That Jones Isn’t Funny Anymore

By David Paxton

To observe Owen Jones at work is to see somebody carefully negotiating difficult terrain. He has been the vanguard for this latest form of full-time campaigner-cum-party surrogate disguised as a commentator. People for whom purpose and credibility are at constant odds with each other.

Jones is both inside the tent and outside and does wondrous work trying to square the circle. “All commentators are biased it’s just that I’m honest about it” is the line and it’s a typically good one. But the tension many political commentators experience between having friends in the game, being a player yourself, and commentating on that game, has rarely been more obvious than it is with Jones. And so his output constantly resembles tactics far more than just a writer trying to make sense of the world from their particular vantage point. And it’s those contortions (see him on Brexit), the tightrope-walking, and most of all, the tactical silences from the inside man of the Corbyn show, that made for such great spectator sport.

The Labour antisemitism saga has changed all that.

As a reminder of how far we’ve come it’s worth re-reading this Jonathan Freedland piece from March 2016. It’s obviously fair and, by today’s standards, very tame about Corbyn. It expresses genuine, and now obviously well-founded, fears within the Jewish community. It repeats the line that was standard for so long:

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn. No one accuses him of being an antisemite. But…

Corbyn’s now infamous response to this article, as recorded in the disastrous VICE documentary, went:

The big negative today is the Jonathan Freedland article in The Guardian. Utterly disgusting, subliminal nastiness, the whole lot of it. He’s not a good guy at all.  He seems kind of obsessed with me.

You can’t re-read this without seeing how the current move from problem to crisis was always nailed on. A critic is the enemy and the problem was not to be with Jeremy. Ever.

When the associations with antisemites first started appearing in the media during Corbyn’s leadership campaign, Jones addressed “these guilt-by-association smears” and explained that:

people like me – who support the Palestinian cause out of a sense of justice – will risk meeting or sharing platforms with people who indulge or possess anti-Semitic views.

This is the argument from accidental meeting. It could happen to anyone that supports the Palestinian cause for long enough. You take a risk by doing good. In fact, the harder you try for peace the more likely you are to get into trouble.

The corollary of this argument is the damaging lie that nobody can seek to do right by Palestine without enduring constant scandal. But of course, when faced with real problems these tireless fighters of antisemitism would act.

When Jones’ friend Jackie Walker was suspended by Labour for antisemitic comments, Jones certainly did act. He declared the ‘outrageous suspension’ as having ‘no justification’ and called upon his followers to email the party general secretary to have her reinstated. When Walker reverted back to type, Jones did not address his error, or even describe her actions as antisemitic. He called them ‘totally unacceptable’ and said no more, while dropping Jackie Walker down the memory hole.

Around this time Jones was simultaneously declaring how seriously Labour must take antisemitism. Sure, it still had nothing to do with Corbyn but it must be fought. Except when it’s a smear, that is. He set up this dual position early: we must fight it AND it can be used by nefarious political opponents. As if that matters.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents… There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

This two way position, the ‘walking and chewing gum‘ has served Jones well. He can constantly declare the necessity to fight antisemitism but if the allegations get close to home and affect political expediency, then he can remind us that it can also be ‘a convenient means’. Are there other forms of bigotry that have those fighting it accused of exaggeration by Jones? What utility does this nebulous accusation of bad faith have beyond cover for the guilty? And what is one meant to do with the information? The aims Jones claims to have would be best served without his efforts to leave that constant doubt in the air. It’s rarely specifically applied but instead just allowed to linger and be hinted at as applicable.

In March this year, David Collier revealed the fruits of his long investigation into the Facebook group ‘Palestine Live’. I wrote about it here. Jones, who had previously been vocal about other Facebook group revelations from Tories, said nothing. The scandal blew up. Here was a huge discussion about antisemitism in Labour, the leader of his party was implicated, it went on for days. And nada. Zip. The public commentator, honest about his bias, intent on addressing antisemitism, decided not to comment.

