The Atlantic: “the bad guys are winning”

16 Nov

Above is the illustration for the cover story of next month’s issue of The Atlantic, mouthpiece for US liberalism. Before I get to that story, here’s former Guardian writer Jonathan Cook, as cited in my recent post on FB ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen:

There are rival visions of what the … state should do, how best to manage its interests and … shield it from scrutiny or reform. Those inside the organisation are united in their motivation to maintain their power, but often divided over how that can best be achieved.

… the opposing visions typically revolve around liberal and conservative values; a simple binary reinforced by electoral systems that encourage two parties, two sets of values: Democrats versus Republicans; Labour versus Conservatives; and so on.

It is part of the establishment’s success – the way it preserves its power – that it can present these two choices as meaningful. 

Now back to The Atlantic. Its cover story, The Bad Guys Are Winning, is by Anne Applebaum, a regular columnist for the Washington Post, another organ of the neo-liberal as opposed to neo-conservative wing of the US ruling class.

Those lined up in the cover image are, from left to right: Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko,1 Vladimir Putin of course, Xi Jinping of course, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

What ostensibly connects the five Bad Guys is not that one way or another, to greater or lesser degree, they thwart the West’s ongoing exploitation of the global south. Perish the thought! No, the common factor is that they are ‘authoritarian’ – unlike the democratic Good Guys who have incarcerated Julian for 10 years, with a further 175 in reserve, for revealing the depth and fullness of their criminality.

So we might note – for example – the omission of Narendra Modi. India is US capital’s key ally in the region, given Pakistan’s Janus headed ambivalence, in an existential fight to disrupt China rising by all means short – so far – of war.

And we might wonder at Erdogan’s inclusion, given that Turkey is still a Nato member. (Albeit an increasingly erratic one since a 2016 coup attempt many if not most Turks regard as made with CIA support.)

Otherwise the line up is what we’d expect: of men who lead states troublesome, with the two greatest threats centrally placed in the montage, to Wall Street and dollar hegemony. These, says the liberal Atlantic, are the Bad Guys who, ominously for its world vision, “are winning”.

This is to be a short post so I’ll make only a few points. Says Ms Applebaum:

Belarus lured Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Minsk with a proffer of tourist visas, then escorted them to the borders of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland and forced them at gunpoint to cross, illegally.

That’s it. All she has to say on a matter which has led to brinksmanship sending shivers down EU spines. That those refugees exist precisely because her Good Guys, with the EU role that of cheerleading and narrative maintenance, spent two decades invading, bombing, droning, using jihadi terror and otherwise building hell on earth in the lands they’d once called home doesn’t merit a mention.

(Anne Applebaum, incidentally, lives in Poland.)

Elsewhere, harrowing but anecdotal and unverifiable stories are given in intimate detail:

 …Tursun is a Uyghur … born in the territory the Chinese call Xinjiang … Tursun had six children—too many in a country where there are strict rules limiting births. Also, she wanted to raise them as Muslims; that, too, was a problem in China … 

But what of the US controlled World Bank’s grudging acknowledgement of China having lifted, in a single generation, hundreds of millions of its citizens (Uyghurs and Tibetans included) out of extreme poverty? Without this unprecedented feat, a lamentable failure to reach global south targets on precisely that metric would have been far worse.

(As recently pointed out on this site, extreme poverty is seldom if ever presented as a violation of human rights. A shade too implicating of “Western values”, perhaps?)

And what of IMF puppet Yeltsin overseeing plunging life expectancy, starvation, and overnight billionaires as a result – see Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Chapters 10-11 – of ‘market reforms’ which elsewhere serve those Good Guys so well?

(Things went off-script in Russia insofar as the fruits of privatisation were trousered by the old apparatchik caste and ex KGB, when they’d been earmarked for Wall Street, but that’s another story.)

What too of the fact that Putin turned this and much besides around with a speed and efficacy directly reflected in the West’s need to demonise him?

I mention these things in passing. Anne Applebaum sure as hell doesn’t.

* * *

  1. This post initially and quite wrongly had Hungary’s Viktor Orbán as the Belarus leader. Thanks to reader Dave Hansell, whose gimlet eye spotted this.

7 Replies to “The Atlantic: “the bad guys are winning”

    • Thanks Ingwe. I found this an interesting read. Its author seems addicted to complexity – never use a short word when there’s a longer and less familiar one to hand (a vice compounded by erratic use of commas). He is also given to parading his knowledge and credentials as a heavyweight as opposed to “unserious” – a put-down he uses more than once – political analyst.

      That said, this piece, long by CounterPunch standards, repays the effort and investment of time. Martin Cherniack and I are far removed in our assessments of what ails the US ruling class and hence the world we find ourselves in, but he has things of value to say.

      I just wish he’d take a leaf from one of the greatest of his countrymen, and never write ‘metropolis’ when I get paid the same for ‘city’ …

  1. I have always thought that the so-called coup in Turkey was so incompetent that it must have been deliberately instigated by Erdogan as a pretext for clamping down on an opposition, largely led by Kurds, that was gaining too much ground. Nothing about it rang true. A genuine military coup would have targeted the PM and eliminated him quickly. The rest was theatre designed to look newsworthy and to excite supporters. Of course it could be that the CIA were involved, but perhaps it was a double bluff whereby Turkish intelligence played them. Regardless, it raises that question I previously mentioned about my enemies enemy. These guys are not good (or bad) they are looking after number one, just as our leaders try to do.

