March 1, 2022 | Reading Time: 7 minutes
Should the Democrats claim a middle ground that’s emerging between GOP Putinists and the anti-American American left?
How the far left came to “some pretty ghoulish conclusions.”
It seems that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might give the Democrats a chance to stake out a new middle ground.
On the far right, you have the former president, his GOP mutineers and rightwing media all-in with Vladimir Putin.
On the far left, you have what I will call the anti-American American left. That’s different from the American left. That left has made deep inroads into the Democratic Party. It has great potential, too. That left is dedicated to doing the Lord’s work of antiracism and antifascism.
On the far right, you have the former president, his GOP mutineers and a rash of rightwing media all-in with Vladimir Putin. They parrot his propaganda to uncut Joe Biden. (It’s the first time in my life a major party withheld support of a sitting president amid a geopolitical crisis.)
The other left – the anti-American American left – is sometimes called the “dirtbag left.” It is a slough of despair. Nothing really matters but portraying the United States as the world’s bad guy. Nothing really matters but raising awareness of America’s penchant for imperialism.
They are so committed to this objective they are willing to overlook authoritarianism, corruption, even genocide. They overlook, too, any evidence to the contrary, as when the United States is being good.
At the moment, during an illegal military invasion, Russia is the aggressor now. Russia is the imperialist now. The United States and its allies are moving mountains to defend Ukraine’s infant democracy.
Even so, the anti-American American left finds itself, amid a war of choice by an enemy that once violated our own sovereignty, in the same place as Donald Trump, his GOP mutineers and rightwing media all-in with Putin. The Democratic Socialists of America said:
DSA reaffirms our call for the US to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict.
America is always wrong.
Most of the anti-American American left come by it honestly. They don’t know much about the world but want to seem like they do. That mix of ignorance and arrogance is fertile ground for growing patsies.
Others, though, are more invested.
The anti-American American left is sometimes called the “dirtbag left.” It is a slough of despond. Nothing really matters but portraying the United States as the world’s bad guy. Nothing really matters but raising awareness of America’s penchant for imperialism.
The Kremlin has groomed a host of prominent anti-American critics of American imperialism. These include “journalist” Anissa Naouai.
Since 2006, she has been affiliated with Russia Today, the Russian government’s chief organ of propaganda (second, I’d presume, to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms).
The Hudson Institute’s Casey Michel said Russia (and Syria) paid her and others to shill for them. A result was defending genocide.
(The invasion has apparently drawn too much attention. On Monday, Naouai said she cut all ties to RT. Her reasons? “Two evil military empires [the US and Russia] are playing chess and getting off on their ballistic d*ck-measuring contest,” she said. “The hypocrisy is too stark. I am done being a pawn for imperialism of any kind.”
To which Julia Ioffe, a prominent Kremlin-watcher, asked pointedly: “Everything Russia did before this moment was OK? Assassinating Boris Nemtsov was OK? Bombing aid convoys in Syria was OK? Shutting down independent media and NGOs in Russia was OK? You were one of the most vicious defenders of Russia. Let no one forget.”)
So, to me, there seems to be a space for the Democrats to claim, a space between the stooges and the patsies, between GOP Putinists and anti-American American leftists. Kristin Rawls doesn’t know if I’m right or wrong, but she knows a lot generally about the American left.
Kristin is a writer and researcher. She’s also co-host of Christian Rightcast, a podcast about fundamentalism. She said this left reduces complexities so much it comes to “pretty ghoulish conclusions.”
Why does the American left get duped by Russian propaganda?
In the course of my studies, I became aware that some members of the American left have some very bad ideologically-informed positions.
There is a tendency among certain elements of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Code Pink, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) and other groups that have taken an irresponsible position on this conflict to blame everything on the United States.
In their view, NATO is always and only an imperial tool of the United States. This erases the fact that NATO was started in 1949 to prevent European countries from continuing to invade and genocide each other. They had hundreds of years of experience doing just that!
In extreme cases, this leads to genocide denial. If NATO is cartoonishly evil, it was wrong to intervene to stop the Bosnian genocide.
These kinds of leftists can be persuaded that the United States is cartoonishly evil and that it has never done a single good thing.
They already have a reductive understanding of world affairs. They believe North Korea is a utopian socialist state and that all criticism of human rights abuses in North Korea reflects American imperialism.
“These kinds of leftists can be persuaded that the United States is cartoonishly evil and that it has never done a single good thing. They already have a reductive understanding of world affairs. They believe North Korea is a utopian socialist state and that all criticism of human rights abuses in North Korea reflects American imperialism.”
I agree with leftists who say the United States is overwhelmingly a bully in world affairs. There are valid criticisms of NATO, too.
But if you understand geopolitics and world history in such reductive terms, you’re going to come to some pretty ghoulish conclusions.