Then the antisemitic mural resurfaced and kicked up a major storm. Once again Jones said nothing. Nothing, that is, until Corbyn finally released a statement. It turned out to be a fuss about nothing, of course, because Corbyn simply hadn’t looked at the content of the controversial mural he was supporting during a controversy about the content of the mural. Within moments of the statement, Jones piped up with a thread to express his ‘relief’ that there was nothing to worry about because Corbyn had a completely plausible explanation. I think we are expected to believe that before seeing that statement Jones was poised to erupt in righteous fury after a period biding his time.

It was in that particular thread that Jones declared ‘all-out war’ against Labour antisemitism. And even included an emoji of a flexing bicep to underscore the muscular vigour with which he would undertake this ‘ceaseless war’.

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Also within the thread he explained why he knows Corbyn is not ‘anything close’ to an antisemite, he wrote:

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It is said that on the matter of antisemitism it’s Jews that should be listened to. Jones is meeting this idea some of the way by listening to Jews who share his opinions. Of course, when the Jewish Margaret Hodge declared Corbyn to be an ‘antisemite and a racist’, Jones declared this ‘a lie and a disgrace’. But again the message is clear, Corbyn doesn’t have ‘even the slightest softness when it comes to antisemitism’.

Circumstances quickly provided Jones with an opportunity to deploy his battalions when, in response to the mural, various Jewish groups and organisations, and many unaffiliated people merely concerned, decided to muster on the lawns of Westminster and demonstrate their anxiety regarding the leadership and the current malaise. I attended the event and met many people who are not regular protestors or enthusiastic joiners but felt they had no other choice. Their feeling can be seen in the choice of their slogan, ‘enough is enough’. Usually a protest is catnip for Jones and one would expect him to be all over this like rash on a baby’s behind. Instead he resigned himself to merely commenting that one of the people present was being insincere and, as Rob Francis notes:

Earlier that day, he’d also shared an article by Jewish Voice for Labour, a group set up last year which opposed Tony Greenstein’s expulsion from the party. He subsequently deleted the tweet as he claimed he’d got confused with a different organisation (Jewish Voice). It’s possible, but I’d note that 1. his original tweet said he wanted to provide some “balance” on the subject (balance?! What balance is there to provide on an anti-racist march?) and 2. whether accidental or not, the upshot was to give JVL a lot of publicity.

And so, for Jones, the war was over. And before it ever really began. His actions then and subsequently have been of a familiar type, enough outrage to keep his anti-racist credentials up but always with a view of protecting Corbyn and the project. Always ready to call things smears and complain about ‘weaponisation’. No criticism of value, no action of meaning.

Then we get to the last fortnight.

First a video surfaced of Corbyn addressing a crowd where he compared the length of the blockade of Gaza to the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Stalingrad combined. Labour have since stated that he was not comparing the actions of the IDF to the Wehrmacht, but merely the timeframe. As if the rhetorical worth of Leningrad and Stalingrad lies in comparative time frames (for example, the Labour antisemitism saga has now been going on for 7.2 Stalingrads). This, though perhaps at the mild end, is a comparison between the actions of contemporary Israel and the Nazis.

Jones said nothing.

Another video surfaced from one of Corbyn’s regular appearances on the propaganda station of Iran (his appearances on Press TV, including hosting a show, should be reason enough for censure). In the interview he takes up the cause of a convicted Hamas terrorist and calls him ‘brother’. Then he was asked to address the 2012 Sinai attacks. Corbyn suggested it unlikely that a Muslim would attack a Muslim during Ramadan and then, without any evidence beyond an appeal to the conspiracist’s favourite logic, cui bono, he confesses to ‘suspecting the hand of Israel’ behind the terrorist violence which included an attack on Israel itself. A false flag terrorist attack against their own country. This is straight conspiratorial antisemitism.

If one contrasts this with his reactions to the Skripal poisoning, where, despite lots of good evidence and expert opinion fingering the Russian state, Corbyn worked hard to avoid accusation. Treating Israel by different standards.

Jones said nothing.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse, it was revealed by James Vaughan that Corbyn hosted and chaired a meeting on Holocaust Memorial Day as part of a tour reportedly titled, “Never Again for Anyone – Auschwitz to Gaza”.

