The Muslim leader who can defeat Islamism

By Jake Wilde

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels three months ago I wrote about the danger of under-reacting, in particular about not making the mistake of thinking that Daesh were comparable to traditional European “liberation” movements such as the IRA.

“Daesh are not attacking European cities in order to conquer them. Or to force countries to leave them in peace in their so-called caliphate. They attack because they wish us dead. If they had nuclear weapons they would use them. There are no demands from Daesh because they have none. There are no warnings before bombings because this is not about terror, it is about death. There is nothing to negotiate, nothing to discuss over a cup of tea.”

I think this is being missed in the analysis of the atrocity in Orlando, described by President Obama as terrorism (and there are other factors involved too). This is understandable shorthand for ideologically based mass murder but it is incorrect. The purpose of terrorism is to induce fear amongst a population in order to modify behaviour, such as the withdrawal of troops or political concessions, or flight amongst a civilian population. Daesh have no such motivations. They do not demand that the United States stop their bombing campaign. They do not demand peace talks. These are not terror attacks, these are death attacks.

In my previous piece I also drew the contrast between Al Qaeda and Daesh, in that the latter have generally relied upon radicalised national citizens to undertake their attacks, either as part of a centrally organised and coordinated campaign using cells and networks, or inspiring individuals to act alone without any direction. This is covered in greater detail in an excellent piece by Kevin D Williamson today in National Review:

“We speak of “lone wolf” jihadists as though this phenomenon were somehow independent of the wider Islamist project. It is not. The model of “leaderless resistance” in the service of terrorist projects is not new, and it has not been employed by the Islamists at random. If Omar Mateen turns out, as expected, to have had little or no substantive contact with organized Islamist groups, that fact will demonstrate the success of their communication strategy rather than the limitations of their reach.”

Max Boot, writing in Commentary today, also makes the point that there is no magic bullet for stopping the “lone wolf”, but diligence and extensive (occasionally undercover) intelligence:

Of course, the best human intelligence-gathering depends on the cooperation of the communities where you are trying to gain information. Thus, maintaining good relations between the American Muslim community and various law enforcement agencies is of critical importance. Unfortunately Donald Trump’s crude anti-Muslim rhetoric and his calls to “ban” foreign Muslims (which would not have stopped the American-born Mateen) detract from this goal by sending Muslims a message that they are less than wholly American. Part of the reason why there has been less terrorism in the U.S. than in Europe is that we have done a better job of assimilating our Muslims. It would be a costly tragedy if that achievement were to be undone.

The multi-layered Islamist war upon non-Islamists claims lives across the world, in Iraq and Syria, in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Western Europe, the United States and countless other countries and regions besides, with the fifty people murdered in Orlando the latest western casualties. The Islamists involved in this war are a mixture of conventional troops, cell-based terror groups and individuals motivated to act alone. The latter two concentrate upon, almost exclusively, “soft” targets amongst the civilian population. As Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who is still the clearest voice in The West on what needs to be done, observed after the Paris Attacks “We are at war”. So why are we not behaving as though we are? There is no sense that we, as a society, have been galvanised to do anything other than mourn when yet another atrocity is committed.

We need to be honest with ourselves. We have an enemy, and that enemy wants us dead. We must abandon our normal concepts of an enemy that can be subdued, educated and brought back into the fold. I fear we have yet to convince people, especially in the West, that this is not like the terrorism they are either used to or have read in history books. The blunt truth is that the only good Islamist is a dead Islamist. This is a difficult concept for our Western liberal sensitivities to accept.

But we forget that we are not the only enemy of Islamism and we need to work harder to build alliances at home and around the world, not just with Muslims but with everybody who isn’t an Islamist. This requires genuine leadership. It is understandable why some have mistaken Donald Trump’s overblown, ill-conceived and insubstantial rhetoric for leadership.

The controversy surrounding Owen Jones’s appearance on Sky News illustrates what needs to happen. People who attend a gay-friendly nightclub are targets in the same way as Nigerian schoolgirls, Jewish shoppers, or Parisian rock fans. Gay people are targeted because they are gay, and that, to Islamists, is an additional crime upon their broader crime of not being Islamists. It follows that there should be common ground between the LGBTI community and every other non-Islamist section of society on this one issue if nothing else, and this is important enough to be called a matter of life or death.

