Neo-McCarthyism: silencing critics of U.S. Russia policy
Posted by Charles II on May 20, 2015
I have gotten a taste of those who want to shut down debate of US-Russia policy… and of those who wanted to silence debate over the invasion of Iraq, and those who wanted to silence debate over supply-side economics, and those who wanted to silence debate over the wisdom of sending troops to Vietnam, and those who wanted to silence debate over the wisdom of Jim Crow…. I espouse my beliefs because I believe they are true, not because I expect that opponents will love me for them.
But the attempt to silence debate over Russia policy is coming from very high levels, it’s trying to rekindle the hatreds of the Cold War, and it’s one in which a lot too many Americans are complicit by their silence. Let’s call what it is: totalism. And now James Carden has given us a detailed explanation of how it is being imposed.
As a result of the civil war that has raged in Ukraine since April 2014, at least 7,000 people have been killed and more than 15,400 wounded, many of them grievously. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 1.2 million eastern Ukrainians have been internally displaced, while the number of those who have fled abroad, mainly to Russia and Belarus, has reached 674,300. Further, the United Nations has reported that millions of people, particularly the elderly and the very young, are facing life-threatening conditions as a result of the conflict. Large parts of eastern Ukraine lie in ruins, and relations between the United States and Russia have perhaps reached their most dangerous point since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
And yet a special report published last fall by the online magazine the Interpreter would have us believe that Russian “disinformation” ranks among the gravest threats to the West.
While it would be easy to dismiss the report as a publicity stunt by two journalists attempting to cash in on the Russophobia so in vogue among American pundits, their thesis has gained wide acceptance, nowhere more so than in the halls of Congress.
The authors call for the creation of an “internationally recognized ratings system for disinformation” that would furnish news organizations and bloggers with the “analytical tools with which to define forms of communication.” While they throw in an obligatory caveat that “top-down censorship should be avoided” (exactly how is left unexplained), they nonetheless endorse what amounts to a media blacklist. “Vigorous debate and disagreement is of course to be encouraged,” the authors write, “but media organizations that practice conscious deception should be excluded from the community.”
What qualifies as “conscious deception” is also left undefined, but it isn’t difficult to surmise. Organizations that do not share the authors’ enthusiasm for regime change in Syria or war with Russia over Ukraine would almost certainly be “excluded from the community.”
Their real goal is not to fight Russian “disinformation” but to stigmatize and marginalize—even exclude from American discourse—anyone with a more nuanced view of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis. They are waging this war against enemies real and imagined, and by doing so they are helping to create an atmosphere in which dissenting opinion on US policy toward Russia becomes impermissible.
Insinuations of unpatriotic disloyalty on the part of critics of US policy toward Russia are numerous, but consider a few examples. For much of the past year, Princeton and New York University professor emeritus Stephen F. Cohen, a leading scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia and a Nation contributing editor, has been routinely castigated in The New Republic, the Daily Beast, The Boston Globe, New York, and Slate as “a toady,” “Putin’s best friend,” and a “Putin apologist.” The latest such attack came on May 6, courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which published a story claiming, without evidence, that “Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.” Hurling such barbs at a prominent scholar seems to be an attempt not only to marginalize Cohen, but also to silence other critics—including, and perhaps especially, younger ones.
Similarly, in June 2014, the Daily Beast ridiculed a conference attended by Columbia University’s Robert Legvold; Jack Matlock, former ambassador to the Soviet Union during the Reagan administration; and a leader of a Russian opposition party as a gathering of “anti-Semites and ‘truthers’” that amounted to little more than “a pity party for the Kremlin’s die-hard American apologists.”
Then, in August, Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics launched a screed against David Johnson, the proprietor and editor of a listserv that aggregates Russia-related articles. “What I find most surprising,” Aslund wrote, “is that you have several items from RT every day, which is to Putin’s rule what Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer was to Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)
Americans who try to turn other Americans into enemies of the state in order to silence their expression of ideas are the ones who have no clue what America is about.
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