The leaflet handed out at the event juxtaposed Holocaust victims with people of Gaza.

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Holocaust minimisation, Holocaust reversal, take your pick.

The co-organisers of the event were the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) who, as Vaughan has pointed out, are content posting images like this on their website:

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The main speaker at the event was a survivor of Auschwitz. He claimed that the Israelis ‘act like the Nazis’ and that Elie Wiesel is the ‘high priest’ of the Zionists’ ‘Holocaust religion’. In a rare act of apparent contrition Corbyn released the following statement:

Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone. In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.

The apology, and the admittance that actions have caused anxiety, appeared to some as progress by Corbyn. I am more cynical. When an Auschwitz survivor starts saying these things, which I find repulsive, I accept that as a non-Jewish person, so detached from the Holocaust in comparison, I can’t really tell him to stop. I’m just not in the position to do so. And nor is Corbyn, and he knows we know this. Jones was quick to use this dilemma.

So despite the apology there apparently wasn’t much to apologise for. Always tactics. And it’s quite clever actually. Unfortunately, it ignores certain facts:

  1. Reports suggest that other Jews in the audience tried to dispute the thesis of the main speaker. Corbyn, as the chair, wouldn’t allow them to and saw to it that those in disagreement or ‘completely rejecting’ were removed. Including another Holocaust survivor.Survivor
  2. When sat there, Corbyn might have felt unable to protest (as Jones suggests), but this is to start the story in the middle. Corbyn didn’t have to be there at all, and what was said at the meeting could hardly have been a surprise, considering the theme. He chose to be in that position and now chooses to pretend that he had no idea.
  3. Corbyn didn’t just ‘appear on a platform’ as per his statement and Jones’ theory of unfortunate luck when being pro-Palestinian doesn’t stick. He gave the platform in parliament. He hosted the event. “I have shared platforms with people I gave platforms to” isn’t the excuse he thinks it is.
  4. The survivor wasn’t the only person of concern on the platform.
  5. And this really is the rub: Corbyn hosted the event on Holocaust Memorial Day, with a theme clearly implying that Israel was guilty of similar crimes to those commemorated. It’s one of the most offensive things I have heard a contemporary politician knowingly do.

Before we leave the Nazi/Israel comparisons I am reminded of what a clever socialist once said about them.

You get this comparison sometimes, a deeply offensive comparison, between the actions of the Israeli government and the Nazis. And I’ve heard that said by people who support Palestinian justice before… The reason that comparison is made is to cause deliberate offence.

We can only assume that Jones meant everyone apart from Jeremy Corbyn.

The fortnight wasn’t over.

It was also revealed that both Corbyn and McDonnell campaigned to have the word ‘Holocaust’ removed from Holocaust Memorial Day. Jones said nothing.

Though it was unacceptable to Jones when Jackie Walker complained about Jewish monopolisation of the Holocaust, we can only assume that silence is consent when it comes to Corbyn’s efforts.

And finally (ignoring all the other incidents not involving Corbyn), there’s the debacle of the “JC9”.

Weeks ago, it was reported that National Executive Committee member and candidate, Peter Willsman, had ranted about ‘Trump fanatics’ in the Jewish community as a reason for the complaints about antisemitism. He further suggested that he had never seen evidence of antisemitism within the party despite his sitting on the body charged with investigating cases when they arose. Corbyn was present at the meeting. So were the rest of the NEC. The report was ignored by all and when Momentum announced their slate for the NEC elections they called them the #JC9 (Jeremy Corbyn 9), and Willsman was one of them.

Jones expressed his approval:

But audio of the rant was released and the contents were bad. A decision about Willsman was obviously made because, in perfect Whatsapp synchronisation, the new members of the Mystery Gang (now with added Communism) decided they were for the #JC8.

Predictably, Jones received push-back from the Corbyn cultists for abandoning Willsman. In response, the next morning he posted the following:

And there we have it. Jones’ straddling of the divide is finally laid bare for the absurd sham that it is. We are told the problem exists on the ‘fringe’ when discussing conduct during a meeting of National Executive Committee, attended by the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and involving one of a group of candidates that use the leader’s initials as a handle. Conduct that was not acted upon until audio was released to the public.

