An effective propaganda system will either mostly disappear inconvenient facts, or allow this information to surface if it comes out of the mouth of an enemy leader who is said to be out of touch with reality.
That seems to be thinking when it comes to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Has Vladimir Putin lost touch with reality?” wondered a Washington Post editorial (3/4/14) after a press conference. The Post kidded that while they “don’t have access to his psychologist,” one thing was clear: Putin made a “wild assortment of claims” about Russia’s military presence in Crimea, and that “the political system he has created has insulated him from the truth.”
There’s nothing to suggest that Putin was actually telling the truth; he’s a politician, after all.
But all of this conjecture about his mental state does a good job of obscuring the fact that some of what he said made perfect sense. In the New York Times story (3/4/14) about the press conference, for instance, readers are told that Putin “delivered a version of the crisis that was fundamentally at odds with the view held by most officials in the United States, Europe and Ukraine.”
This passage is definitely at odds with how US leaders talk about the crisis:
Above all, Mr. Putin appeared defiant, evidently frustrated by what he described as false promises by foreign diplomats and double standards that justify American or NATO military operations in the name of protecting human rights or democracy but disregard Russian concerns.
“We are often accused of illegitimacy in our actions, and when I ask the question, ‘Do you think everything you do is legitimate?’ they say yes,” he said, and then went on.
“It’s necessary to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, where they acted either without any sanction from the UN Security Council or distorted the content of these resolutions, as it happened in Libya,” he said. “There, as you know, only the right to create a no-fly zone for government aircraft was authorized, and it all ended in the bombing and participation of special forces in ground operations. Our partners, especially the United States, always formulate their geopolitical and state interests, and then drag the rest of the world with them, guided by the well-known phrase ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us.’”
How completely out of touch!
Consider these remarks alongside some of what Secretary of State John Kerry has been saying recently. On Meet the Press (3/2/14), he explained, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.”
And then yesterday (3/4/14) in Kiev, he said, “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.”
To call these comments at odds with reality would be far too kind. As Robert Parry noted (ConsortiumNews, 3/4/14):
Since World War II–and extending well into the 21st century–the United States has invaded or otherwise intervened in so many countries that it would be challenging to compile a complete list. Just last decade, there were full-scale US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus American bombing operations from Pakistan to Yemen to Libya.
Indeed, one of the more revealing parallels might be Ronald Reagan’s 1983 invasion of Grenada. While the circumstances in Ukraine are certainly unique, there is some overlap; an internal power struggle led to a coup that killed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and several other leaders. Reagan launched an invasion a week later, which he said was intended to protect the lives of several hundred medical students. As University of San Francisco Stephen Zunes (AP, 10/27/13) pointed out, the rationale was bogus:
“The coup gave us the excuse, and because the people of the island where so shell-shocked and outraged at what had been done, they welcomed in large part the US invasion that they would have probably fought off had it taken place while Bishop was still in power,” he said.
Zunes noted the Reagan administration had been trying to undermine Bishop’s regime, and said the invasion molded Grenada’s political and economic future, turning it from socialism to more capitalist lines.
In Ukraine, a coup following a violent round of demonstrations has led Russia to move forces into Crimea, in part–they claim–to protect ethnic Russians. US political leaders and media elite scoff at this reasoning. But is it any less bogus than Reagan’s?
There are plenty of other examples, of course; George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama was based in part on his suggestion that he needed to protect Americans there. The NATO military actions in Kosovo were intended in large part to support a secessionist uprising.
These–and plenty other–incidents are conveniently forgotten by much of the media, with a few exceptions, like the Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson (3/3/14):
Before Iraq there was Afghanistan, there was the Persian Gulf War, there was Panama, there was Grenada. And even as we condemn Moscow for its outrageous aggression, we reserve the right to fire deadly missiles into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else.
But this history must be obscured in order to give US elites the chance to mock Putin. The Washington Post editorial worries that Putin “may actually believe his own propaganda.” Perhaps. But there’s little doubt that we believe our own.