Putin is a Real Threat to World Peace

Putin, Vladimir wikip

Vladimir Putin (Source: Wikipedia)

The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has the potential to be a much bigger problem for world peace than even the horrific behaviour of Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and northern Nigeria. The terrorists actions aren’t sustainable long-term, not least because they’re death cults. Russia is a very different matter, and is therefore far more dangerous.

I wrote about Russia’s motives in the Ukraine back in August 2014 after Russia’s initial invasion in support of the rebels on the 21st of that month. In the intervening months, nothing has changed. Putin is still desperate to get a land bridge to Crimea, and the need for that land bridge has dramatically increased. The Russian economy is finding it increasingly difficult to subsidize the Crimean economy, and if it can’t keep its promises to the people of Crimea, it will find it increasingly difficult to retain their loyalty. Further, there is oil in the Black Sea that Russia would really like to get their hands on. International sanctions mean they can’t get the equipment they need to do that, and the situation created by the lack of a land bridge makes all the logistics extremely complicated even if they had that equipment.

USD to Ruble Forex

Source: Forex

Thanks to the international economic sanctions and the current low price of oil, Russia’s economy is in major trouble. The Russian ruble has lost half its value against the American dollar in the last six months, despite spending US$90 billion in an attempt to protect it. The cost of all imports have therefore effectively doubled. Inflation is running at around 9% and a recession is predicted.

Capital flight has also been a major issue. Back in November the Russian Central Bank upped its estimate of the amount that would be taken out of the economy by investors for 2014 to US$128 billion. There had also been large losses via capital flight in 2012 and 2013. Russia’s wealth is over-concentrated in the hands of a few, making it more susceptible to capital flight than most developed countries. It has by far the highest proportion of billionaires in the world thanks to the way Putin has run the economy.

Putin became Prime Minister of Russia in August 1999, and by 31 December he was acting-President. According to Forbes, Russia had only eight billionaires in 2000. As stated by Wikipedia:

Between 2000 and 2004, Putin set about reconstruction of the impoverished condition of the country, apparently winning a power-struggle with the Russian oligarchs, reaching a ‘grand-bargain’ with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers, in exchange for their explicit support – and alignment with – his government. A new group of business magnates, such as Gennady Timchenko, Vladimir Yakunin, Yury Kovalchuk, Sergey Chemezov, with close personal ties to Putin, also emerged.

Unlike Norway or the Shetland islands (northern Scotland), which have used their natural resources revenue to benefit the entire population, the majority of the financial benefit of Russia’s natural resources wealth has remained with the oligarchs. Putin’s second term saw the government focus on improvement in healthcare, education, housing and agriculture, and these occurred. However, not to the extent they did in nearby Norway where the profits weren’t being concentrated in the hands of a few, and not in a sustainable way. Further, the improvements were accompanied by continuing reductions in civil liberties with restrictions on the press and legal proceedings taken for bogus reasons to silence opponents. In all international freedom indices (press, human rights, corruption, economics), Russia ranks poorly and the situation is deteriorating.

By 2013, the number of billionaires in Russia had grown to 110 and a global wealth study published by Credit Suisse found that they held a massive 35% of Russia’s household wealth. In most countries, billionaires control about 1-2% of household wealth.

One of the reports authors, Tony Shorrocks of London’s Global Economic Perspectives spoke to Ron Synovitz of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

Russia is really an outlier,” Shorrocks said. “Even compared with the U.S., which has more wealth inequality than most countries, [Russia] is still totally separate from the rest of the world.” …

Shorrocks says what is most striking about Russia’s richest citizens is that most have made their money by controlling companies in the natural-resources sector – like gas giant Gazprom, oil companies, or metals firms – and use their political connections with the Kremlin to maintain their fortunes…

It’s quite clear that these natural-resource companies do require political support in various ways. So there does seem to be more political connections between the billionaires in Russia than there are in other countries.” …

There were efforts made early on to ensure that the privatized wealth was distributed [following the break-up of the Soviet Union],” Shorrocks told RFE/RL. “A very large proportion of the Russian housing stock was actually given to their residents. That was a massive privatization and it was, on the whole, relatively equal – certainly compared with the wealth distribution now. Shares in Gazprom were also allocated to Russian citizens. Obviously, what happened was that there wasn’t [sic] really enough safeguards put in place and some people managed to acquire more than their fair share of the privatized assets.

