admitting that the Iraq War was “a mistake,” and who portray opposition to US hostility against foreign governments as outright support for those governments.
“Yes, the Iraq War was clearly a mistake, but we have to confront Putin; we can’t let Iran ‘get nukes;’ we’ve got to save the Yazidis on the mountain; we must crush ISIS, et cetera, et cetera. What are you, a stooge of the Czar/Ayatollah/Caliph?”
Some of these same libertarians supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, and presumably laughed along with the rest of us when the neocons tried to paint him as “pro-Saddam” for opposing the Iraq War and for debunking the lies and distortions that were used to sell it. Yet, today they do not hesitate to tar Dr. Paul as a “confused Pro-Putin libertarian” over his efforts to oppose US/NATO interventions in Ukraine and against Russia. Such tar has been extruded particularly profusely by an eastern-European-heavy faction of Students for Liberty which might be dubbed “Students for Collective Security.”
It should be obvious that Ron Paul holds no brief for Putin and the Kremlin. Let me inform the smear-artists and their dupes what Ron Paul is trying to do with his statements and articles about Ukraine and Russia (for example, here is Dr. Paul before the coup and one year after). He is not trying to support Putin’s government. He is doing what he has always done. He is trying to prevent US intervention. He is trying to stop war.
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Some NATO-tarians have responded to this assertion by asking, “If that is so, why can’t he just limit himself to simply stating his principled opposition to intervention? Why must he go beyond that, all the way to reciting Kremlin talking points?”
First of all, this is one of the most egregious fallacies that Ron Paul’s critics regularly trot out: the allegation that, “because A voices agreement with B about statements of fact, then A must be doing so in the service of B.”
To see the fallacy involved clearly, let us draw out the Iraq War comparison a bit more. Before and during that war, in spite of Bush Administration and media propaganda to the contrary, Ron Paul argued that Saddam Hussein did not have a weapons of mass destruction program or ties to Al Qaeda. Saddam argued the same thing. So was Ron Paul just “reciting Baghdad talking points” back then? Was he being a “confused pro-Saddam libertarian”? No. Do you know why Ron Paul was saying the same thing as Saddam? Because it was true. As is widely accepted today, Saddam did not have a WMD program or ties to Al Qaeda. Is it valorizing Saddam to admit that he told the truth? Again, no; it is simply to abstain from hysterically demonizing him. Of course Saddam was a head of state, and as such, he was a lying murderer. But in this instance, telling the truth happened to serve his interests, which included trying to avoid a war in which he might be overthrown and killed. Ron Paul also told the truth, because he’s not a lying murderer, and because he also wanted to prevent such a disastrous war: although of course not for Saddam’s sake, but for the sake of avoiding all the catastrophic results that would surely (and did) flow from it.
Ron Paul had no love for Saddam then or for Putin today, just as, notwithstanding endless smears to the contrary, there was no love nurtured by Murray Rothbard for Khrushchev, Justin Raimondo for Milosevic, Lew Rockwell for Lukashenko, or Jacob Hornberger for Chavez. Rather, it just so happens that, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, the truth has a well-known anti-war bias. That is the only reason why, when speaking about the same international crises, principled anti-war voices so frequently find themselves in agreement over points of fact with tyrants who want to avoid being attacked. The truth can, in some cases, happen to serve the purposes of both good and evil men. That doesn’t stop it from being the truth.
Similarly, there are a great many true (and intervention-disfavoring) points of fact concerning Ukraine and Russia that are being completely ignored by the media, which instead regurgitates the intervention-favoring propaganda it imbibes directly from Washington, London, and the NATO bureaucracy. These truths are broadcasted, and this propaganda refuted, both by the Kremlin and by Ron Paul. But again this coincidence does not occur because the two are in cahoots. The Kremlin engages in this broadcasting and refuting because it considers avoiding US/NATO intervention to be in its state interest. Ron Paul does so because, again, it is the truth, and because he considers avoiding US/NATO intervention to be moral and in the interest of humanity in general (Americans, Russians, and Ukrainians, included).
What is this propaganda that Ron Paul labors to refute, along with his Institute for Peace and Prosperity, and like-minded alternative media outlets like Antiwar.com and LewRockwell.com?
