Elusive Western Values and the Myths of War
The debate about what to do is also undeterred by an inability to know for real what’s actually going on. The amount of disinformation spin and propaganda pouring into your timelines (from all sides) is bewildering. Rumours claims and counter-claims, accusations of false flags are everywhere and any real hard facts are thin on the ground. And yet through all of this, we are asked to commit to a binary position that seems both odd and compelling.
As Aditya Chakrabortty writes: “Condoleezza Rice pops up on Fox to be told by the anchor: “When you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime.” With a solemn nod, the former secretary of state to George Bush replies: “It is certainly against every principle of international law and international order.” She maintains a commendably straight face.”
Chakrabortty’s point is not just the abject hypocrisy of the spouting of ‘Western values’ but the reality that Putin is their guy: “The western values that are being touted today helped enthrone the monster who is now shelling Ukrainian women and children. However corrupt and repressive his regime, Putin was tolerated by the west – until he became intolerable. In much the same way, until last month Roman Abramovich was perfectly fit and proper to own Chelsea football club.” Now he isn’t.
Despite the obvious counter that the present owners of Newcastle FC are still somehow welcome, still somehow ‘fit and proper’. With the vast sums of loot swirling around the ridiculous Premiership, dark money and international reputation-laundering trump concerns about the regimes behind it. At least it’s symmetrical with the logic: “…we can’t be reliant on Putin’s oil so we’ll go to be reliant on the Saudi’s instead.” The fog of war and the fog on the Tyne have merged. The Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman owns Newcastle FC. The journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote critically of Bin Salman’s regime and the horrific war in Yemen. He was murdered and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. It’s widely believed to have been ordered by bin Salman himself. Yet the Toon Army have actively campaigned for it arguing that the post-Brexit post-austerity city needs his cash, even if it is blood-soaked.
This is a digression I know but one to point to the moral ambiguity of the skint and desperate and the strange phenomenon of imposing a moral construct onto the Bread and Circuses of the Premiership.
Where were we? Oh yeah, Western Values.
The West’s capacity for tolerating figures who are somehow acting in their own interests is as legendary as the idea of Western values is elusive. You are reminded of Gandhi’s apocryphal response to the question What Do You Think of Western Civilization?: “I Think It Would Be a Good Idea”.
But the vast consequences of the war in Ukraine are still rolling out across the world like a geopolitical tsunami. The unexpected consequences defy Putin’s overblown ‘genius’ and the West’s apparent ignorance. Massive European integration (whatever your view of this) is now inevitable. The breakup of the EU which was being talked up as an inevitable consequence of Brexit is now very much NOT HAPPENING. The NATO expansion which was largely in Putin’s imagination will now happen, though not in the countries he’d feared. Ukraine is not in NATO but NATO is in Ukraine. Other unintended consequences include the relentless attacks on ecology, the brief and ridiculous performance around COP26 now abandoned as fracking, new nuclear and a surge for North Sea Oil are celebrated. This takes specific form with the co-ordinated attack on the (itself spurious) notion of NetZero by those such as Investment manager Jeremy Hosking.
As the excellent Open Democracy reports: “Opposition to net zero has emerged as a major issue on the Conservative Right. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, described by DeSmog as “the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group”, has rebranded itself Net Zero Watch, while the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of backbench Tory MPs – led by long-standing Eurosceptics Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker – has called on Boris Johnson to water down environmental proposals. Politico reported last week that the UK government is now looking to U-turn on its own net-zero targets: its energy strategy has been delayed, and it will reportedly have loopholes on “national security” and “geopolitical consideration” that will pave the way to renewed drilling for North Sea oil and gas.”
I mean, you didn’t really need more bad news did you? But the idea that the already paltry and inadequate climate measures were being abandoned are just dire. The whole narrative is as if the solutions to climate breakdown are the threat itself. It’s as if the system is so dysfunctional that any threat to its continuity is deemed grave and the response brutal. While once capitalism was seen as being endlessly flexible and adaptive it now seems chronic and brittle.
It’s tempting to see the world’s powers just as different shades of evil in a global cesspit. The war in Yemen is an often ignored and hidden disgrace that has left 400,000 children starving to death because of a UK-backed war and blockade. The abject disaster that was the US and UK’s intervention in Afghanistan, culminating in the shambolic abandonment of Kabul has been conveniently wiped from our memories and if the war in Iraq was such that it motivated and mobilised a whole generation, its perpetrators remain unprosecuted. But we can list NATO atrocities and Western imperialism and still caution against false equivalence as we watch the horrors of Mariupol.
We can call witness to the fact that the West has ‘oligarchs’ too, many of which dwarf the wealth of the Russian Gangster Capitalist Class. We can accept and acknowledge that there is a vast and terrible history of US and British imperialism just as we watch the consequences of Russian imperial war. But we can do this and still call out and condemn the atrocities we are witnessing. We can do this and still mark the nature of this conflict and side with the people of Ukraine. There’s terrible sophistry about much of the left’s own analysis of this disaster.
Writing in the TLS Stephen Kotkin notes (Freedom at Stake): “NATO expansion did not cause Putin’s regime to jail or murder journalists and opposition figures, seize and manipulate domestic media, loot state funds on an unfathomable scale, or conflate the country’s survival with that of his personal rule, any more than a defensive alliance of mostly pacifist nations, many of which spent little on their militaries until Putin galvanized them, threatened the security of Russia.”
We can and should attack the militarised economies of both sides of the world, but it is not a binary world and the nature of these regimes is different, not the same. What is happening in the Ukraine is a disgrace on humanity and its perpetrators should be brought to justice.
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