Red Notice Bill BrowderNot on that list of 110, although he should be, is Putin himself. Political Analyst for the Guardian Stanislav Belkovsky, who is has been banned from Russia since reporting on Putin’s wealth, estimated in 2012 that Putin was worth US$70 billion, making him the richest man in Europe. Much of that fortune is suspected to be in oil and gas shares. Bill Browder, whose book Red Notice was released earlier this month, said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS that he estimated Putin’s worth at US$200 billion – he says Putin is easily the richest man in the world, and that money has largely been obtained by corrupt means. (I’ve bought the audio book, but have only just started listening to it.) Browder’s credentials and sources appear solid. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that within Russia, investigations into Putin’s wealth are routinely shut down. Whatever the true figure is, it is clearly a lot more than either Putin or his wife has acknowledged to the Russian Central Election Commission, which declares their worth to be relatively modest.

In 2012, this extremely interesting short documentary entitled In Search of Putin’s Money was released by Al Jazeera English:

Taking all these factors into account, it is clear Russia’s economy is struggling. They still have a huge US$450 billion in currency reserves, but this will not last forever. In 2012, oil and gas made up 70% of Russia’s export income and 50% of federal budget income. Further, 84% of their oil exports and 70% of their gas exports go to the EU, so they are financially reliant on those they are trying to assert their power over. The EU (Russian gas contributes a third of their supply) is working hard to develop alternative energy sources, and Russia is looking elsewhere for customers. It has signed two multi-billion dollar long-term pipeline contracts with China. However, China, recognizing Russia’s vulnerability, have been able to secure extremely favourable terms on these deals.

The oil and gas flows from Russia to the EU in a series of pipelines. About half of the gas the EU buys from Russia flows through Ukraine. Slovakia’s and Italy’s Russian gas depends on the Ukraine pipeline staying open. Germany’s and France’s Russian gas depends on a pipeline that goes through Poland, which is currently dealing with a build-up of Russian troops on its border. This situation in itself is worrying given current circumstances. On 20 February 2015 the Russian security council met to discuss the Minsk agreements (i.e. the situation of the Ukraine pipeline). The Kremlin reports they are determined to shut it down if there is even the slightest variation from the contract, and are already putting some preparatory blame on Ukraine while saying they expect to have to shut down the pipeline soon. This, of course, will put millions of lives at risk while snow is still thick in the ground.

Nick Paton-Walsh Debaltseve

Nick Paton Walsh in the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve (Source: CNN)

Putin really wants that oil off the Crimean coast, and even more, he doesn’t want Ukraine to have it. Ukraine also has significant natural resources, many of them in the east of the country. If they have stable, non-corrupt government and are able to develop them, those of their people who still hanker after a return to the Soviet era are likely to change their mind. It is in Putin’s interests, if he is to achieve his desire of restoring Russian control over eastern Europe, to keep Ukraine unstable. He will thus continue to support the rebels with money, food, arms (including heavy weaponry), training, and personnel, all the while denying he is doing so. CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh has been doing some outstanding reporting from the region. One of the things he has consistently noted is how much better the weapons and other equipment of the rebels are than those of the Ukrainian army. Where, if not Russia, are the rebels getting those weapons?

If Putin really cared about Russia, he would want Ukraine politically stable and economically successful. That is what would be best for Russia. His focus is on his own power, and he has proven over and over again that he is completely untrustworthy. Many, including me, have compared Putin’s actions in Ukraine with Hitler’s in Sudetenland in 1938. Some have dismissed this comparison, but I continue to consider it completely apt. The fact that Putin has flatly refused any and all suggestions of a UN peacekeeping force tells me he doesn’t want this situation resolved. This is extremely dangerous. In fact, I would do so far as to say that Putin is far more dangerous to world peace than than al-Baghdadi (the leader of DAESH).

NATO knows it too. Since Putin began flexing his muscle, they have begun increasing the size of their ready reaction force from 5,000 to 30,000 (currently they have reached 13,000) in six Rapid Deployment Force units. This is no game. Reuters reports:

“These six Rapid Deployment Force units to be stationed in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania are expected to be capable of rapidly reinforcing the region” in response to any threat from Russia.

Putin has always seen NATO as a threat and believes they’re ready to pounce on Russia and gobble it up as soon as they shoe any sign of weakness. However, until Putin began his increasing probes to see how far he could push them, every NATO country had been reducing its military spending. Further, almost all of them were failing to maintain the level of military spending their membership required. It was only when Putin began supporting the Ukrainian rebels that they changed their behaviour.

Putin, Vladimir

Vladimir Putin 20 Feb 2015 at a ceremony at the Kremlin awarding medals to Great Patriotic War (WWII) veterans. (Source: Presidential Press and Information Office)

In a speech Putin made on the eve of Fatherland Day (23 February) he referred to the military tradition of Soviet Russia, referencing Peter the Great and the importance of the defeat of Nazism and in praising his country’s military said:

“At various moments in history, they have not allowed the enemy to conquer Russia, have protected it from invasion and spared no sacrifice to defend every inch of their native soil.”