According to the Washington/NATO/Kiev/neocon narrative, a peaceful protest movement emerged in Kiev against an oppressive government, was met with a deadly, unprovoked, and uncompromising crackdown, but ultimately prevailed, causing Ukraine’s dictator to flee. A popularly-supported, freedom-loving, self-determination-exemplifying government then emerged. But dastardly Putin horribly invaded and conquered Crimea, and engineered a “terrorist” revolt in the east of the country. Putin is the new Hitler, and if the US and Europe don’t confront him now, he will continue his conquests until he has recreated the Soviet Empire and re-erected the Iron Curtain.
The reality of the situation, which Dr. Paul and only a handful of others strive to represent, is far different.
First of all, the chief grievance of the protesters was not about domestic oppression; it was over foreign policy and foreign aid. They wanted closer ties with the west, and they were angry that (the duly elected) President Viktor Yanukovych had rejected a European Union Association Agreement over its severe stringency.
Far from “organic,” the movement was heavily subsidized and sponsored by the US government. Before the crisis, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland bragged about the US “investing” $5 billion in “helping” Ukraine become more western-oriented.
Once the anti-government protests in Kiev were under way, both Nuland and Senator John McCain personally joined the demonstrators in Maidan Square, implicitly promising US support for a pro-western regime change. Nuland even went so far as to pass out cookies, like a sweet little imperial auntie.
Far from peaceful, the protesters were very violent, and it is not clear which side fired the first gunshot. The Foreign Minister of Estonia, while visiting Kiev, was shown evidence that convinced him that protest leaders had hired snipers to shoot at both sides. And the BBC recently interviewed a Maidan protester who admitted to firing on the police before the conflict had become pitched.
In fact, the hard core of the Euromaidan movement, and its most violent component, was comprised of Nazis. And no, I don’t mean to say “neo-Nazi,” which is a term really only appropriate for people who merely glean inspiration from historical Nazis. On the other hand, the torchlight marching fascists that spearheaded the Ukraine coup (chief among them, the Svoboda and Right Sector parties) are part of an unbroken lineal tradition that goes back to Stepan Bandera, the Nazi collaborator who brought the Holocaust to Ukraine. Even a pro-Maidan blogger wrote for The Daily Beast:
“Of course the role that the Right Sector played in the Euromaidan cannot be underestimated. (…) They were the first to throw Molotov coctails and stones at police and to mount real and well-fortified barricades.”
More fundamentally, what is often forgotten by many libertarians, is that revolutionary street and public square movements like Euromaidan are not “the people,” but are comprised of would-be members of and partisans for a new state, every one of which is inherently an engine of violent aggression. What we saw in the clash at Maidan Square was not “Man Vs. State,” but “Incoming State vs. Outgoing State.”
Far from being completely intransigent, Yanukovych agreed to early elections and assented to US demands to withdraw the riot police from the square. As soon as he did that, the government buildings were seized. The city hall was then draped with white supremacist banners.
Far from being supported and appointed popularly and broadly, the new government’s backing is highly sectional and heavily foreign. It was installed by a capital city street coup, not a countrywide revolution. In a deeply divided country, it only represented a particularly aggressive component of one side of that divide. Moreover, its top officeholders were handpicked by Nuland, and its installation was presided over by the US Vice President, as was famously revealed in an intercepted and leaked telephone recording.
And the only thing saving the extravagantly warlike new government from bankruptcy is the unstinting flow of billions of dollars in aid from the US, the EU, and the IMF, as well as “non-lethal” military aid (including drones, armored Humvees, and training) from the US.
Far from being freedom-loving, top offices are held by an ex-bankster (Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whom Nuland handpicked when she said “Yats is our guy” in the above recording), a corrupt oligarch (chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko), and, yes, Nazis (including Andriy Parubiy, until recently the National Security chief, and Oleh Tyahnybok, also mentioned by Nuland in the recording as a key advisor to the new government).
Far from being an exemplar of self-determination, the new regime responded to eastern attempts to assert regional autonomy with all-out war, shelling civilian centers (with aerial and cluster bombs, even) and killing thousands.
