On 12 May 2022, at 6:05, podinski wrote:

> "Why I Can't Wave a Ukrainian Flag – A Dissenting Teach-In on Russia's
> Invasion" by Daniel Herman
> [https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183040](https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/183040)

This is a wordy, milquetoast variation on self-styled 'anti-imperialist left' 
muzak, right down to the telltale mention of (BOO!) Victoria Nuland. It 
indulges in the usual bothsidesisms, for example, "imagine that Russia was an 
economic juggernaut able to spend $5 billion to turn Mexico into a close ally" 
(it didn't), and "The U.S. also provoked the war with its own election meddling 
in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine, a meddling that was magnitudes—light 
years—greater than whatever Russia did or did not do in our 2016 election" (uh, 
sure, dude). But maybe most of all it falls into the conventional leftoid trap 
of casting the alleged 'real' aggressors — an alphabet soup comprised of the 
US, the CIA, NATO, the NED, and "the West’s lavishly funded NGO complex" — as 
abstract, impersonal forces, whereas Putin benefits from being psychologized: 
he's cornered by this, reacting to that, had no choice about the other thing. 
The essay needs to do that, because it hangs on a single, central proposition, 
that "Putin, though capable of great brutality, is a rational actor"; I don't 
think we don't need 'go there' and speculate on his health to wonder how true 
it is that's he's acting rationally. And, though ostensibly leftist, the author 
says, "I have no particular expertise in foreign policy, but I defer to those 
who do (or did before their decease)" — notably, Kennan, Nitze, Warnke, Pipes, 
and (wait for it...) Kissinger. That alone suggests that the author is good at 
cranking out lots of words but not so good at gluing them together in 
meaningful ways.

What the author doesn't do is provide a symmetrically detailed accounting of 
the internal deliberations and actions of Russia, its allies, its technocratic 
intellectuals, and their collective institutions and networks over the last 
decades. Why? To a limited extent, it's the result of multiple biases in global 
media: language, focus, and of course hegemonic status. If you want to put 
serious time in, in libraries or even just on twitter, detailed analyses of 
these things are available. But they're hyperspecialized, and for a reason: the 
fundamental structure and fabric of governance in Russia, and before it in the 
USSR, as well as their networks of influence — these things have been 
traditionally and ideologically opaque for the last century. Reasonable people 
can disagree about the West's relative openness vs Russia's opacity, that, but 
essays like this should at least acknowledge their derivative bias front and 
center. Doing so would make it *much* harder to argue that the West is bad 
because A, B, C, D, E, F, G, whereas Russia is good because [no data].

One of my main takeaways from these debates about Russia and Ukraine is that 
the western lefts (very much plural) need to rethink their relationship to the 
state and, in particular, to the use of force. You don't have to like these 
things, theoretically or practically, to acknowledge that they exist and are 
effective — and that, if you don't grab them by the horns, someone else will.

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