Later, in a passage clearly directed at an international audience, his speech included the following (and note his reference to nuclear weapons):

“No one should harbour any illusions about it being possible to achieve military supremacy over Russia or to use pressure against us in any way or form. Russia will always have an adequate response to any such reckless actions.

“Our soldiers and officers have shown that they are ready to act decisively, with coordinated precision, professionalism and courage to carry out even the most difficult and novel missions, as befits a well-trained and experienced modern army that preserves its traditions and military spirit and is constantly improving and setting the highest modern standards as its benchmark.

“We have done much over these last years to make our military command system more efficient and build up groups of troops in the areas of greatest strategic importance. We are successfully carrying out an ambitious programme to modernise the army and navy, including active modernisation of our air and space defences and nuclear forces. This is the guarantee of global parity.”

Hammond, Philip and Kerry, John CNN

Philip Hammond and John Kerry (Source: CNN)

At the same time US Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, announced:

“We are confident that over the next few days we are going to make it clear that we are not going to play this game, not going to sit here and be part of this extraordinarily craven behavior at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.

He went on to say:

“This is behavior that is completely counter to everything that the global community has worked to achieve and put in place ever since World War II, and I’m confident that the United Kingdom, the United States and others are prepared to stand up to it.”

They are meeting to discuss placing further sanctions on Russia’a economy and, I suspect, what further support they can give Ukraine’s military – to date no lethal weaponry has been given them.

The Russian military currently includes 1.2 million ground troops. They are losing some in the Ukraine, but they can keep replacing them for much longer then Ukraine can. Without doing anything more than he’s doing, Putin can eventually win in Ukraine. The alternative is for NATO to ally with Ukraine, which has the potential of starting another land war in Europe which could become a world war. Putin knows no-one wants that. Unless Russia’s economy can be collapsed, Putin holds most of the cards.

Dismiss Putin at your peril.

P.S. This is another reason no-one wants to offend Saudi Arabia – they could put the price of oil back up any time, which would help Putin enormously.

37 Responses to “Putin is a Real Threat to World Peace”

  1. Diana MacPherson says:

    You may be interested in a book I recommend over and over because I think it presents a very fair and balanced view to the reader of the Russian experience and mind set as well as Western expectations and mindsets. It is The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia by Angus Roxburgh.

    In the conclusion, Roxburgh makes a profound statement:

    The economy remains almost entirely dependent on exports of raw materials, with no modern manufacturing base to speak of. Corruption is by the government’s own admission overwhelming and growing – the glue that holds together a mafia-like state, dominated by a clique of Putin’s friends and colleagues, from the KGB, St Petersburg and even his dacha cooperative. If Dmitry Medvedev truly wanted to reform all of that, he failed abysmally. Putin’s pledge to crack down on the oligarchs applied only to those who opposed him politically, while the country’s wealth was amassed in the hands of fabulously rich tycoons and state bureaucrats. A land of limitless human and natural resources, freed two decades ago from the grip of totalitarianism, failed to burst into bloom. Some 40 per cent of young people, according to a poll, would rather live somewhere else

    Roxburgh also thinks about why, despite all of Putin’s failings, does he enjoy such popularity. Here is his answer:

    I pointed to the mistaken Western (especially American) belief that Russia was just a Western country waiting to be freed. Putin plays to that part of the Russian mind that rebels, instinctively, against that. He speaks for those who want to have a Western economy and enjoy all the benefits of it, but who want to find their own path towards that future, and recoil from some of the West’s failings. He speaks for those who want Russia to be respected in the world – and, sadly, for those millions who mistakenly confuse respect with fear. And he speaks for those who simply love Russia and savour its uniqueness – those who infuriate Westerners like myself who genuinely endeavour to ‘understand’ it, by smirking at us, saying: ‘You’ll never understand the Russian soul.

    Indeed, Roxburgh quotes many blunders where Americans referred to Russians as “comrades” despite being decades away from communism. I’ve been repulsed many a time by the way Russians are portrayed on American television (see the latest, ridiculous portrayal in the latest season of 24). I often wonder if Russians have equally ridiculous movies with Americans cast as villainous, capitalist caricatures

    I agree that Vladimir Putin endangers world peace but I also get where Russia is coming from and why Russians enjoy that he appears to be protecting Russia. I truly hope Russians the leader they deserve one day: a leader who embraces democracy: squashes corruption, separates the courts from the government and helps build a modern economy. Putin famously chastised Tony Blair for not handing over LItvinenko as being deliberately obstinate. He couldn’t grasp that the courts decide things the government cannot interfere with. He truly did not understand democracy and he never really wanted it.