Air attack on pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk kills 8, stuns city - CNN.com
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Of course Nazis have also played a key role in the war. As the famous journalist Robert Parry wrote:
“The U.S.-backed Ukrainian government is knowingly sending neo-Nazi paramilitaries into eastern Ukrainian neighborhoods to attack ethnic Russians who are regarded by some of these storm troopers as “Untermenschen” or subhuman, according to Western press reports.
Recently, one eastern Ukrainian town, Marinka, fell to Ukraine’s Azov battalion as it waved the Wolfsangel flag, a symbol used by Adolf Hitler’s SS divisions in World War II. The Azov paramilitaries also attacked Donetsk, one of the remaining strongholds of ethnic Russians opposed to the Kiev regime that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.”
Plagued by failure and desertion in spite of massive western aid, the “pro-freedom” new regime in Kiev has resorted to conscripting its non-rebeling citizens. Meeting stiff draft resistance and opposition to the war, it has jailed a journalist for merely advocating draft-dodging, prepared a law restricting the travel of draft-age citizens, contemplated conscripting women over 20, and passed a law allowing the military to shoot deserters on the spot.
And the Nazis have also played in key role in the stifling and crushing of internal dissent as well. After the coup, Right Sector began patrolling the streets and squares of Kiev. And in Odessa, Right Sector toughs joined a mob in trapping and burning to death 38 anti-Maidan protesters in the Trades Union House.
Whatever involvement Moscow has in it, the revolt in the east is far from engineered. People there do not need Russian money and threats to know they had absolutely no say in the regime change in distant Kiev, and that it was executed by their political enemies. Russian-speaking and heavily industrial, it would have suffered grievously, both economically and politically, had it been dragged into a new expressly anti-Russian order. It was made abundantly clear which way the wind was blowing when Tyahybok’s Svoboda, as the Christian Science Monitor put it, “pushed through the cancellation of a law that gave equal status to minority languages, such as Russian,” even if the cancellation was temporary.
Far from “terrorists,” the rebels are not trying to destabilize or overthrow the government in Kiev, but are seeking to establish autonomy from it. If anything, it is Kiev, with its high civilian death toll, that has been more engaged in terrorism.
And far from Soviet revanchism, Russian policy has been largely reactive against US aggressiveness. Since Moscow dropped its side of the Cold War by relinquishing its empire, including both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, the US has taken advantage by progressively expanding NATO, an explicitly anti-Moscow military pact, all the way to Russia’s borders: a policy that even Cold War mastermind George Kennan, in 1998, predicted would prove to be tragic. Moscow warned Washington that Russia could not abide a hostile Ukraine, which would be a bridge too far.
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But Washington blithely pushed on to snatch Ukraine anyway. The sheer flippancy of it can be seen most vividly when Gideon Rose, editor of the US foreign policy establishment organ Foreign Affairs (published by the Council on Foreign Relations) went on The Colbert Report in the midst of the crisis and jocularly boasted about how “we want to basically distract Russia” with the shiny Olympic medals it was winning at the Sochi Olympics while getting Ukraine “to flip sides.” Colbert aptly characterized this geopolitical strategy as, “Here’s a shiny object! We’ll just take an entire country away from you,” to which Rose enthusiastically responded, “Basically!”
(Perhaps to atone for such an embarrassing and pandering display of naïveté and frivolity, Rose later published an excellent article by respected establishment foreign policy expert John Mearsheimer arguing “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault.” Even that old CFR-associated murder-monger Henry Kissinger has urged reconsideration.)
The takeover included Crimea which is heavily Russian-speaking and has been under effective Russian control since the 18th century. Unsurprisingly, Washington’s brilliant “Shiny Object” doctrine failed miserably, and rather than see its only warm-water port pass under the sway of an increasingly antagonistic rival, Russia asserted control over Crimea, doing so without loss of life. Later, following a referendum, Crimea was formally annexed.
Of course this act was not “libertarian”; hardly anything that a state does is. But it is simply a warmongering distortion to characterize this bloodless foreign policy counter-move as evidence of reckless imperial Russian expansionism, especially when you compare the “invasion” of Crimea with the bloody havoc the US has wreaked upon the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia for the past 14 years.
As for whatever meddling Russia is guilty of in eastern Ukraine, let’s try to put it in perspective without absolving it. Just imagine what the US would do if Russia had supported a coup in Ottawa that installed an anti-American Canadian government right on our border, and then perpetually re-armed that government as it bombed English-speaking separatists in British Columbia. Compared to what you’d expect to follow that, Russia’s response to a US-sponsored, anti-Russian junta bombing Russian speakers right on its border has been positively restrained.
After all, it is Putin who has been constantly pushing for ceasefires against American militant obduracy and European reluctance, just as, in 2013, it was Putin who successfully pushed for a deal that prevented the US from launching yet another air war, this time against the Syrian government.
Again, this is not to claim that any foreign intervention on the part of Moscow is at all justified on libertarian grounds, or to argue that Putin is anything more than a lying murderer who happens to be more intelligent and sane than our own lying murderers. It is only to make clear that in this respect too, Russia’s involvement in the affair is hardly evidence of grand imperial designs.
As an aside: Putin’s foiling of neocon war aims in Syria (and potential future such foilings) may be the reason that the anti-Russian putsch in Ukraine, and the new Putin-threatening Cold War it engendered, was advanced by Nuland, who is a neocon holdover from the Bush Administration and the wife of leading neocon Robert Kagan, in the first place.
To think that any country is too big or too dangerous (especially if destabilized) to be targeted by neocons for regime change would be naïve. And to think Putin is too naïve to know this would be equally naïve.
So much for the Washington/NATO/Kiev/neocon narrative. Now to return to the NATO-tarian objection from above: why must Ron Paul stress these points of fact, especially when they make wicked Putin look better, or at least not-so-wicked? Why can’t Dr. Paul merely state his principled opposition to intervention?
It might make sense for him to do so if that were enough to make a difference. But the thing is, it’s not. The sad but inescapable fact is that the American people are not operating under the same moral premises as Ron Paul and other principled libertarians. As such, the public is susceptible to war lies and distortions. And the Washington/NATO/Kiev/neocon narrative about Ukraine and Russia is nothing but a tissue of war lies and distortions.
As the warmongers are abundantly aware, if Kiev is sufficiently falsely valorized, Washington/NATO sufficiently falsely absolved, and Putin and the eastern separatists sufficiently falsely demonized, then American opinion will provide cover for US intervention, regardless of what principled libertarians say. So the only way to practically stop such intervention is to go beyond statements of principle and to debunk those war lies and distortions; moreover, to debunk them bravely and forthrightly, even if the Kremlin is also trying to debunk them, and even if simple-minded or lying critics will use that parallel to smear you as an agent of a foreign power.
Besides, if Ron Paul’s statements really are part of some ulterior pro-Putin agenda, how could he possibly hope for his efforts to advance such an agenda? He couldn’t. He is not writing in or speaking Russian; he has zero effect on Putin’s domestic support. The only real effect he has is on opinion and policy in the English-speaking world. So, as it concerns the Ukraine crisis, the only real impact he could hope to have is to dissuade intervention.
So much for Ron Paul’s “ulterior motives.” But what about some of his critics? A question actually worth asking is as follows: Why are some of his avowedly libertarian critics, many of whom profess not to favor intervention (or at least studiously avoid talking about that question concretely) so absolutely livid over Ron Paul’s challenge to their narrative? Their English-language blasts against Dr. Paul are also not likely to effect Putin’s domestic support one way or the other. Their only possible impact is also on US foreign policy. So, why are they so extremely sensitive about the acceptance in America of a narrative that lends itself toward intervention and confrontation? The question answers itself.
Let me close with a few additional questions.
Why is it “defending tyranny” for Ron Paul to agree with Putin on points of fact, but not for “libertarians” to hail a government that rose to power in a violent putsch, that welcomes outright Nazis in its ranks, that conscripts its people, and that drops cluster bombs on civilians?
What exactly is “libertarian” about NATO, which amounts to an hegemonic, dual-hemisphere, nuclear tripwire, species suicide pact?
What is so secure about a state of “collective security” in which petulant, reckless nationalists in small eastern European countries can drag the whole world into nuclear war over a border dispute?
And finally, why should a new Cold War be launched, and the risk of nuclear annihilation for all our families and hometowns be heightened over the question of which clique rules a particular river basin on the other side of the world?
Ron Paul has excellent, solidly libertarian answers to all these questions. Do his critics?