Not all of this comes from Russia. There already exists a fringe element on the left that thinks this way. I also think what we’re seeing now is directly related to the Russian propaganda campaign on Syria.
Go into that more please.
The existence of ISIS and a-Nusra, both organizations that formally fought the Assad regime, allowed Russian propagandists to come in and paint every Sunni Muslim and human-rights activist in Syria as a terrorist. If the people who fell for this had a deeper understanding of the context of the Syrian conflict, they would have seen through this.
Like the former congresswoman from Hawaii?
Yes, Tulsi Gabbard is one.
Before beginning his genocide, Bashar al-Assad released from prison many of the militants who would become ISIS. He also, for years, largely left ISIS territory alone. Meanwhile, he targeted civilians who rose up during the Arab Spring and who were pushing for democracy.
Anti-American leftists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek took money from state actors to push this propaganda. (Others include Lee Camp, Anissa Naouai and Chris Hedges, according to the Hudson Institute’s Casey Michel). They ended up portraying a humanitarian aid group called the White Helmets as terrorists and human rights abusers.
Some went to Syria. They took pictures of themselves in pastoral settings to make it look like Assad was good for Syria. As you know, former Congresswoman Gabbard met with Assad and made such claims. Fact is, Assad murdered hundreds of thousands of his people.
They may have started out honestly.
It’s understandable why they’d see another Middle East conflict through the lens of American imperialism. They believed that the US might invade and pursue another “forever war” using human rights abuses as a pretext. This is a misreading. It was clear at this point that the US was not interested in getting into another protracted war.
Barack Obama was sensitive to popular opinion about Iraq.
Exactly. I don’t think it’s excusable. I think the actual propagandists probably knew what they were doing. But I can see how some people who may not understand Syrian would view it that way, and get duped.
Righteous anger at American imperialism, a problem we should take seriously, was turned into propaganda in service of Russia and Assad.
Syria did have a real problem with ISIS and al-Nusra. There was a kernel of truth to the lies. That made it successful. That’s the case now.
Ah, so that’s why Putin said Russia was “denazifing.”
Yes. Azov Battalion and C-14 have conducted pogroms on Romani communities. They should be put down, like all fascists should be.
Ukraine does not have much fascist representation in its parliament, but the problem is nevertheless real. Azov Battalion in particular has been incorporated into the country’s National Guard, so it receives Ukrainian funding. It’s also getting weapons from the US and Europe.
This is a serious problem.
It’s not an argument against a people’s right to self-defense, though.
There’s a tendency in western media to downplay the seriousness of this due to fears of abetting the objectives of Russian propaganda.
It was very unsettling to see the Ukrainian National Guard proudly tweet footage of the Azov Battalion greasing bullets with pork fat for the purpose of attacking Muslim forces in Chechnya.
Let me be clear: The United States and Europe should not arm these neo-Nazi militias. Ukraine should not have admitted Azov – which is a battalion of about 1,000 soldiers – into its National Guard.
The fringe of the American left – which calls itself the “anti-imperialist left”; I don’t think that’s right, it’s more the anti-American imperialist left – can draw on this very real problem to conclude that Russia has an humanitarian imperative to invade and take a sovereign state.
What Russia is doing is imperialism.
Russia is an imperial state.
Russia’s assault of Chechnya in the late 1990s should have proven this to the anti-American imperialist left. But they are willing to overlook that history – and Russia’s Nazi problem as well as the fact that Putin is a fascist – because in their minds, America is the real imperial power.
Given your experience as an activist and journalist, and your deep knowledge of the political left, where do you think the left is going?
I think there will always be a wing of the American left that is willing to side with fascists like Assad and Slobodan Milosevic. They’re convinced America is the world’s sole aggressor and that it’s at the center of all geopolitics. If the US happens to be in the right, they will be against it.
I think they’ll always be here. They’ve been around for decades.
I also think they’re dangerous.
Where geopolitics is concerned, Americans could use more education. That would help the American left generally to have a more mature and nuanced view on things like the imperialist invasion of Ukraine. If you’re going to call yourself an anti-imperialist, you should oppose imperialism in forms, not only when the imperial power is America.
They confuse regular people about what the truth is, because most Americans know very little about geopolitics. And they have a track record of working with fascists when it suits their purposes.
As long as groups like DSA put out irresponsible statements, they will continue to alienate regular people from getting involved and will do very little to add to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.
I will continue to vote pragmatically as long as actual fascists campaign for office. As far as “the left” goes, I find the most useful work is being done by anti-racists, anarchists and antifascists. They help people combat the Nazi threat and live safely in their communities.
Where geopolitics is concerned, Americans could use more education. That would help the American left generally to have a more mature and nuanced view on things like the imperialist invasion of Ukraine.
If you’re going to call yourself an anti-imperialist, you should oppose imperialism in forms, not only when the imperial power is America.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.