    I fear Putin’s behaviour could escalate conflict and I hope that the so-called Russian Versteher can help broker peace. Most of all, however, I fear who could come after Putin as I strongly suspect that his replacement will be more nationalistic, more right wing and more dangerous to the West.

    • Hi Diana. (Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – I’ve been away.) That book sounds really interesting and I will definitely check it out. I totally support what you say. Russia could be amazing with the right leader. It’s not Putin, but there could be someone worse in the wings too because of the way Russia works at the moment.

  2. Diana MacPherson says:

    And I have to share my favourite Putin & Medvedev nene, I think Medvedev really makes this one.

  3. Diane G. says:

    What an excellent analysis, Heather. I learned so much from it. Is it surprising that the US & China are not making joint preparations for further Russian aggression? Or is it China’s dependence on Russian oil, as you mention, that prevents this?

    • Diana MacPherson says:

      Russia made an oil deal with China last year. China has not much dispute with Russia. Japan however does as there are a few islands they both claim.

      • Diane G. says:

        I see, Diana.

        I was thinking that China’s economy depended a lot on the US market, & US investment?

        • Diana MacPherson says:

          Yes, they do trade heavily with the US and the EU though I don’t think they are afraid of Russia taking something from them. China will quietly sit by and take the action that is best for China once the dust settles.

    • Cheers Diane. China is playing the long game here, and by long I mean hundreds of years. They are slowly building up their military and economy, and are starting to make a few test moves as we saw in the dispute over the Senkaku Islands between them and Japan. They have been declaring land and sea south of them “theirs” too. They’re starting to flex their muscle. It’s why Obama is pivoting to the Pacific and has established a base in northern Australia. People are so focused on DAESH, they’re not noticing what’s going on in the Pacific region, which long-term, is potentially more serious even than Russia. America and China are already at war on the cyber-level imo, but neither is admitting it’s at that level.

      • Diane G. says:

        This is all fascinating, Heather, albeit alarming. I think I’m still stuck in the Cold War, when China was not much of a player, of course, but I always think of the 3 superpowers doing the “enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” thing. Good thing you’re bringing me up-to-date.

  4. Reblogged at My Selfish Gene

    Hi Heather – thanks for another great piece. Wondering what kind of culpability you see in the West?

    None of it makes Putin a particularly nice guy but the West has been pushing harder and harder against Russian borders for a couple of decades now. To a large measure the US has tried to exploit their post-Soviet weakness treating them as an almost third world country. Putin has risen through the consent of a large part of the Russian population who longer for the good ol’ days when people were proud to be Russian.

    Now in Ukraine we have corporations eager to set up shop and Putin is justifiably(?)alarmed? No one in the US was happy when the Soviets were setting up in Cuba. This seems very similar to me.

    • Diana MacPherson says:

      I know your question is directed at Heather, but I thought I’d point out an article from the Moscow Times that reflects exactly my opinion in all this.

      Here is a rather lengthy quote from the article (sorry Heather if it’s really long but it’s fairly relevant to the question).

      Merkel, Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama know one thing: At the root of all this monstrous and bloody story is the fact that the West lied to Moscow 25 years ago when it said it would not expand NATO even one inch to the east if the Soviet Union agreed to the unification of Germany.

      If you take a moment to consider how far east the military and political boundary of the West now lies, you can probably understand why some people view that as underhanded and a gross injustice. One such person is President Vladimir Putin, who happens to posses substantial capabilities in the area of planetary destruction.

      All of the counterarguments are well-known. Yes, not all in the West were in favor of German unification, and that made it difficult for Moscow to demand something from the West in exchange for its cooperation.

      Rather than relying on a backroom promise, the leaders of that time ought to have written up a treaty stipulating that NATO would not expand. And yes, the newly independent Warsaw Pact states and former Soviet republics do have the right to choose which international organizations they join.

      However, in deciding to expand during the euphoric years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the West neglected one of the fundamental rules of realistic international policy — the rule of the balance of power.

      Obama, Merkel and Hollande all know that it was the West that disrupted the balance of power, even if their distant predecessors were the ones responsible. If they do not understand that, they are unfit for their posts. If they do understand, it explains the tortured expressions on their faces.

      After all, they are compelled to constantly place all of the blame on the side that sincerely and with good reason believes that, in this case, it is only responding to an attempt to impinge upon its legitimate national interests.

