Countries that once were capable of producing political figures who were moderately to highly intelligent cannot seem to do so any more. A clear example of this is a statement Philip Hammond, the former British Foreign Secretary and current Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a few hours after it was confirmed that the country had voted to leave the European Union. When asked who will be happy with the result he said ‘Vladimir Putin’.
One must recall this is the same Philip Hammond who said that the Russian President reminds him of a man who ‘beats his wife’. Putting to one side the fact that this is a deeply vulgar thing to say about a head of state, Putin was divorced at the time the remark was made. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cringe.
The fact of the matter is that whilst Obama came to London and told British voters how to vote in the referendum, Putin never did, nor did any members of the Russian government.
The reason that Russia is often viewed as a nation skeptical of the way things are done is Brussels is due to the aggressive stance the EU has taken against Russia whether it be economic sanctions or interventions into the political upheavals in Kiev. In fairness to Britain, when the governments of France, Germany and Poland brokered a supposed ‘peace deal’ with Kiev causing a power vacuum which was shortly thereafter filled by some of the most violent, personally unstable and corrupt politicians in the world, Britain more or less stood to the side chanting inane rhetoric like the more physically feeble friend of the burley schoolyard bully.
If Brexit is the biggest story of the political summer, the US election is sure to be the big story of the political autumn. And surprisingly developments surrounding both events are being blamed on Vladimir Putin. On the one hand there is a comical element to this scenario. If the politicians and pundits in Europe and America were to be believed, Vladimir Putin would be too busy running other peoples’ countries to run his own.
But then there is a serious side, a side that shows the metamorphoses of two western powers from countries that could manage their scandals to countries which perversely promote their scandals whilst scapegoating the blame for them simultaneously.
To better understand this one must look at the two largest scandals in Britain and America during the Cold War era.
First of all, there was Britain’s Profumo Affair of 1962. The scandal, which signaled the decline of Harold Macmillan’s government, involved John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, engaging in a sexual relationship with Christine Keeler who was also alleged to have also slept with a Soviet attaché living in London at the time. Profumo famously lied about the affair to the House of Commons, resulting in a disgraced resignation. At the time the blame and shame were placed on Profumo himself, the less than angelic company he kept, and on the government of which he was a minister with very important responsibilities.
If the press of 2016 had existed in 1962, one can just imagine the reports: Soviet leader uses highly trained KGB spy-strippers to sexually arouse a government minister in plans for hybrid war. Silly? Yes, but as we shall see today’s truth is stranger than yesterday’s fiction.
Just over ten years later, the Watergate Scandal in America occurred wherein President Nixon was alleged to have helped cover up a break in at the office of the opposition Democratic Party. Nixon’s government helped ease tensions between the Soviets and Americans, yet during the scandal the issue was that of Nixon’s honesty and the series of complex individuals working for him and his party.
If the pundits of 2016 had been around in the early 1970s, one could imagine the following: After negotiations to limit ballistic missiles, the Kremlin helps Nixon cover up a break in at the Watergate complex using specially imported little red tape recorders.
But enough with attempts at comedy, enter the real thing. Wikileaks have recently published emails between members of the Democratic National Committee, a group which is supposed to take a neutral stance whilst party members select their choice of candidate in the forthcoming Presidential election. The emails show that party officials worked to sabotage the surging campaign of quasi-socialist outsider Bernie Sanders in his race against establishment favourite Hillary Clinton.
Had this happened in the 1970s or 1980s one could more or less predict the following set of events. First there would be an attempted cover up which would transform into a hush-up; then there would be a bit of denial followed by some uncomfortable resignations and even a few forced apologies.
However today, the establishment of the Democratic party are blaming not Wikileaks who published the emails, not themselves for being incompetent, not themselves for being something worse than incompetent but rather dishonest and devious. They are blaming Vladimir Putin for organising a hacking job which was published by Wikileaks!
But it gets better. The high profile Democrats making these accusations admit they don’t have evidence to implicate Putin or anyone else in Russia. However they insist that they should simply be trusted in spite of the fact that the emails have established the fact that they have lied to their own party members and by extrapolation the American voters.
These are the same people who enjoy speaking at length about how Russia is not an open democracy in spite of the fact that Russia has four major parties with highly different programmes, whilst America has two parties which until the rise of outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could barely be distinguished in terms of record and ideology.
Just in case anyone is confused, this part isn’t an attempt at satire, it is actually happening right now. It rather reminds one of the time former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak won more votes in a re-run ‘free’ election than in the previous election he admitted rigging.
What is the conclusion? If the Bush/Blair years seemed to constitute the lunatics taking over the asylum, present events seem to imply that the children have taken over the nursery. There is something beyond disgraceful about the ‘Putin did it’ culture that has developed. It is so childish, so petty. It reduces the complexities of international relations and the necessity of international cooperation to the tactics of a child who cannot take responsibility for his foolishness.
Whether one agrees with their policies or not, one misses the age of political giants. If Gulliver was an aging voter, he’d have by now entered the land of the Lilliputians.
This could explain why many people in Europe and North America who have little interest in the specifics of Russian politics let alone a profound knowledge of geo-politics, are increasingly impressed by Vladimir Putin. He happens to behave like a leader. To paraphrase a slogan from Barry Goldwater’s 1964 American Presidential campaign: Putin has a voice where others seem capable only of basking in echoes.
Contrary to western intuition, this situation does not make the Russians happy. The Russians need and deserve competent and capable leaders to deal and ideally cooperate with in spite of any differences in interests.
Outside of certain regions of Eastern Europe which live in a state of historical and ideological paralysis, the ‘Putin did it’ line doesn’t work for most people. It doesn’t stop the bloodshed on the streets of Syria, Iraq, France and Germany, it doesn’t help the faltering Eurozone nor the plunging Pound, it does nothing to elevate US prestige in South America, The Middle East and East Asia where it is being increasingly eroded.
The real enemy of Russia, Europe, Britain and the US are the barbarians of ISIS. When it comes to battles between children and barbarians, the outcome cannot be good.
Maybe in a few years when they say ‘Putin Did It’ they’ll be referring to the role he is playing in helping to destroy the most vile terrorist gang in modern memory.