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The problem of course is ‘just one man’. Much like the other individuals who Jones has had to discard once the discarding was approved policy. And so, like Jackie Walker, the fringe Peter Willsman will go down the memory hole.

Now we reach today.

Corbyn has just had published in The Guardian a piece titled I Will Root Antisemites Out of LabourWith the exception of a slightly panicked tone and an accusation that the Jewish press are exaggerating, it says nothing we haven’t already heard. In fact, in parts it’s simply copied and pasted from the article he put out in April:

 

Jones is fully aware of the April piece as he recommended it just two days ago. He described today’s slight rehash, rather wonderfully, as ‘exceptional’.

For three years there’s been incident after incident involving Corbyn followed by a litany of ridiculous excuses. “I didn’t see”, “I didn’t look closely enough”, “it was just diplomacy, I didn’t mean it”, “I shared a platform but I rejected the view without actually rejecting it”, “I don’t recall”, “I wasn’t aware of his past”, “I wasn’t chairing the meeting”. Again and again. Over and over. Not a single one of these excuses would be granted to any one of Jones’ political enemies but a torrent of them all added together are declared reasonable when it comes to Corbyn. According to Jones, Corbyn is just the unluckiest man in the world.

It is now inescapable that a great proportion of the current concern felt by the Jewish community about Labour and antisemitism is the fault and responsibility of Labour’s leader and a result of his actions and inactions over decades. The people trying to point out this obvious fact are gaslit by Jones who tells them, in their distress and during a fortnight where serious and repeated allegations have again been brought to light about the conduct of Corbyn, that they are gullibly falling for ‘smears’.

I believe that Corbyn is, in fact, an antisemite. Parsimony demands it as the excuse-making required to draw any other conclusion is now ‘just beyond ludicrous’, to coin a phrase. But if Jones doesn’t wish to admit Corbyn is an antisemite, or can’t see it, then that’s one thing. We can agree to disagree. But to be unable to link Corbyn to the problem, to not allow him to be responsible for his actions, is only to prolong the agony felt by others.

How, for example, are Labour meant to have a nuanced debate about the IHRA definition of antisemitism — which Jones claims to want — when it’s clear, be it a coincidence or not, that Labour’s changes to that definition provide escape clauses for the past actions of the very leader seeking to implement those changes? How is Jones going to be a part of that debate when he can’t bring himself to address any of the specific concerns about the leader?

There is no shortage of those that deny there is any problem at all. And they intrigue me. The question keeps coming up ‘don’t they know or are they lying?’ Is the loyalty and hope blinding them?

You can’t know a man’s mind, but with many of them I am sure they honestly can’t see or cannot understand it. Those who think this is made up by anti-Corbyn cabals are blind or/and stupid – but I believe they believe it. The flaw for Jones is that while keeping his anti-racism credentials as high as possible he has been adept enough to spell out what antisemitism is, and how it manifests. He simply can’t not know. Ignorance isn’t an excuse. As he once said:

The only way the left will come to the positions that I want, is that if people like me speak out passionately and argue this case which is to take antisemitism seriously…

This speaking out, alas, precludes any criticism of the person chiefly responsible for the problem.

So it’s worse than the deniers. In fact, it’s the worst. He’s telling the Jewish community ‘I am on your side’ while also working to undermine the solutions to their qualms. The problem is at the top of the party and Jones tells everyone it’s just ‘the fringe’. It’s just smears. (I have sometimes wondered if this isn’t all just a grand attempt to have that word redefined).

At the end of the movie Primary Colors, the protagonist, Henry, is in crisis. He has seen the politician for whom he works, Jack Stanton, fail to live up to the principles he espouses. Stanton turns on the full persuasion. “This is the price you pay to lead – you don’t think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president?”. It’s a classic dilemma best summed up as ‘systems vs goals’. Or if you prefer, ‘principles vs goals’. Compromise your principles a little, but that’s ok when you accept that your goal is the greater principle in the equation. I have come to accept that it’s idealistic and naive not to accept the necessity of some of that compromise. It’s the world of politics. And we probably forgive Henry for his eventually accepting. But where is the line?