      That is the story the Russian president can and will successfully tell in every country that has its own issues with the West. Egypt, that showed its support by displaying portraits of Putin during his visit on Monday, is hardly the only country in the world to feel that way. There is a large and eager audience for anyone who is willing to speak of Western underhandedness, cunning and evil, and how it conflicts with the non-Western forces of good.

      It is difficult to deny that Putin has these legitimate complaints. However, that represents the limit of his moral high ground.

      The West really did take full advantage of its opportunity to violate the balance of power in the world and must now busy itself with overcoming the negative consequences.

      At the same time, what has Russia done to restore that imbalance apart from annexing Crimea and fueling the war in eastern Ukraine? What has it done to live up to the dream that Russia’s new leaders held in the early 1990s — namely, that this country would become a new point of attraction and a force for reintegration among the former Soviet republics? What is Russia offering now to compensate for all that it failed to accomplish over the past 20 years?

    • Hi Dennis. Thanks again 🙂 I’m still working through my thoughts on that one. It’s such a complicated situation. Obviously, as a Westerner I tend to see the West as the good guys, and I slip into that mindset a bit when analyzing the situation. The West did try to help Russia retain face by such things as turning the G7 into the G8 – making them one of the big guys. I tend to see the way Russia views the West as wanting to take them over as paranoia and a failure to understand how most Westerners think. However, I’m not sure we in the West have made enough effort to understand Russia either. The way Russia’s economic system was developed post-Communism was disastrous and created the corruption and oligarchs that continue to plague the country. If there had been a way to advise Russia how to structure their economy it might have made a big difference, but powerful people were making a lot of money out of it being done badly, and the West is just as much at fault there as the oligarchs.

      • Diana MacPherson says:

        Remember too that Yeltsin thought he could just take Russia’s economy straight into a market economy. To many Russians, as investors from America and Europe moved in to set up shop and take advantage of the cheap prices, it looked like Russia was being sold off piece by piece to foreigners.

        The Russians didn’t even have private property ownership yet! In fact it was Putin’s government that finally got that through with poor Hermann Gräf being physically blocked in the Duma from approaching to read his bill. After it passed, a fist fight broke out. Can you imagine? They head butted one another and everything.

        • Yes. I’ve read some of the Browder book I referred to in the article while I’ve been away, and it’s really opened my eyes as to just how dysfunctional/unfunctional the Russian economy was in the Yeltsin era. There were absolutely no laws stopping foreigners buying any amount of any nationalized company they wanted to, and those companies were majorly undervalued. The whole thing is unbelievable to anyone with even a minor understanding of economics, but there were (and are) a lot of people with a vested interest in keeping it like that.

  5. Thanks Diana though I’m not sure that the Moscow Times is the most credible source. Good info.

    • Diana MacPherson says:

      The thing about the Moscow Times is it is foreign owned. I think this is the only reason Putin hasn’t been able to censor it but he was cracking down on foreign owned press in Russia I believe so I often fear that it will be run out of Russia.

  6. paxton marshall says:

    The greatest threat to world peace is America and its allies. Who invaded Iraq for no justifiable reason? Who bombed Libya? Who slaughtered over 2,000 Gazans, including almost 1,000 women and children. Who props up dictators when they do our bidding, and overthrows elected governments when they don’t? Who else feels entitled to bomb, drone, and meddle in any country we choose? Who has enabled our giant corporations to exploit and despoil the most vulnerable people in the world? What is Putin’s death toll compared with ours? Good people, take the log out of your own eyes before you pick at the specks in the eyes of others. The prophets of old would cry “Repent”, and even a modern atheist may say the same.

    • America isn’t perfect – far from it – but I think the death toll argument is a bit simplistic. (Although, of course, every innocent life lost is a tragedy.) America has made some big mistakes in the way it propped up dictators. Great Britain and other colonizers in the 19th century were often even worse. Both are much better now than they were. However, I think some people and some countries are more reliable in their behaviour than others, and America is one of them. Along with those companies that have done bad stuff, there are also those like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that have done untold good in the world. They have used their money to pull literally hundreds of millions out of poverty by sustainable means. Also, when American companies do bad stuff, people in America discover and inevitably the whistle gets blown. Try doing that in Russia – you’ll end up dead, which is what’s happened to several who’ve tried it. The fact that free speech is protected in countries like America makes a huge difference to the world. America, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, NZ – we all have people living in our countries who’ve had to flee the country they were born in because they couldn’t speak freely there. And America and its allies does try not to hit civilians when they bomb. Bombing missions are called off because there are civilians in the way and terrorists take advantage of that by using human shields.