To create such an alliance between the LGBTI community and non-Islamist Muslims is certainly a challenge but we have, in Europe, an example of the leadership that is required. Earlier today I tweeted about the importance of Muslim leaders like Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi:

President Thaçi is a Muslim who fought to liberate his country, not to impose a caliphate but a liberal democracy. He is the fifth President of a country that saw 314 of its citizens join Daesh in the last two years. Constitutionally secular Kosovo has found itself at the centre of the broader conflict between the old West and the new East. This is from Carlotta Gall’s detailed piece for the New York Times on Daesh’s Kosovar recruits:

They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.

“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”

In May of this year President Thaçi was at the head of Pristina’s first ever Gay Pride march. Those who think that it is impossible for Islam and the LGBTI community to work together against hate and death need look no further than President Thaçi. More than that, he also knows the perils of failing to act. Carlotta Gall again:

Why the Kosovar authorities — and American and United Nations overseers — did not act sooner to forestall the spread of extremism is a question being intensely debated.

As early as 2004, the Prime Minister at the time, Bajram Rexhepi, tried to introduce a law to ban extremist sects. But, he said in a recent interview at his home in northern Kosovo, European officials told him that it would violate freedom of religion.

“It was not in their interest, they did not want to irritate some Islamic countries,” Mr Rexhepi said. “They simply did not do anything.”

Writing in The Guardian towards the end of 2014, while Prime Minister, Thaçi said:

“Kosovo is a country where the majority of the population declare themselves to be Muslim. But Kosovars wholly reject the religious dogma proposed by radical strains of political Islam, and we shall not allow it to endanger our path towards eventual NATO and EU membership.

We will crush any cells that believe, wrongfully, that they can find cover in Kosovo. Just as my former guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army rejected offers from jihadists who wanted to volunteer in the 1999 war, we now reject the new evil that is stemming from Islamic State and related groups in the Middle East.”

Here is the model then, for both Western countries and Islamism’s enemies amongst Islamic countries, to follow. Kosovo have turned the situation around, destroying the networks that acted as recruitment to Daesh and putting the perpetrators on trial. The result has been popular support for Hashim Thaçi’s election as President in February and Kosovars having the highest approval rating in the world for the United States.

Writing after Austria’s Presidential election saw a narrow defeat for the far right candidate, Norbert Hofer, Thaçi explained the potentially crucial role that Kosovars, and other Balkan citizens, could play in the quest for a peaceful future:

“Hofer’s platform, like other far-right movements in Europe is based on the Huntingtonian concept of the clash of civilizations and on promoting the theory that Islam is incompatible with Europe. For us in Kosovo, Albania or Bosnia, with large strata of our societies belonging to the Muslim faith, this effectively excludes us from feeling part of the continent where we have lived for centuries, indeed millennia.

Besides, Kosovo is not Muslim: our society is secular and civic.

Kosovo became the first Balkan country to elect a woman president in 2011 and is the only Balkan country to have recognised the LGBTI community in its constitution. I led the LGBTI Pride Parade in Kosovo last month to mark our support for this community precisely to show our citizens and the wider world that extremism and prejudice has no place in our midst.

Neither are we a safe haven for extremists. Our security services have made 110 arrests and secured 67 indictments and 26 convictions against ISIS supporters in our country. US Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a recent visit to Kosovo that Kosovars are the regional leaders in combating violent extremism.”

The bombastic soundbites and the vague military strategy offered by Donald Trump needs to be rejected, not because the use of force is not the solution, but because Trump suggests that he can solve the problem without Muslims. That is to ignore the most fundamental of simple facts – more Muslims die at the hands of Islamists than anyone else. Islamism is a far bigger problem for Muslims than it is for The West and Muslims like Hashim Thaçi have proved they have the answers to destroy Islamism while retaining a commitment to liberal democracy. If it’s a strongman you want then at least look to the real thing.

 

“What About Fallujah?”

by David Paxton

What do you have to say about Fallujah, let’s talk about Fallujah, what do you have to say about Fallujah? Since you care so much on the Left… What have we done in Fallujah Nick? WHAT HAVE WE DONE? Have you even bothered to find out?