I’m reminded of something Jones said in his ‘All-out War’ thread:

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One can but guess what Jones thinks of the presentation these days as the leader of the party is credibly called a racist by his own MPs and endorsed by America’s Jew haters. But he was willing to abandon Corbyn to protect his dream of socialism. Good for him. However, since the election that dream is tied to Corbyn, and this time it’s just within reach, so Jones is willing to abandon the Jewish community instead. Wherever the line is, I posit that’s the other side of it.

I’ll finish with a prediction:

If Corbyn cannot get out from under this scandal — and the until very recently unthinkable happens — and he is moved aside then, as if by magic, Jones will publicly accept that everything wasn’t a ‘smear’. He’ll never call him an antisemite, but he will move from his current position and accept fault the moment he is politically able. And that’s his morality, and worth as a commentator, right there. And then Jones will once again set about walking his commentator/campaigner high-wire while trying to bring about his beloved dream of turning Britain into the Durham Miners’ Gala. But it just won’t be so funny any more.

In the meantime, Jones is playing all those that will listen to him for fools. By lamenting the distrust within the Labour party on this issue while consistently refusing to make any negative comments about Corbyn, he’s pleading for a cure while working day and night to sell you the disease.

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Novichok for the Soul

Jeremy Corbyn and the murder of the Russian spy

People with unpalatable opinions rarely broadcast them in all their glory to the world. Instead they obfuscate by making impossible demands for evidence; deflect with whatabouttery, and make false equivalences with vague references to historical wrongs. The casual observer can never glean their true motives and opinions without undertaking more than a little work.

George Galloway, for example, would rage eloquently against the mendacity and double standards of the capitalist West for the BBC’s cameras without ever disclosing his own rotten values in full. A well-meaning viewer with a casual interest in politics might easily have caught Galloway on Question Time in 2004, in the midst of one of his famous tirades on the hypocrisy of US foreign policy — as it suffocating Iran with sanctions while simultaneously lining the pockets of Saudi Arabia with oil money and gorging itelf on arms deals — and think, “the man’s got a point”. You had to dig a bit deeper to find Galloway’s fawning interviews with the holocaust-denying Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Press TV, or personally slobbering over Saddam Hussein in his palace.

Those who have followed the career of Galloway’s old friend Jeremy Corbyn know that he too is a veteran of the same section of the hard left that spent a generation in the political wilderness before launching its successful conquest of the Labour Party two years ago. But where Galloway’s narcissism, bullying and outright enthusiasm for fascism eventually revealed him for the fraudulent crank he is, Corbyn’s total lack of ambition prior to 2015 and gentle, fuddy duddy demeanour have shielded him from the same level of exposure.

For those that have followed Corbyn’s career, his attitude towards foreign despots has always been a source of anxiety. While he has never entered the same realms of brazen dictator worship as Galloway (with the notable exception of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro), Corbyn’s tendency towards tyrants of a certain nature has always been one of limp indifference at best and sympathy bordering on admiration at worst.

Corbyn’s reaction to the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal has shown him at his most troublingly — and publicly — equivocal over a dictator since he entered the spotlight of British politics. Since Theresa May confirmed her belief in Russian — and more specifically Vladimir Putin’s — culpability for the attack on Skripal, Corbyn has set to work busily debunking this logical conclusion with a level of conspiratorial scepticism and deflection that was once rarely seen in mainstream politics.

Corbyn has repeatedly cast doubt on “the evidence” that Russia and Putin were behind the attack, and, a week after May announced her conclusion, he still refuses to blame Moscow outright for commissioning it.

