Podcast: against ‘progressive’ betrayal of Ukraine

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In Episode 164 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg again calls out The Nation magazine for essentially advocating Ukraine’s military defeat and loss of territory to Russian aggression in the Orwellian name of “peace” and even “saving Ukraine.” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo via Twitter)

Photo via Twitter

  1. Podcast transcript: against ‘progressive’ betrayal of Ukraine

    Transcript from CounterVortex podcast of March 13.

    We just passed the one-year anniversary of the start of the Ukraine war, Putin’s massive invasion of Ukraine. Which was noted by The Nation magazine in predictably dishonest manner—with an editorial, written by The Nation editorial board, entitled, “To Save Ukraine, End the War.”

    And what’s maddening is that those who look to The Nation magazine for progressive analysis of world events, because of the magazine’s provenance as a progressive voice, may get taken in by this—despite the fact that over the past several years, The Nation has utterly abandoned both progressive values and basic journalistic standards, and become a mere propaganda arm of Russian foreign policy aims, whether in Ukraine or Syria. As we extensively documented on our podcast of Aug. 28, 2022.

    So, more such documentation coming at you. Let’s do a line-by-line breakdown of some excerpts from this propaganda. From their editorial of Feb. 16, “To Save Ukraine, End the War.” Quote:

    February 24 marks the first anniversary of Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine. While we salute the extraordinary courage and resistance of the Ukrainian people, the occasion is a sad one, marked by a continuing war, mounting lives lost, people maimed, cities and villages savaged, families displaced.

    OK, the acknowledgement of “Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine,” as well as the salute to the “extraordinary courage and resistance of the Ukrainian people,” is the most condescending, empty lip service, as we shall see. This whole editorial is aimed at betraying the Ukrainian people, and rewarding Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion. And as for the “sad occasion,” may we please note that it would be a whole lot sadder if not for the extraordinary courage and resistance of the Ukrainian people—who have resisted the Russian advance for more successfully than anyone anticipated a year ago.

    Of course, there’s no acknowledgement of this. And The Nation editors quickly rain on their
    own hypocritical parade:

    The euphoria that greeted early Ukrainian successes in the field has contributed to a sense, in both Washington and Brussels, that outright military victory—and perhaps even regime change in Moscow—are realistic objectives.

    Now, can we please keep in mind that anything other than an “outright military victory” means ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia? Which in turn means the oppression, persecution and potentially massacre and genocide of the people within those territories. At a bare minimum, this admonition against “outright military victory” means ceding Crimea to Moscow. So this is yet another so-called progressive commentary on Ukraine that doesn’t even mention the Crimean Tatars—the Turkic and Muslim indigenous people of the Crimean Peninsula, who have been facing growing oppression and persecution since the Russian annexation of their territory in 2014. It’s like they don’t even exist—yet again. Disgraceful.

    We should also point out that since Putin’s regime has already declared the status of annexed territories to be off the table, there really isn’t anything to negotiate. Unless you are less hypocritically calling for an outright military defeat for Ukraine, “regime change” in Moscow is about the only way to end the war. Don’t blame me. Blame Vladimir Putin. That’s just the political reality, that he has declared—not me.


    To date, the Biden administration has held the line against direct involvement of US forces, sensibly fearing a war between two nuclear powers. But as the costs and the scope of our commitment rises, there will be a growing chorus arguing that the US cannot afford to lose. If the US had a role in the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines—as Seymour Hersh’s recent report is the latest to suggest—then the Biden administration has already taken fateful steps down the road of replacing Ukraine as Russia’s main military adversary. 

    Now, I’m agnostic on who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline—because I don’t know. But Seymour Hersh? Gimme a break. Whatever his laurels from the Vietnam era may be, he is today a discredited hack, who relies almost entirely on unverifiable anonymous sources and has an openly pro-Moscow agenda. This is the same Seymour Hersh who has over and over peddled baseless conspiracy theories about how the chemical attacks in Syria were “false flags” carried out by the rebels against their own people and not by the Moscow-backed dictatorship of Bashar Assad—in defiance of the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and every bona fide human rights group. Including making such claims on Kremlin state media outlet RT. I am not in the slightest bit interested in what Seymour Hersh has to say about the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline.