-Yasmin Alibhai Brown

When they say ‘Fallujah’ they refer to the Second Battle of Fallujah from Nov/Dec 2004. For commentators with an engrained anti-American perspective it is almost impossible to write about any combat, anywhere, without name checking Fallujah. Usually it comes in handy as whataboutary, ‘you think X are bad guys? Yeah? Well what about Fallujah?’. For them it proves we are no better than our enemies, it proves what the Coalition did in Iraq was evil, it is the unarguable catchall to show just how sick we are as people and how sophisticated in their self-criticism those that deploy it are.

A classic of this type can be seen in this show (04:00-04:30) with Nick Cohen cross-examined by Yasmin Alibhai Brown and Iain Dale. Although in this, like the Douglas Murray one, Dale generally sits back and laughs while Alibhai Brown is humiliated. It really is worth watching in full just for giggles. For now though watch the specified section and examine the moral outrage. The word ‘Fallujah’ is nothing less than an accusation to be spat at people, you can positively feel the indignant anger.

To further demonstrate the contempt many have for the actions in Fallujah you can look to its common inclusion in a list, such as: ‘what about Abu GhraibHaditha, Fallujah?’ These lists come out in people’s comments daily. There are countless examples, try googling the three together and you’ll see.

It is in strange company there as both of the other two were out of policy. The abuses in Abu Ghraib were indeed disgusting, though barely comparable to the systematic barbarism Saddam’s goons undertook as official policy there. However, they were admitted as wrong and 11 of the perpetrators were convicted. Everyone’s favourite villain Donald Rumsfeld said of the scandal:

They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn’t do that. That was wrong.

To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was un-American. And it was inconsistent with the values of our nation.

The killings at Haditha were also out of policy. It could certainly be said that the legal follow up was not to a standard one would hope for, but illegal killings by soldiers are notoriously hard to prove. The action was however condemned and very much appears to be an exception.

With these two incidences, does one choose to claim them as an indictment of officially malign U.S. policy and morality or does one use it to show that such behaviour is not the norm, not the intention and not condoned? When making a moral comparison is it not strange to compare an action by the U.S. but condemned by the U.S. with an action by the enemy which is in policy and actively encouraged? I say it is and yet it so often occurs.

So why is Fallujah included? What is it about this three syllable word that has transformed it into a four letter one? Beyond the fact that a U.S. led coalition were victorious in the battle? It is very hard to ascertain as it is rarely spelt out by those that use it. The word has just seemed to pass without fight or enquiry into the debit column in the ledger of morality. But surely something terrible must have happened for it to be casually included in lists of criminal atrocities? If there was something I am yet to find out what it is.

I suggest a mistake has been made by the people unwilling to contradict those that use it, so that it has now been commonly and unthinkingly accepted as a stain on the record of the Allies. Even in that Nick Cohen exchange he readily concedes that it is legitimate to say ‘a plague on all your houses’ regarding it. Fallujah is asserted as a wrong and very little counter argument is ever provided. It seems to be accepted with a shrug that says ‘you might be onto something there but look at the wider picture…” This is a mistake and it will take some effort to restore some sanity regarding it.

We can take for granted that those who use Fallujah as a pejorative were against the invasion of Iraq. Fine. Accepting however that the invasion occurred and once it had there was a responsibility to try and do the best possible by Iraq, the first question is ‘should anything have been done in Fallujah at all?’

Before the Second Battle, Fallujah’s defences had been handed over, on request by the Iraqi government, to local Iraqi forces. In the proceeding months they had utterly failed in their task and according to U.S. intelligence a takfiri gang, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taken de facto control of the city. His forces numbered up to 5,000 (probably closer to 3,000-4,000) and were mostly foreign fighters. This group was the direct predecessor of ISIS.

Their control of the region was not only to be considered a current and increasing disaster for the inhabitants but it was also beginning to be the home base for wider Islamist and Baathist disruptions. I posit that to leave these people in place would not only be immoral but tactically insane. After taking the city Coalition troops found torture rooms, IED factories and a calendar for video beheadings. Both the inhabitants of the city of Fallujah and the new Iraq as a whole required their removal if there was to be any chance at all at a better future. Unless you disagree with this the requirement for action to rid the city of this force is overwhelming.

As I am yet to hear any serious argument that when confronted with the situation as it was at the end of 2004 Fallujah should have been left to rot, we can begin to look at what actually happened.