Corbyn claims to need “an absolute, definitive answer” on who supplied the novichok to murder Skripal before he rushes to judgment. But what grounds are there, really, for doubting Russian responsibility? Mr Skripal is a former spy and an enemy of the Russian state, who has been attacked with a chemical weapon created by the Soviet Union which is only realistically available to the Russian government. Russia has a history of similar attacks in Britain, and Vladimir Putin has a taste for ruthless displays of power and manufactured foreign threats — particularly at election time. Add to that the total absence of any other plausible explanation, and it is difficult to see how anyone could conclude that there was any reasonable doubt as to Russia’s guilt.

But this is apparently not enough to satisfy Corbyn. What would? Corbyn has remained vague and faintly ridiculous on this — absurdly suggesting that trustworthy Russia should be allowed to test the novichok used in order that they can confirm their culpability once and for all. The fact that Russia has already been given an opportunity to engage constructively with the UK, and has responded with contemptuous scorn and sarcasm, has apparently not swayed Corbyn from believing in the wisdom of this course of action.

Not content with this unmerited scepticism, Corbyn has also deflected attention away from Russia and Putin at every opportunity he has been given, either through the classic hard left tactic of raising the straw man of Western hypocrisy, or through simply talking about something similar but unrelated. Rather disgracefully, following Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Labour called into question the reliability of our own chemical weapons intelligence, making a not-so-subtle and totally specious comparison to the fabricated evidence used to justify entering the Iraq war. The fact that the two situations are not remotely analogous (for those seeking clarification: Russia attacked the UK; Iraq did not) would not deter him from, again, deliberately casting doubt on Russian responsibility.

Corbyn has also raised the two red herrings of war with Russia and Russian oligarchs. In an article for the Guardian, he urged the UK not to “slide into war” with Russia or to “create a division where none exists” before making more phoney calls for “dialogue”. The reality that in fact the only mainstream politicians mentioning war at all are Corbyn and his acolytes has not prevented him from using it as yet another way of deflecting attention away from the seriousness of the attack. Corbyn’s sudden interest in Russian oligarchs who stash their ill-gotten gains in London property is equally misleading: this is a good cause to raise at any time in Parliament except now, because whatever else they are guilty of (and that is a long list), “the oligarchs” are not responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal — and if any are, then they are accessories to Putin and his inner circle.

What is so frustrating about Corbyn is his ability to disguise his conspiracism in the language of measured, calm rationalism. In isolation, his words seem reasonable. As with Galloway, the casual observer could easily be forgiven for hearing Corbyn’s measured calls for “caution” and “evidence”, his warnings against war and subtle references to previous government failures that seem superficially relevant but actually aren’t, and think “the man’s got a point”.

But if one takes any time to think about it, it is clear that Corbyn’s reactions have been anything but rational. For what rational person could reach the conclusion — on no evidence whatsoever — that “mafia-like groups” are as likely to have obtained novichok and used it to murder an enemy of the state as Putin and his government cronies are? What rational person responds to a deliberate chemical attack on British soil, that puts the lives of several British citizens at risk, with whatabouttery? What rational person sees the expulsion of some diplomats — in response to a chemical weapon attack — as a disproportionate act of war?

It takes some effort to see Corbyn’s comments for what they really are. Unlike Galloway, Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it. He does not directly voice support, or make open apologies for Putin, but he does his work for him when he casts doubt on clear evidence of his guilt and employs open apologists like Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray as advisers. His foggy and equivocal stance on Russia should not be compared with the Theresa May’s — instead it should be compared to the clear and unambiguous terms in which he (often justifiably) condemns the USA, calls for immediate sanctions on Saudi Arabia and Israel and slams the Tories on domestic policy.

This makes being a Corbyn critic hard work. The task of first researching and then explaining his history to those with better things to do is long and arduous. Corbyn and his supporters maintain a veneer of respectability that makes it difficult for people with only a passing interest in politics to understand their insidiousness. As his critics work themselves into a frenzy over the morsels they are given, latching on to his associations with terrorists, anti-Semites and fascists that no one can remember anymore, in a desperate attempt to persuade an apathetic public that actually his “failures to condemn” and the people he calls his friends MEAN something, the majority laugh them off as the cranks, rather than the mild, kind-bearded leader of the opposition.

Perhaps the Skripal episode will change people’s minds. But it probably won’t.