    Nonetheless, in the interest of due diligence, I did check out his piece, tiresome as it was, which appeared on his Substack page Feb. 8, “How America Took Out the Nord Stream Pipeline.” A completely dishonest headline—pretending to make hard claims, but in reality it all comes down, once again, to completely unverifiable sources. 

    Returning to the text of the editorial:

    Yet so far, Biden has largely acquiesced to Kyiv’s calls for more weaponry—and increasing US military entanglement. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that Ukrainian troops are already training at a US Army base in Okla­homa.

    Uh, not quite sure why this is a bad thing, unless you are rooting for a Russian victory. C’mon Nation magazine, why don’t you just drop the peacenik facade already? And finally, they do kind of drop the facade:

    A diplomatic settlement will not be easy to achieve. Both sides will have to make concessions. Ukraine will need security guarantees, resources for rebuilding—and a future within Europe. But it will have to surrender hopes for regaining all the territory it has lost since 2014. Russia will need to relinquish much of the territory it claims to have annexed. Eventually, it will need relief from international sanctions.

    In other words: Fuck the Crimean Tatars. Fuck the Ukrainians living in the Donbas. They are going to have to accede to permanent occupation and possible extermination in exchange for Russia ceding some portion of seized territories in order to keep the rest without even fear of economic sanction. Gee, what a great recipe for peace! Telling people to shut up and accept permanent occupation has certainly worked out really well in Palestine!

    And then the disgraceful finish:

    We must reject the siren song of those who would fight to the last Ukrainian. Given the suffering they have endured, Ukrainians may be understandably reluctant to accept a settlement. But the US and its NATO partners surely know that time is not on Ukraine’s side. The Western unity so vital to Ukraine’s defense is already beginning to fracture… To save Ukraine—and to avoid the risk of a truly catastrophic, possibly nuclear, great power conflict—it is time to seek an end to the war. For that to happen, the US and its allies must now lead the push for peace.

    This is so hideous. First we get “fight to the last Ukrainian” clichĂ©. As if the Ukrainians were mere puppets of the West, and not fighting for their very national and physical survival. So utterly condescending—unabashed imperial narcissism that sees the Ukrainians as mere pawns on the great chessboard. You find me one Ukrainian who views the Ukrainian people in such terms, Nation magazine. I’ll be waiting.

    Then they write: “The Western unity so vital to Ukraine’s defense is already beginning to fracture”—as if they were not openly attempting to help this process along! And then they state that their aim is “to save Ukraine—and to avoid the risk of a truly catastrophic, possibly nuclear, great power conflict.” No, that’s bosh. Their aim to destroy (or least reduce) Ukraine “to avoid the risk of a truly catastrophic, possibly nuclear, great power conflict.” Which is the most cowardly and deluded manifestation of Western bourgeois pacifism imaginable.

    All of this comes down to the cowardly and hypocritical notion that Ukraine or at least parts of it are to be sacrificed for “world peace,” that because Putin has the nuke we have to give him whatever he wants. First, history amply demonstrates that appeasement doesn’t work. Appeasement of Hitler in Czechoslovakia and Austria didn’t avert World War II—it directly led to it. And if you need a refresher on the history, you are referred back to our podcast of Oct. 1, 2022.

    Rewarding Putin for his nuclear threats isn’t going to make nuclear war less likely—it’s going to make it more likely, while also incentivizing every revanchist or expansionist out there who covets a piece of a neighboring country’s territory to similarly escalate up the nuclear ladder. China’s designs on Taiwan are the most obvious and dangerous example, but there’s also Azerbaijan’s claims on Armenian-controlled territory, Serbia’s claims on Kosova, the border dispute between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (which has recently come to actual fighting, despite little outside media coverage), and the longtime maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon over waters rich in hydrocarbons. 