    Erdogan seems a nasty piece of work who is trying to perpetuate his position of power. He also appears to be enriching himself and his supporters while encouraging environmentally disastrous projects and doing nothing to address problems such as climate change. Of course these arguments could be applied to our leaders, but the point is if you want an alternative, shouldn’t it be better rather than just different?

    Yes he has stood up against the “West” and followed his own path, but he is ruthless with anyone who challenges him or gets in the way. Like any would-be tyrant, he denies them legitimacy, outlaws any protests and labels them as terrorists or stooges. Its the same playbook our lot use to stifle serious opposition. This includes those interested in a more secular, liberal, democratic state, but also a number of minorities, including the Kurds. The treatment of the Kurds in Turkey is that of a persecuted minority, as it is in Syria and Iran. The Kurds are apparently not of interest to either liberals or conservatives in the binary political sphere you describe, much like the Palestinians, so are sidelined, ignored or forgotten.

    I can’t subscribe to a world view that everyone who stands against the neo-liberal way is only criticised because they represent a threat. In reality, there are many valid reasons to criticise all of the men (note no women) above, just as there are to criticise our own leaders. My view is that most leaders are primarily motivated by their own needs and desires, and that anything they do for the country they run is incidental to this. There are vanishingly few people that attain the position of leader of a country who have much in the way of virtue. Mujica of Uruguay, Sankara of Burkina Faso, Mandela, Gandhi, possibly Allende., and Attlee. Even the good and humble can be twisted by circumstances and the pressures of powerful interests into betraying their principles, sadly.

    • I can’t subscribe to a world view that everyone who stands against the neo-liberal way is only criticised because they represent a threat.

      Me neither, Zoltan, so it’s just as well I’m saying no such thing. It’s a sign of our deeply polarised times that I must repeatedly stress that dismissal of Argument A – that Hillary and Sleepy Joe are global menaces, say – cannot (validly!) be taken as adherence to argument B – that the tangerine narcissist is not.

      In a more recent post on China – Are we sleepwalking to Armageddon – I wrote:

      … even where the attacks [by Western corporate media on China] do contain a sliver of accuracy (as propaganda usually does) they deceive us on the why now? question …

      And that is the point.

      • Sorry, I’m not expressing myself well. To put it in the context of our original exchanges – isn’t China just as bad? – two aspects seem pertinent.

        One, Western imperialism has shown repeatedly to those with eyes to see that it cares nothing for human rights other than as a pretext for wars on obstacles to its licence to exploit the global south, and as a stick to beat China. Is there an iota of truth in such charges? Pass – I’ve no way of knowing, but lie after media lie has been exposed in the demonising of China. More importantly, it takes great credulity to believe that even if the charges can be shown to contain some truth, this is why they are being framed.

        Two, given (a) the state of the world as sketched out in my open letter to you, and (b) China’s extraordinary success in lifting hundreds of millions from extreme poverty, a claim I’d be grateful if you’d acknowledge or refute, I’d like to hear your third way – neither Western neoliberalism nor China’s state capitalism.

        Moving on:

        The Kurds are apparently not of interest to either liberals or conservatives in the binary political sphere you describe, much like the Palestinians, so are sidelined, ignored or forgotten.

        Actually you are wrong in more ways than one. Although my efforts as a lone blogger pose the constant danger of spreading myself too thin – I put in a forty to fifty hour week, for no remuneration: what do you do? – I have written on the Kurds, and explicitly reject the parallel with the Palestinians.

        It pains me that while I have treated you with respect, and never knowingly misrepresented your arguments, you can throw out so cheap a gibe.

  2. Firstly, that remark about the Kurds and Palestinians wasn’t aimed at you, Philip, so I reject that it was a cheap gibe. I was talking about the two mainstreams of comment that fill the mass media. I am sorry if you took it personally, but it is a misunderstanding.

    Secondly, I felt no need to respond about whether China has lifted millions from poverty because I never denied it. In fact, I have never questioned it or commented on it.

    Thirdly, I maintain that pretty well all leadership lies, misleads, exaggerates, misdirects and falsifies and that all sources of information have to be treated skeptically. The problem is not that we are being lied to by one side, but that we are being lied to by all sides.

    • On your first point, Zoltan, I apologise for oversensitivity. I’ve been taken on by others who – probably in good faith but still inexcusably given their Marxist backgrounds – made specious comparisons between Kurds and Palestinians.

      On your second, OK.

      On your third, my recurring beef is of your making unevidenced claims to imply a moral equivalence between the proven lies of the USA – Saddam’s WMDs, say, and those told at Britain’s High Court to secure Julian’s extradition – and fibs you don’t actually specify, let alone evidence, re China. At a higher level of generality I reject, for reasons given in that open letter to you, a greater false equivalence: that “China is just as bad”.

      It reminds me, an old timer, of the SWP’s cravenly opportunist strapline of the seventies and eighties: Neither Washington nor Moscow.

      But now with even less excuse.

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