 

Photo source:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/ikrd/the-hat-the-hat-the-hat-the-hattttttttt?utm_term=.wvPNBBZP7o#.ldYj44y5KD

Stephen Cohen Disgraces Himself… Again

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Vladimir Putin, in happier times.

by Kyle W. Orton

Since the Ukraine crisis began earlier this year, Stephen Cohen has acquired quite the reputation for apologetics for the Putin dictatorship and its aggression against Ukraine. Cohen, a scholar of Russia, especially the Bolshevik Revolution, has printed most of his pieces in support of Vladimir Putin in The Nation, a magazine edited by his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel. Now he has done so again. Credit where it is due: each salvo has been more hysterical than the last. This time it was his prepared remarks for an upcoming speech to the U.S.-Russia Forum in Washington, D.C., organised by the same group who run the Russia World Forum, another annual confab of Putin apologists. For a flavour of the Russia World Forum, I quote from James Kirchick, who had the misfortune to attend the last one:

There was Webster Tarpley, former operative in the Lyndon LaRouche cult, 9/11 Truther, and all-around conspiracy theorist … There was Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who, when I debated him a few months ago on television, analogized 9/11 to the ‘Reichstag fire’ … There was a representative from an American ‘pro-family’ organization praising Putin’s standing up to his own country on issues like homosexuality and family planning.

Cohen was present here too—and with some of the same script by the sound of it.

Cohen’s article/speech in The Nation this time started so very badly, not only by putting all the blame on America for “escalating sanctions [that] will only deepen and institutionalize [this Second Cold War],” but by making reference to the “mysterious shoot down” of flight MH17. This is especially interesting since even commentators sympathetic to Vladimir Putin had largely conceded the factual matter that Moscow-backed insurgents brought down the Malaysian plane – they just had elaborate excuses why it shouldn’t be blamed on the Kremlin, or not in a way that carried any serious consequences anyway. It was straight downhill from there.

Cohen frames this in the way all of Putin’s apologists do: the no-longer-deniably-Russian-orchestrated mayhem in eastern Ukraine is claimed as a defensive action, stemming initially from NATO’s “expansion”. NATO, of course, is a voluntary association, but in Cohen’s world it is an instrument of Western imperialism, taking over states and forcing itself against Russia’s borders. His evidence for this extraordinary claim? An article in the Washington Post in 2004! (I am not making this up.) Cohen’s summation is that “twenty years of US policy have led to this fateful American-Russian confrontation.”

In this present crisis, Cohen sees the real crime as being a U.S./E.U./NATO coup d’état in Kyiv that drove from power Viktor Yanukovych. In one of the most tortured distortions of the English language on record, Cohen says Brussels and Washington initiated this crisis with their “velvet aggression” against Yanukovych to bring Ukraine into the Western fold. The “reckless provocation” Cohen is able to identify in Ukraine is the E.U. offer of the Association Agreement to Kyiv. Cohen makes reference to the “radicalized Maidan protests, strongly influenced by extreme nationalist and even semi-fascist street forces” who brought down the corrupt, increasingly authoritarian, Moscow-allied Yanukovych government. You perhaps have noticed that Russian propaganda outlets have run with the theme that the new authorities in Kyiv are fascists or Nazis (1,2,3,4,5).

In response to this, with Russia unable to match NATO in conventional terms any longer, poor Putin might be forced to use nuclear weapons, and the “ongoing U.S.-NATO encirclement of Russia with bases, as well as land and sea-based missile defense, only increases this possibility”. This from a self-styled progressive! There was a time when this faction was against nuclear weapons, though more and more it looks as if they were only against NATO’s counter-nukes to the massive Soviet build-up in the 1970s.

It is near-incredible to see Cohen speak of “the surreal demonization of … Vladimir Putin” (“a kind of personal vilification without any real precedent in the past,” indeed). Putin heads one of the most reactionary authoritarian governments on the planet, so this must be especially galling to those progressives who think of Cohen as an ally. But it must be even worse when Cohen cites Henry Kissinger as an authority for this claim.