    Now, only one of the countries involved in those disputes has the nuke: Israel, on an unacknowledged basis. But all the rest are in parts of the world where ex-Soviet nuclear arms and materials are floating around on the black market, and could procure nuclear capabilities fairly easily. And if Putin prevails in Ukraine, they will be incentivized to do so. 

    The notion that rewarding aggression is the answer to world peace is obvious Orwellian jive. And I’m not the one who is being glib here—of course there are risks to resisting Russia. But could we please get some acknowledgment of the risks of not resisting Russia?

    Interestingly, this editorial appears on The Nation website with a teaser link to another piece, by Reed Brody, the veteran war crimes prosecutor and Human Rights Watch investigator, entitled: “Prosecuting Putin: How the Double Standards of International Justice  are Obstacles.” It ran on Feb. 10. Now, this piece is, on the face of it, entirely laudable—calling for bringing Putin to justice, while also calling out the double standards on the question. He writes:

    As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, crimes by Russian forces continue to shock the world: the bombing of hospitals and schools, mass graves, torture, sexual violence, and more. But will Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, ever be held to account?

    The massive justice mobilization has already surpassed any precedent by orders of magnitude. Ukranian prosecutors have opened sixty thousand war-crime files. The International Criminal Court…has opened its largest field operation ever in Kyiv and raised unprecedented contributions from Western governments to support its probe.

    A dozen other states have jumped in by opening criminal investigations in their own courts… and even more, including the United States, have sent forensic experts and financial support to Ukrainian prosecutors. The United Nations has created a commission of inquiry. Everyone, it seems, is getting into the act.

    [T]his is precisely the kind of overwhelming judicial response that all mass atrocities should elicit. Victims in places like Ethiopia and Yemen can only hope they will now get the same attention, not to mention Palestinians whose complaints to the ICC of Israeli war crimes have gotten the go-slow treatment since 2015, or the long-suffering victims of the Bush administration’s torture program in Afghanistan, which [prosecutor Karim] Khan has “deprioritized,” arguing “limited resources.”

    And then I’m going to cut to the last paragraph:

    Let us be clear, Putin should be prosecuted for presumptive war crimes and aggression, and even if he is not arrested today, these crimes have no statute of limitations and will hang over his head forever. The question is whether the welcome justice mobilization around the horrors he has visited on Ukraine will also be applied to crimes committed by powerful Western actors.

    Now, there is nothing here that I disagree with—whatsoever. I support it 100%. My only misgiving (and it is a big one) is that it appears in the pages of The Nation, and therefore serves to legitimize their pro-Putin editorial line. We’ve noted before that this is how the game is played. The Nation occasionally runs a good piece like this one to “balance” the pro-Putin propaganda they overwhelmingly run—to create the impression that support for and opposition to aggressive war are equally legitimate positions. So I fear that Reed Brody is unwittingly helping to move the Overton window in a pro-Putin direction, and urge him to find a better outlet for his important words.

    And finally, I will note that at the end of the disgraceful editorial that I analyzed, The Nation flaunts its credentials with the following blurb:

    Founded by abolitionists in 1865, The Nation has chronicled the breadth and depth of political and cultural life, from the debut of the telegraph to the rise of Twitter, serving as a critical, independent, and progressive voice in American journalism.

    I find this so perverse. The Abolitionists, up to and including Frederick Douglass, overwhelmingly supported the Union war effort in the Civil War. Frederick Douglass’ only criticism was that the war had to be fought openly and unequivocally on the issue of Abolition, and not merely “saving the Union”—which would have left open the possibility of some kind of compromise peace with the Southern slavocracy, as was openly advocated by the Democratic party at the time. Which would have been a betrayal of the enslaved in the interests of restoring “peace.”

    So The Nation magazine has betrayed the ethic of its own founders. And similarly, the defense of Ukraine must today be waged on the issues of national survival, anti-colonialism and self-determination—in repudiation of a compromise peace that would betray the occupied and genocided.

    Cross-post to the Oakland Socialist