Indulge me in a thought experiment:

Imagine a city with up to 300,000 civilian inhabitants. Inside there are un-uniformed enemy fighters that need to be removed but are hard to distinguish from the civilian population. They have had substantial preparation time and have set up IEDs and ambush points on all routes into the city.

Now imagine you control a military force with almost unimaginable might. You are charged with removing the enemy force inside. You have it within your power to obliterate the entire city without losing any of your own forces and the costs will amount to little more than jet fuel and bombs.

I propose that in this scenario the number of civilian deaths incurred says a great deal about your morality as a leader and as a society. Let us try and estimate a number for them.

Try these:

1: You’re Gengis Kahn born again. I would suggest the civilian deaths would number fairly close to 300,000. Perhaps some will be allowed to live for slavery and rape purposes. Sound reasonable?

2: You’re of the moral level of ISIS. About the same.

3: You’re an Assad Jr. or a Saddam. You’d kill as many as necessary and probably a few more and you’d surely use poisoned gas and barrel bombs no? Assad Senior was faced with a similar number of Islamist combatants in a city with a similar population in Hama in 1982. He managed to kill between 20-40,000 civilians. In his own country.

4: You’re a modern Russian. Perhaps the best comparison is the Battle of Grozny. There the Russians faced a similar problem with similar numbers. But the civilian dead were never reliably counted and the corpses merely stuffed into unmarked, mass graves. It was certainly in the thousands, most probably in the 10s of 1000s. What would you have done in a totally foreign, Arab city?

5: You’re part of an evil corporate American empire that simply doesn’t care about Iraqi lives at all and are comparable in morality to others mentioned but have to make some effort for the cameras. What, 10,000 dead? Minimum?

Well, according to the Red Cross, who I have no reason to suspect are good friends of Dick Cheney and George Bush, 800 civilians died. And it is by no means clear that all were killed by the allies. 800 out of 300,000. 1,500 insurgents were captured and 1,200 – 1,500 were killed.

800 civilian deaths is 800 we can wish had not occurred. 800 deaths is though, by many orders of magnitude, a smaller number than if the equivalent action had been taken by our enemies or more tellingly by the moral actors the apologists and anti-Americans pretend exist in the U.S. Still the question, ‘how many fewer could it still have been?’, should be asked.  I suggest not very many. Not realistically, not without massively increased risk to allied forces and not when compared to any other combat of similar nature. I contend this is a remarkably low figure.

The allies surrounded the city and painstakingly passed through their lines up to 90% of the entire population. Thus leaving perhaps 30,000 in pockets in the city. The insurgents knowing that civilians were good cover for them (it seems the insurgents had a higher understanding of their enemy’s care for civilians than the moral equivalence monkeys do), prevented as many leaving as they could. It was only after this was complete that the U.S. Marines began systematically moving through the city at great risk to themselves. In total the Coalition forces lost 107 killed and over 650 wounded. Overwhelmingly from the U.S.M.C.

A colleague of mine told me of a lecture he attended when in the British Army, given by a WW2 veteran on the subject of fighting through Western Europe. The veteran spoke of the orders to protect civilian housing and of the restraint they were ordered to show. He said however, that no matter who you are, when you lose a good friend the previous day going house to house, the urge to ignore the orders, sit back at a distance and shell and machine gun the target building to the ground is overwhelming. I mention this to suggest the coordinated, controlled and relatively restrained actions of the U.S. Marines go against every sensible instinct of self-protection and speaks to an enormous degree of professionalism. Professionalism in this case being the reflection of Coalition command’s intention to do the least damage practical and to show the highest care and attention to civilian lives.

Combat is ugly and messy. The results rarely perfect. Once such a grim undertaking as clearing Fallujah of insurgents is deemed necessary it must be judged on its merits, with relevant comparisons to relevant examples. It can’t be judged against a bland pacifism or with no counter-factual beyond an assumption of zero deaths. Sam Harris’ ‘perfect weapon‘ thought experiment is important here and worth the read. Yes 800 civilian deaths is 800 deaths but if the perfect weapon existed the number would have been zero. Do you think we could say the same if those that we are compared to undertook the mission?