The most hilarious part of the article is when Cohen’s cup of self-pity runneth over. He bemoans the fact that Moscow fellow-travellers are in such short supply these days. This is actually a lament without very much substance: the Kremlin still does have legions of supporters in the West, the only difference being they tend to come from the extreme-Right this time around. But Cohen should cheer up: with he and his wife around, Moscow will never lack for Left-wing advocates. Acknowledging that the analogy is “imperfect,” Cohen nonetheless compares himself and his co-thinkers, who seek to exculpate Putin for the Ukraine crisis, with the Soviet dissidents in the 1970s and 80s. Cohen worries of the “neo-McCarthyites [who] are trying to stifle democratic debate by stigmatizing us”. This sounds an awful lot like those bigots who demand respect for their views by claiming to just be the other side of a legitimate debate. Cohen then goes clean over the edge:

We should not worry, for example, if our arguments sometimes coincide with what Moscow is saying; doing so is self-censorship.

The bravery of it! If you are tempted to tone down your pro-Putinism: resist the urge!

The reaction keeps on coming. Channelling Barry Goldwater, Cohen says that “moderation for its own sake is no virtue”: moderation “becomes conformism, and conformism becomes complicity.” Again, Cohen self-consciously tries to remove the brakes that might tell decent people that their argument is leading them into disreputable territory.

If Cohen sticks to Moscow’s line on “encirclement” by NATO and “aggression” with the Western-orchestrated “coup” in Kyiv as causes of this crisis, his proposed solutions are even more noticeably drawn from the Kremlin’s playbook.

Cohen’s entire talk is based around the idea that wicked people have engaged in “distortions” to present “any American who seeks to understand Moscow’s perspectives [as] a ‘Putin apologist’,” when in reality Cohen and his allies are the “true American democrats and the real patriots of US national security.” His solutions are thus phrased in terms of national security: “demonizing of Putin is already costing Washington an essential partner in … vital areas of US security—from Iran, Syria and Afghanistan to efforts to counter nuclear proliferation and international terrorism.” Let us put aside the Putin dictatorship’s defence of Bashar al-Assad from even condemnation at the United Nations and the Kremlin’s well-orchestrated defeat of President Obama to prevent military strikes against its client in the Levant for gassing 1,400 civilians to death in a morning. Let us leave aside, too, the Kremlin’s assistance to Iran in building its nuclear weapons facilities and proposal to sell it air defences for these facilities. The destruction of the city of Grozny as Russian counter-terrorism policy can also be set aside.

Cohen first blames “the US-backed regime in Kiev” for inflicting “needless devastation, a humanitarian disaster and possibly war crimes on its own citizens in eastern Ukraine,” and even makes reference to “Kiev’s destruction of Luhansk, Donetsk or other Ukrainian cities,” something the insurgents had seemed to be rather taking the lead at. He then suggests that “[i]f Kiev’s assault ends, Putin probably can compel the rebels to negotiate.” This is ridiculous: the insurgency in eastern Ukraine is an enterprise wholly owned by Russian military intelligence (GRU). But the actual negotiating parameters set forward by Cohen are even more suspect, namely a “federal or sufficiently decentralized state,” which Cohen tells us would make Ukraine into a Federal Republic like Canada or Germany, and: “Ukraine must not be aligned with any military alliance, including NATO”. Moscow’s intention to control Ukraine’s foreign policy is long-standing, and for all Cohen’s talk of securing a “politically independent” Ukraine, he well-knows that this demand that Ukraine not be allowed to choose to join Western institutions is a victory for Moscow. The “Federal” option is really partition by another name, and is Moscow’s fall-back position. If western Ukraine cannot be controlled, the Kremlin can at least hold on to the east and keep it weak and dependent—a Ukrainian version of Transnistria.

Assuming Cohen is not among those who are paid to disseminate a pro-Moscow line, his views are a little confusing. Why would a Western progressive dedicate himself to a regime that persecutes homosexuals, revels in racial incitement, and menaces its neighbours? Perhaps old habits simply die hard. Or maybe, as so often, anti-Americanism simply trumps all.