      If DAESH, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, the Khorasan Group, Al-Shabaab, AQIM etc got hold of nuclear weapons, do you think they would have any compunction about using them on civilian targets? They have certainly been quite happy to target civilians in the past. Soldiers in the armies of America, GB and their allies have a code of conduct. They don’t always live up to it, and several commit horrors like rape, torture etc. When they are discovered, they are punished. Terrorists use those tactics deliberately as weapons of war. You can point to some politicians who will forgive the military anything, but they are not the norm.

      Along with the bad stuff, Western countries also do a helluva lot of good, like providing billions is aid, education, medical treatment and other things that are helping countries develop. There is a lot more good done than bad, and there’s a lot more good that could and should be done, but it’s the bad stuff we hear about in the news.

      So I think there is a difference. We need to keep questioning ourselves and others. We need to keep improving. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past. But yes, I do think modern democratic countries are better, and I think it’s free speech that will keep them that way.

      It is important that people call them out when they get it wrong too, so don’t think I’m telling you to shut up.

  7. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, why do you think it is, that we in the west never hear anyone describe the invasion of Iraq as an act of terrorism? Why do we insist that ISIS and the Hebdo and Copenhagen attackers be explicitly identified by Obama as “Islamic Terrorists” when no one refers to the “American and British terrorists”? Is it confirmation bias, or the tendency to notice the speck in the eye of the other while ignoring the log in our own? Is it because the Muslims attacks were from private (religious if you wish) organizations, while ours are designed and executed by governments? If anything, the latter is worse.

    The average Muslim has no responsibility for ISIS, 9/11 or Hebdo or any of the others. But I, as an American citizen, do bear some responsibility for the invasion of Iraq. If I, and everyone who opposed the invasion, had exerted ourselves to the utmost, maybe we could have stopped it. Perhaps that’s why we in the COW (Coalition of the Willing) countries are in denial that the invasion of Iraq was an act of terrorism. Because that makes us complicit. So we deny it and make ourselves complicit in the next military action.

    Or worse, we blame the victims, and focus particular scrutiny on those we have wronged. We stir up a civil war in Iraq and Syria and then condemn the barbarity of those fighting it. Israel pens the Gazans in a cage and then when they make a few feeble attempts to break free they slaughter them and claim self defense.

    I’m not saying the west is all bad. But it is shameful the way we are demonizing Muslims while exonerating ourselves. I expected that from Christians, who have a long history of justifying hatred of other religions, but it is dismaying to see leading atheists joining the mob. You know doubt read the post decrying the fact that ” 24% of British Muslims say violence against cartoonists who draw Muhammad is justifiable “. Why have we never seen a post discussing the percentage of Americans who think the invasion of Iraq was justifiable. Or the percentage of Israelis who think the invasion of Gaza was justifiable? And if the number of deaths, maimed, made homeless etc is not a measure of the harm done by an act of terrorism, then what is?

    The prophets of old would have shouted out “Repent”! Atheists and all fair minded people today should do the same.

    • Terrorism is a tactic. Perhaps it’s valid to correlate “shock and awe” with terrorism. I’m not sure it is, but I need to think about that. I don’t think I’m up to arguing that point.

      As to Iraq, NZ didn’t get involved in that one. Our government didn’t think the invasion was justified, so we didn’t go. I was completely in agreement with them and have always been opposed to that war. There was pressure from some on the right to get involved, but the government didn’t bow to it, and I’m really proud of that.

      As for Afghanistan, there was quite a controversy at one stage because NZ soldiers were refusing to hand their prisoners over to the Americans because they didn’t trust them not to torture them. (Our presence wasn’t that big, so we didn’t have the facilities to hold the prisoners ourselves.) There was a lot of to and fro before they found a group NZ was prepared to give their prisoners to where they felt they were safe. Although our military is small, what we have got is extremely effective, and has a very high reputation.

      So as a New Zealander I think our military is currently fairly trustworthy.

      I’m sure there is a tendency within me to see “my side” as the good guys. Knowing that is half the battle I think. Also, I try to be fair, I don’t assume I’m correct, I listen to other arguments, I admit it when I’m wrong, and I do my best.

      I have never blamed all Muslims, and I don’t think most people are demonizing all Muslims. I see that as an exaggeration. There is a difference between Islamism and Islam. This is why I think we need to call out Islamism so people know the difference between that and ordinary Muslims. No-one had any trouble telling the difference between the Branch Davidians and ordinary Christians. The reason all Muslims get blamed by some is ignorance.