A note on chemical weapons:

The example of Fallujah is oft heard in comparisons of illegal warfare with specific reference given to chemical weapons. This week it was mentioned in a very confused piece by Owen Jones where he wrote:

But the Assad regime does not flaunt its cruelty. It does not make videos with Hollywood effects – slo-mo, closeups, haunting music, the aftermath in high definition. Instead, it adopts the same regretful tone of western powers, like when the US dropped flesh-burning white phosphorus over Falluja. We regret any civilian casualties (or “collateral damage”, as the west prefers). We do not target civilians, unlike our opponents – and so on. The scale of death may be far greater, but the claimed intentions are different: unlike our opponents, we do not aim to kill civilians, they say, so we retain our moral superiority.

I think he is being sneaky here. Even if he honestly means to simply compare the tone, he is wrong. I read nothing regretful in the U.S. admitting the use of WP. Nor should they had to have been. If there is any regret it is simply because it contradicts earlier reports. The U.S. denied it killed civilians with it so its use here is irrelevant. It strongly whiffs of an attempt to tar them with the same atrocity brush he uses against Assad.

I quoted more than required by Jones there because as a side note I want you to look at his final use of ‘they say’. I think he is hinting at a claim he isn’t actually willing to make. Yes Owen, all things being equal, not aiming to kill civilians makes you morally superior to those intending to kill them. Argue this case explicitly or don’t at all. As I say, sneaky.

But other’s apart from the Orwell of Our Generation use the WP incident and usually in more brazen terms. It was repeated many times during the debate about striking the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons in order to show that we are no better than they and have no high ground from which to launch our strikes. This form of masochism is worth little even with solid examples. Fallujah is not a solid example.

White Phosphorus is not a chemical weapon. When not used as a smoke screen it can be used as an incendiary weapon. This is not illegal. The U.S. used it in Fallujah in highly specific attacks to push the enemy out of cover due to the heat and then kill them with high explosive shells. The very nature of the tactic requires highly specific and accurate use of artillery fire. At worst, some claim that the generation of heat when the WP meets moisture is a chemical weapon because this amounts to toxicity. But it isn’t asphyxiating, it is burning. This may be a small distinction for some. But the distinction remains. It was effective and it was legal.

In the interest of fairness I recommend George Monboit’s article from the time, I don’t agree with it but it is worth a read and he is more responsible there than many. He also provides reasons why the execrable Italian documentary on Fallujah, which still appears to be at the root of so many feelings about Fallujah, can be dismissed.

The use of incendiary weapons against civilians is illegal. However, seeing that it was used in areas cleared of civilians and no credible evidence of it causing civilian deaths has been presented, I suggest this charge can also be dismissed. Its use in combination with HE rounds was highly effective. That’s why it was used, both sparingly and deliberately. And as much as this may offend those of the Pansy Left, killing the insurgents was the point of the exercise and of benefit to the the vast majority of civilians who remained unharmed. To do so efficiently is a moral act.

So what is the actual complaint? If it is that the U.S. used chemical weapons it is false. If it is that it used incendiary weapons against civilians, it is false or at least entirely unproven.

If it is that that the deaths of 800 civilians from a population of 300,000 is an example of callousness, incompetence, bloodthirstyness, or a lack of care comparable with our enemies or reasonable expectations, then the complainant is ahistoric, ignorant and frankly, silly.

There are tradeoffs in military operations. Risk to property, risk to civilians, risk to your own forces, effectiveness in dealing with the enemy. Each army and society has to make rules and undertake the training to reflect their own operational and moral priorities. Some like Monboit won’t be happy unless the risk to civilians is non-existent and all of that risk is placed on our armed forces. This is not realistic and at some point becomes its own form of immorality. Regardless of how much moral wrangling is done around the legality. I look at the decisions of the Coalition in the Second Battle of Fallujah and see a set of moral tradeoffs that put us in stark and favourable contrast to those who apologists seek to compare us to. Even if one accepts the worst versions of accounts from the most unreliable of sources, the Coalition still comes out on top in any reasonable moral comparison.

We can’t allow this military action to be used as rhetoric against our society or our armed forces. I won’t because I don’t think it merely not a crime, I think it a startling military undertaking which clearly indicates our moral superiority over those we fight.
As an isolated action it should be mentioned with pride and placed firmly in the credit column of the moral ledger. And yes, I am comfortable expressing moral superiority.

What about Fallujah? Good question, what about it?

Stephen Cohen Disgraces Himself… Again

Vladimir_Putin_in_KGB_uniform

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.