Listening to the radio during an errand in the car over the past holiday, I found myself disturbed as I listened to an interview with journalist and author Edward Lucas. Lucas made a predictable argument about the severe dangers of the current confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, and the need for “strength;” though I disagree with his reasoning, it was not his politics that disconcerted me. My unhappiness arose from his use the words “I told you so” in references to past predictions of “a new Cold War,” and the seeming glee he took in comparing the current situation to the situation in Europe one century ago, as well as to the circumstances which lead to WWII. If this were limited to Lucas, it might be alright; however, this masochistic alarmism pervades much of the Western media coverage of the current crisis, and fuels the popular narrative of the conflict. This neoconservative tone and fetishization of military and foreign conflict poses the threat of being self-fulfilling, and must be calmed as we look for peace.
Before moving on, let me make clear that I am not suggesting we understate or underestimate the gravity of the current situation, and the importance of dealing with it in a reasonable manner. The Russian annexation of Crimea and any further destabilizing acts are not justified. However, we must also recognize that the events since the end of February have occurred under a Ukrainian President and Prime Minister that lack electoral legitimacy, and are opposed by large swaths of the East Ukrainian population. Under the circumstances, there is no reason the Ukrainian Prime Minister should have visited the White House, unequivocally aligning the government with the West. Until a legitimately elected government takes control, the nation’s leaders have no business further polarizing the country. It is altogether reasonable that the United States, UK, and other Western powers may offer verbal support and temporary recognition to the provisional government, but direct involvement is only encouraging of Wester-Russian conflict and tensions.
That said, the Western media has played an active role in heightening the tone and nature of the conflict, and encouraging polarization within Ukraine and between the West and Russia. Four of the past 10 Economist covers have featured blatantly negative depictions of Putin’s and Russia’s involvement in the crisis. This attitude is not, however, limited to the covers of the predictably “liberal” weekly; the venerable New York Times is keen to publish headlines describing recent events as a “Cold War Echo.” The newspaper also recently published an article implying that Russia has no direct concern for peace, as the only thing stopping Putin from rolling the Tanks into “Novorossiya” is the economic cost in terms of the military and Western sanctions. This is unlikely; economic costs are typically vastly under-considered when nations begin conflicts (see Operation Iraqi Freedom).
Also evidential in the media’s willingness to egg on conflict is the reaction over the anti-semitic fliers that cropped up in Donetsk; before it became clear that the fliers were not the responsibility of any of the major parties in the conflict, the media clamor around them evoked responses from John Kerry and even Obama. As nuggets of “objective” reporting like this continue to provoke conflict-style rhetoric in the West, an even more overt tone of war-mongering among many commentators. The top two opinions on the BBC’s website regarding Ukraine are titled “Is War Inevitable” and “Putin’s Veiled Threats.” Columnists, pundits, and commentators everywhere are making a business of illuminating the deep threats to the world order that lie in Putin’s action, and the strength we must show in response.
Though the situation itself is one with which the world should be concerned, it cannot be considered an analog to the Cold War, West vs. East, war of ideologies mentality. The truest resemblance to the Cold War era is that which the current alarmism bears to some of the speculation about the Soviet Union’s intent and capabilities, such as those described by the CIA’s “Team B,” lead by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in their neoconservative revolution. Their report argued that “the principal threat to world peace and to the cause of human freedom is the Soviet drive for dominance.” The evidence and analysis by the team proved was inaccurate and unfounded. Let’s not let ourselves, in the grasp of the current media fearmongering frenzy, be drawn to the same conclusions, simply replacing “Soviet” with “Russian.”
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