      “We” did not stir up a civil war in Iraq/Syria. There are some actions by the West that certainly didn’t help, but a religious war has been going on in the region for centuries. I personally don’t think it is possible to know whether the current attempt to establish a caliphate would have happened without Western interference or not.

      I think your criticism of that post is unfair. He writes about some of that other stuff and even if he didn’t, it’s his site – he can put what he wants on it. Besides, if you want to see articles about those other things, you could write them yourself. You definitely have the ability and it’s possible to set up a blog for free. I started this website because there was stuff I wanted to write about, so I created an outlet. I don’t have the physical capacity to write everything I want to, but it’s better than nothing.

      • Diana MacPherson says:

        Luckily, Canada had a Liberal government in power at the time of the Iraq war and they refused to take part in it, enraging the opposition (our current government) who wanted to send troops.

        The reaction caused Americans to burn the Canadian flag and Canadians were beat up and hassled at American borders by hot headed thugs. It all blew over though, like we knew it would (the animosity that is) and Americans went back not knowing who the hell we are. 🙂

        • At least they know where you are! I’m not sure how many Americans could even find NZ on a map, although LOTR has improved things slightly. 😀

          • Diana MacPherson says:

            Don’t be so sure. Many Americans think we live in the arctic and the rest of Canada is more America. Some Americans (one of them was my cousin) asked me which state Canada is part of. There are some American politicians that lobby to “keep the Canadians on their side of the border” because they think we are a third world country with citizens clamouring to get into the US. And these are politicians!!

          • Diane G. says:

            You talk like it’s easy to keep track of all the countries here in North America.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Heather, there have been conflicts everywhere for centuries. Yes, the battle is primarily between Shia and Sunni, a rivalry that has been going on for centuries. but there is a proximate cause for the fighting in Syria and Iraq now, and that cause is our invasion of Iraq and attempts to undermine Assad in Syria. ISIS is an outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Zarqawi during the Iraq invasion. It was a Sunni response to the fact that we replaced a Sunni gov’t in Iraq with a Shia gov’t.

        Yes, all of us have a tendency to see our side as the good guys. It’s the cause of most conflict in the world. Being aware of that in an abstract sense will be of little use, unless we are open to the evidence. And yes, if you have a blog you can write what you want on it, and remove whatever you want if you don’t like it. But that doesn’t make you right. To focus over and over again on how it’s not just the terrorists who are evil, but that a large segment of the Muslim population supports them, while ignoring the greater evil done by “our” terrorists and the segment of our population that supports them, is demonizing Muslims.

  8. paxton marshall says:

    “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion:”

    Robert Burns, “To a Louse”

  9. paxton marshall says:

    Diana and Heather, you are right to be proud that your countries resisted the pressure to join in the Iraq invasion. I know the pressure on Canada in particular was great. If Australia and Poland had held out as well, Bush/Blair might not have succeeded. But they did succeed, in spite of the fact that there was no justification for it. Iraq had played no role in the 9/11 attacks, had no connection to al Qaeda, the UN had found no evidence of WMDs, and the country and economy was much weakened by the sanctions we imposed 13 years earlier, which is estimated to have resulted in the deaths of up to 1/2 million children (as Ken noted in an earlier post).

    We did invade Iraq, in spite of the opposition of sensible countries like your own. Why? The key was the support of the American people for the invasion. There was a substantial amount of principled opposition, but the war supporters used fear, revenge for 9/11, and yes, Christian opposition to Islam, to spur the desire to attack. Now the same tactics are being used to garner the support of the US public to get even more involved militarily than we already are. Just this week the support for “boots on the ground” has passed 50% in the US, about what it was before the Iraq invasion.

    It is a mistake to call a military action like that of the US/UK coalition in Iraq, or the Israeli suppression of the Palestinians, “war”. It is the invasion of a vastly more powerful force on an essentially helpless enemy. It is truly an act of terrorism if there ever was one. Many of the innocent people, including many children who died in these attacks, suffered much more cruelly than the beheading victims we are being shown. To ignore the sufferings of these people while focusing solely on the acts of ISIS, is a grotesque distortion of enlightened moral values.

    My only plea, to you good representatives of the commonwealth, is that this is not the time to join in the demonization of Muslims. Fifty years ago I would have been saying this is not the time to be joining in the demonization of communists or the North Vietnamese, or the Viet Cong. Yet demonized they were, and the US embarked on an even more terroristic invasion than the one in Iraq. Again on false pretenses and for no good reason. Putin is fair game for now, although I think the comments pointed out that the west is hardly innocent in this case either. Peace.

