03 March 2014

Of bears in gilt cages

Hansen Ding just posted this comment on Facebook:
I think there’s a very important factor about the Ukrainian crisis that hasn’t really been talked about.

The paradigm that’s existed since the fall of the USSR is that globalized free trade will stop the possibility of war between major powers. Because the rich have a lot of interests tied up in global trade, it’s assumed that the West can use its economic muscle to keep the peace - ie. if Russia & China are out of line, swiss bank accounts can be frozen, foreign assets can be seized, the oligarchs will get shaky and war will be averted.

But under this assumption, we’ve ignored dangerous warnings of anti-west nationalism as we repeatedly insult, harass and antagonise Russia, safe in our assumption that they will never dare fight us so long as we’re lining the pockets of their oligarchs.

In the 90’s, we could have welcomed Russia into the global community. We could have built a new global order of understanding and tolerance. Instead the West cheered on the Chicago school reforms which plundered Russia and plunged it from superpower to a shrinking, almost third world nation. We expanded NATO right up to Russia’s door-step even though NATO’s entire raison d’être was no more. We pointed NATO & the EU at any countries not willing to follow our political line. We installed missile shields in a blatant act of provocation right on Russia’s doorsteps. We funded and provided political cover for Chechnyan separatism even as schools as theatres were being blown up in Russia. We supported nations like Georgia which tried to act with war-mongering impunity against Russia.

We funded revolutions and coups across the world willy-nilly, under our arrogance that so long as we hold the cayman island bank accounts, we hold the keys to the caged wounded bear.

Well now the bear’s woken, it’s too angry, suffered one stone and sling too many, to be held by money anymore. Nationalism is a curious thing - when a country is doing well it barely exists, but when you degrade and harass that country again and again, it rises and swallows all reason in a blind rage. The bear’s woken. Look to our sins.

I have, as I have noted before, a troubled relationship with nationalism, just as I have a troubled relationship with my own nation. My entire experience of what good there is in America is all linked through places which don’t fit the nationalist narrative. My political awareness was shaped by an Irish Tory eighth-grade history teacher (who taught us from Howard Zinn), and by my parents’ enthusiasm for the cultures of the American Indians of the American Southwest. Delving into my own family history has revealed that my forefathers seem to have shared a penchant for picking the losing side; including the ultimate villains of the American national mythos, the Loyalists to the Crown during the Revolution.

Nationalism can only ever be healthy if it is oriented to some higher transcendental good, outside of the nation. That is what distinguishes the nationalism of G. K. Chesterton or Mohandas Gandhi from the nationalism of Oswald Mosley or Benito Mussolini (or Oleh Tyahnybok). Chesterton and Gandhi aimed their nationalism inwards, to the virtue of the people within that nation even when other nations might be bettered by it in brute-force egoistic terms. Chesterton detested Kipling, and he detested the Boer Wars; he would have preferred England the small, healthy, peaceful country with a firm sense of its own rights and purpose under God to England the empire for its own sake, upon which the sun never set. And his love for England he characterised as the greater, for he would love England even if it were not, in a worldly sense, great. Gandhi was of a very similar turn of mind. He preferred swaraj in India, under which people kept charkas and dressed in their own homespun, to a government which dressed as its colonial lords did and flaunted its wealth, whilst keeping the rest of the nation in chains. And he did not seek to murder the British but to shame them into submission. If these examples define what it means to be a nationalist, then being a nationalist is not such a bad thing. I still find it a troubling word, though, particularly when being a nationalist comes to mean beating and kicking and denigrating people whose nation is not one’s own. And particularly when being a nationalist comes to mean lifting the flag as an idol in rejection of the ikons of the living God.

Putin is by no means an ideal leader; there is yet too much of Napoleon in him. But even if his nationalism is (particularly after the venture into Crimea) quite clearly not of Gandhi’s bent, it still bears greater resemblance to Chesterton’s than to Mussolini’s (or Tyahnybok’s). The Western powers still openly speak of using carrots and sticks on Russia as though they are to be treated as beasts of burden. They have taunted, goaded and bullied a dispirited people, who have been trying to stumble back to their feet after the humiliations of shock therapy and kletpocracy imposed by those very same powers, for far too long. Our scholars inflate and misassign the crimes of the Soviets and lay them at the doorstep of the Russians (never mind that Stalin was Georgian or that all of the Soviet leaders who followed him were at least half-Ukrainian), and they downplay and obfuscate the vicious and heinous horrors that the German Nazis visited upon them. Our leaders speak of history in a way which is so far removed from any historically-minded awareness of actual recent events, that it openly defies parody.

And, as the Boston bombing showed (said bombing having been carried out by Chechens who were already under suspicion in Russia, about whom Russian authorities tried to warn us), our foreign policy regarding Russia is not only arrogant but also self-destructive. Do we truly delude ourselves into thinking that the Chechen extremists are in any way grateful when we use diplomatic or covert pressure on their behalf? And are we truly deluding ourselves now that Ukrainian extreme nationalists are in any way grateful for the machinations of Victoria Nuland and company? Hansen is perfectly right that we ought not to bait bears which we delude ourselves into thinking we have cleverly trapped in gilt cages. Especially when the bear is not even predisposed to attacking us in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment