Ukraine, “Morning Joe,” and the new Cold War

Over the past few weeks the American people have been served up a steady stream of words and images by the major media about the conflict in the Ukraine.

The coverage has been almost uniformly one-sided; sometimes things are turned completely on their head. If you believe what you see and hear, the crisis in the Ukraine has no wider context or history. Underlying causes that go to the heart of and sustain the conflict are barely, if at all, mentioned.

One side – guess which – is the perpetrator of violence, the other side – guess again – acts out of self-defense. One side is hostile to “democratic governance,” the other side embraces democracy and “western” values. One side has no legitimate grievances, the other side is, without question, the injured and aggrieved party. It’s all, the media tells us, Putin’s fault!

Furthermore, the loss of lives on the “other” side receives far less attention than losses on “our” side.  

Finally, in this version of reality, the U.S. government is a disinterested judge and broker of peace, with no economic or political skin in the game.

“Morning Joe” version of reality

I got a good dose of this skewing of reality while watching a recent segment (July 21) of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Mika Brzezinski, a co-host with Joe Scarborough and daughter of Cold War warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, understandably condemned the blowing up of a commercial jetliner over eastern Ukraine in which 298 innocent people died. But then she declared matter-of-factly that the blood for this was on the hands of separatists in eastern Ukraine and their “thuggish” sponsor in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

No one in the conversation took issue with her assertion, even though the investigation into the jet shoot-down has so far reached no conclusions. It may turn out that rebels in eastern Ukraine did fire a missile that brought down the jet, perhaps taking it for a military plane. But still nothing definite has been proved as to who the guilty party is.

And as long as that is the case, it would seem wise for Mika Brzezinski and her media mates to show much more caution before assigning blame. Caution is especially advisable given our government’s track record in outright lying to the American people to justify the use of military power, imposition of sanctions on other countries, and overthrow of democratically elected governments – not to mention the readiness of the mainstream media on too many occasions to serve as megaphones for official lies.

Also disturbing is that no one said a single word about the atrocities committed by the Ukrainian government against its own citizens in eastern Ukraine.

Atrocities by “friends and democrats”

One would think, for instance, that Brzezinski or one of her guests, if only for “balance” and “fairness,” would take a moment to tell viewers of the horrific murder of 40 or more mainly Russian Ukrainians in Odessa a short time ago. They too were innocent, but that didn’t stop our Ukrainian “friends and democrats” from herding them into a building, blocking the doors, and setting it on fire, turning it into an inferno in which almost all perished.

According to historian Stephen Cohen, the perpetrators of this horrific and premeditated crime were members of a group called Right Sector. This neo-fascist movement was an organizing force in the February 2014 coup that ousted the elected president, Victor Yanukovich,  and it is now deploying its well-armed militias to help the Ukrainian military intensify its offensive in the eastern part of the country.

Cohen reports that Right Sector, along with Svoboda (another right-wing party with representatives in the government), hailed the Odessa massacre. Dmytro Yarosh, one of its leaders, is quoted as saying that it was “another bright day in our national history.” And a Svoboda parliamentary deputy said, “Bravo, Odessa … let the Devils burn in hell.”

The mass murder in Odessa wasn’t an aberration. Similar events, Cohen writes, occurred in Mariupol and Kramatorsk, two other cities in eastern Ukraine. But not a word of indignation about these atrocities was spoken by Brzezinski or her companions on “Morning Joe.”

Nor did anyone on this popular talk show acknowledge that the shooting down of the jetliner came in the immediate aftermath of the breaking of the ceasefire by Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s new president – a decision, by the way, that he would only make with the approval of the U.S. State Department.

Finally, there was not even a hint by anyone about the fact that U.S. administrations have systematically violated the spirit and letter of an agreement, mutually arrived at in the late 1980s by governments on opposite sides of the Cold War, to forgo any expansion of NATO in an eastward direction. First the U.S. drew Eastern European countries and then former Soviet republics into NATO’s orbit. But, surprise, surprise! Mum was the word on “Morning Joe.”

Spiking up rhetoric vs. Russia

What did command a good deal of attention on the show was the urgency of spiking up the rhetoric against Putin and sanctions on Russia.

Which is what President Obama is doing, unfortunately. And combined with the renewed and bloody military offensive in Ukraine, this is inflaming and dangerously escalating the situation.

Perhaps the president and his foreign policy advisers believe that Putin has no stomach for sending Russian troops into the Ukraine and is holding a weak hand, and thus the escalation of the conflict by Kiev and Washington carries little risk and offers the possibility of outsized advantages. The advantages: letting Putin and Russia who’s boss in the world, and setting the stage to bring the Ukraine, a prized geopolitical asset, into NATO.

But what they forget, and many ordinary people know only too well from bitter experience, is that war has a logic and dynamic of its own that can escape the most skillful policymakers. Things can go awry. The unintended happens. And in this conflict, we should bear in mind that the two chief antagonists are the world’s biggest nuclear powers.

To allay such concerns, the president tells us that the negative turn in U.S.-Russia relations doesn’t represent a “new Cold War,” which brings with it the attendant danger of an actual hot war.

But it strikes me, despite his assurances, that the real question is: Did the “Cold War” ever end?

Did the Cold War ever end?

A plausible case can be made that the present standoff between the U.S. and Russian governments simply continues, albeit in decidedly different conditions, the long-standing U.S. imperial project of encircling, isolating, cutting down the spheres of influence of, changing the behavior of, and, where necessary, overthrowing regimes that potentially challenge the dominance of the U.S.

This policy is complemented by U.S. efforts to form a network of client states worldwide, complete with proxy armies and military bases, that will do its bidding. Despite Washington’s almost rote-like invocation of democracy promotion, the actual degree of democracy in these countries is secondary to their willingness to uphold U.S. interests in the new global order.

In the view of top U.S. foreign policy circles, a multi-polar world is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and not a safe bet for promoting U.S. capitalism and a “liberal democratic” global order.

Accordingly, only the U.S. can act as the guarantor of stability, secure global markets, and successfully challenge governments and non-state actors that contest the U.S.-led capitalist world order. This, so say the designers and organizers of the our global grand strategy, makes America’s role and power indispensable in the contemporary world.

While President Obama and his advisers have some important differences with the neoconservative wing of the foreign policy establishment and right-wing militarists like John McCain, they share this elite worldview in general and with respect to Russia.

And as the recent segment of “Morning Joe” demonstrates, the mass media assists in this project. While not a dutiful parrot in every instance, it embraces nonetheless the main assumptions, objectives, and worldview of the ruling circles – and their blind spots.

Seeing through the “fog of war”

So much so that it surprises me now and then that the American people are able to see through the “fog” enough to act as a brake on the more aggressive plans of U.S. imperialism. And well they must in today’s violent world.

But an about-face in U.S. foreign policy toward substantive and sustainable peace and cooperation will take more than public sentiment for peace. It, in the end, requires the building of a transformative movement that has the ideological and practical capacity to mobilize and unite millions across the country – in red as well as blue states, in suburbs and rural communities as well as cities. Only a broad based, multi-class, and multi-racial movement of the immense majority acting in close alliance with peoples and governments worldwide can “give peace a chance” and turn swords into ploughshares.

In the meantime, we are faced with a crisis that grows more dangerous with each passing day. An immediate task is to demand a mutual ceasefire and the resumptions of negotiations between the parties to the conflict in the Ukraine and between the Ukrainian and Russian governments. At the same time, we should insist that the Obama administration strike a conciliatory note, lift sanctions, and renounce any interest in drawing the Ukraine into NATO.  

Maybe if the American people are insistent enough, we can even get “Morning Joe” to sign on!

Photo: Co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, right, on the set of “Morning Joe.” Wikipedia


Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.