    • Great comments Paxton. Let me make a few of my own. Few imagine that the world is made up of white hats and black hats. It’s clear to me that the crisis in Ukraine began as a scuffle between East and West over who gets to make the most money there. Now the West wants to protect its interests and Russia wants to prove that it can’t be mocked. There is no good guy here except maybe simple Ukrainian citizens who just want to raise kids and die of old age.

      But to say that there is no good guy is not the same as saying that everyone is equally evil. And that is what you are doing. Most Americans, Kiwis, and Canadians are decent people. Most Christians are decent people. Most Muslims, Hindus, and B’hais are too. But there are a few very crappy human beings mixed in there. And there is differnce between killing declared enemies in an armed conflict and sawing someone’s head off for entertainment because god smiles when you kill the infidel. One is horrific and one is evil. The soldier goes home when everyone holds up thier hands and says no more. The religious fanatic takes advantage of the truce for a few more scalps.

      The US is counted on as the world’s police force and we enjoy it. I prefer a more libertarian position but outside of the voting booth no one is asking me. Being the world’s police force affords us access for our ideas and our corporations. And as we do the dirty work other countries benefit without having to participate. It’s a nasty business. There will be plenty more of this. I wish we talked more. I wished we would sit down with Iran next week. I’m happy that we’ve opened Cuba. (Speaking of Cuba, where would you rather be detained: Guantanamo or an ISIS camp?)

      I don’t know where you get information but I don’t see anyone pilloring all Muslims as complicit. I see people going all the way around the bend to make sure they explain that other Muslims abhor this evil as much as other right thinking folks. But there is an inherant confusion here that comes out in stats. 86% of Egyptian Muslims (per PEW) believe that people who convert from Islam to another religion should killed. They might exist but I know of no Christian who feels the same way. 90% of Pakistani Muslims want to stone to death those caught commiting adultry (though it seems the men often get off). Again – I don’ think most Hindus or Sihks belive anything close to that. I would be shocked to learn that any Muslim I know feels that way but evidence seems clear that much of the world does.

      And I think your argument that

  10. paxton marshall says:

    Dennis, I am not saying everyone is equally evil, I am saying the west is hypocritical in focusing on the evil done by Muslims and ignoring that done by ourselves. I do think that most people see the world as made up of black hats and white hats, and that their side is always the white hat side. And I’m sorry to say it, but I think you exhibit that attitude in your comment. Who appointed us policeman of the world. Why do we think we should invade other countries because we don’t like their cultural practices. Why do you think bombing thousands with 21st century weapons is less an act of terrorism than beheading dozens with 7th century weapons? Because the bomber never has to see the suffering of his victims? He can just leave them to die slowly in the wreckage, body crushed and smoldering, while the bomber pilot never has to see his face. Never gets shown on TV either, at least in the west.

  11. Paxton – at least you lobbed me an easy one:

    “And I’m sorry to say it, but I think you exhibit that attitude in your comment. Who appointed us policeman of the world.”

    Every country who maintains a small national force and invites the US to set up shop on it’s soil. Every nation whose leaders sit around and say (in private) “someone has to go deal with this – glad the US is ready to send thier kids in to get killed”. These are the people who appoint the US as sherrif.

    And so that I can understand you better do you consider every military act an act of terrorism?


    • paxton marshall says:

      As an American I am not willing to let other countries dictate our policies. Yes, we have a cozy relationship with the Saudi ruling family, perhaps the most authoritarian and oppressive regime in the world. And we are continuing to support the Egyptian military that overthrew the democratically elected government. So we are going to allow them to tell us we are the policemen of the world so we should do their bidding? If that was a softball you whiffed.

      I do not consider every military action an act of terrorism. But when a country with overwhelming military superiority invades a weak country that is not threatening to first country, then yes, I do regard it as an act of terrorism. Hitler threatened the whole world. he had to be fought. Iraq and Vietnam were threats to nobody, certainly not to us, when we invaded them. Limited action to prevent genocide, as in Bosnia, no.

  12. AU says:

    In my opinion, Putin isn’t a great threat to world peace, nor are Islamic terrorists.

    People who live their life in fear and let the political elite do anything they like to “protect them” are the biggest threat to world peace, because it is these people who enable the “perpetual warfare” mindset.

    • Id everyone thought like that, the world would be a much better place. It’s more the way people react to Putin and DAESH that make them a threat to world peace – you’re definitely right about that imo.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Agreed AU but let’s not blame the victims. It is the political elites who promote the “perpetual warfare” mindset who are the biggest threats to world peace. The people who let themselves be manipulated may be enablers or abettors, but they are not the initiators. Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Netanyahu should all be in the Hague facing charges of crimes against humanity.

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