Why Do Donald Trump and the Far Left Agree on Ukraine? Those on both ideological extremes find a lot to hate about the west and its opposition to a Ukraine invasion
As Russia masses almost 200,000 troops on Ukraine’s border (thousands have already invaded by entering puppet republics conquered from Ukraine eight years ago and annexed by Putin this week), the reception to Russian aggression has taken a strange turn. Under normal circumstances, I find myself in agreement on Israel-Palestine with those on the left who now support a Russian invasion (whether tacitly or explicitly). But the imminent outbreak of war has really clarified things for me. It’s made clear that there is an element on the far left who call themselves anti-imperialists or go by other names, that have lost the plot. They, of course, don’t view things that way. They believe they have a unified theory of global evil that includes the US, NATO, the Azov Battalion, and Ukraine itself. There is no room for nuance in this worldview. Only absolutes and total certainty in the purity of their position.
There will be those reading this who will disagree vehemently with me. You’ve made these views clear in the comment threads in the past. I should make equally clear to you that I am not interested in comments which justify or explain Russia’s motives or behavior. I think as we prepare for a disastrous war likely to kill tens of thousands, mostly Ukrainians, we are beyond justifications and defenses.
Before I enter into this moral morass, I’ll make a few things clear. I myself am a person of the left and proud of it. But that does not mean that I agree with all views or all who also call themselves leftist.
Further, the US is undoubtedly guilty of heinous acts of genocide throughout its history and war crimes in more recent times. All that being said, there are times when force is needed to stop evil. In the face of Nazi aggression, the Allies defeated Hitler, overthrew him and ended the scourge of German Nazism. Amidst Serbian genocide against Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, NATO overthrew Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. I am not advocating foreign military force to stop Russia’s imminent invasion. That would be foolhardy, ruinous and counter-productive. But everything short of military force should be on the table including economic sanctions and other disruptive actions which make Putin pay a steep price.
Putin has made clear that he wants to reassemble the Old Soviet Union. He said the greatest mistake the former Soviet Union made was dissolving itself in 1992. He has adopted many of the trappings of the former Czars. He is even more powerful than former Soviet leaders, who at least maintained a Council of Ministers, with carefully balanced interests and ideological views to constrain the executive power of the Chairman and overall leader. Putin, in contrast, has a crowd of yes-men, as proven by the depressing dog and pony show he displayed to the world a few days ago. There, he dragged a few underling-capos before TV cameras and made them parrot their fealty to him and his plans to invade Ukraine. We would have to go back to the days of Stalin to find a leader as absolute and dictatorial as Putin. The only difference between them is that Putin has murdered only a few score of his political enemies, and he hasn’t starved millions of his citizens into submission.
Putin is nothing if not cagey. He will not swallow Ukraine whole and annex it to Russia in its entirety. He will take time to eradicate opposition there through expulsion, exile or assassination. He will appoint Ukrainian toadies to take control and do his bidding in much the same way he has done in Chechnya, Abkhazia and other Russian satellites. Ukraine will be nominally independent, but in name only.
Another matter to consider is the impact on countries bordering Russia–Poland, the Baltic States, and Finland (and even Scandanavia to a lesser extent)–of the dissolution of Ukraine. They have to fear that Putin will advance historic Russian claims to their territory as well. Even if he doesn’t, they have to prepare as if he will (or might). That means increasing their military preparedness, purchasing more armaments, improving cyber-infrastructure and preparing for Russian sabotage and disruption. If we think things are bad now on the brink of war, imagine Putin asserting such claims in multiple countries. He is smart enough not to do this in one fell swoop. He will craft a long-term plan to achieve these strategic aims and pursue them individually, one by one. There is a long, hard road ahead for those who hoped for democracy in the former Soviet republics. These hopes are dead or near dead. And it is Putin’s ultimate aim to prove this to the west.
Many of those who take a far-left position argue that while they don’t support Putin, they believe that Russian suspicion of western motives and fear of the repetition of past aggression, justify that country’s exercising its “rights” in Ukraine. Such a bifurcated moral claim is disingenuous. You cannot separate Putin from his policy. If his policy is war, then you not only support war, but you support Putin. You can try to argue this view till the cows come home. And it may make you feel morally sound in your judgment. But you’re building your foundation on sand.
Those who argue that the past crimes of the west excuse Russian behavior; or that past claims of Russia to Ukraine justify now retaking the latter; or that Nazis in Ukraine somehow justify liberating Ukraine from their presence; or that past western invasions of Russia (Napoleon, 1919 Expeditionary Force, Hitler’s invasion) justify a Ukraine invasion as an act of defense by Mother Russia–have a warped view of history.
This issue of past western aggression whether against Russia or other countries, is separate from its posture toward a Ukraine invasion. Past sins by one side do not justify current sins by another. To put it even more starkly: the west is not invading Russia; it isn’t even sending troops to defend Ukraine (though it has provided weapons). In addition, the west is prepared for negotiation. Russia has shown no serious willingness to resolve the matter short of war. Even a Biden-Putin summit, which France mediated and which would appear unlikely given that Antony Blinken canceled his meeting with his Russian counterpart, would not have proven Russia’s intent to negotiate in good faith. Russia is the aggressor. No amount of past pain or suffering by the Russian people justifies what appears likely to happen within hours or days.
Finally, those on the left who take pride in their unified moral stance in opposing Western imperialism and “intervention” in Russian affairs, might wish to reconsider in light of Donald Trump’s embrace of Putin and a Ukraine invasion. Here is Rolling Stone’s account:
“I said, ‘This is genius,’” Trump said on a right-wing podcast. “Putin declared a big portion of … Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force. … We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep the peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy … I know him very well. Very, very well.”
Trump eventually seemed to remember that most people think Putin invading an independent democratic nation is a bad thing, so he quickly pivoted from giddy praise to noting that “this would have never happened” if he were still in office. “This would have never happened,” he said, adding that “it’s very sad” that Biden gave “no response.”
If ideology exists on a circular continuum (known in political science as the “horseshoe theory“), then supporters of Putin might wish to consider how their views came to align so closely with Trump’s. Admittedly the left doesn’t much admire Russian tanks as does the ex-President. But in the latter’s view of Russian troops as “peacekeepers” and defenders of Russian interests, the two are not far removed. That to me, if I held these views, would be some scary s*.
29 thoughts on “Why Do Donald Trump and the Far Left Agree on Ukraine? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Richard, Somebody asked me this question this evening that I didn’t think of before. Why didn’t Putin try to take Ukraine when his buddy Donald Trump was president, as Trump would have let him get away with it?
Timing, I suspect. It takes a massive amount of effort and money to undertake something like this. Remember, it really began during the Obama era with Crimea but I also suspect Putin thought Trump would have a second term. The wheels were already in motion so he probably just got a case of the 🤬-its and did it anyway when his Manchurian candidate lost.
Thank you Sean Robertson. That makes sense and particularly that Putin needed some more time, and perhaps thought that Trump would get another term. I’m sure glad that Trump didn’t get another term but if he did and had Putin overran Ukraine, that likely would have not gone down very well with the public and would have not been in Trump’s favor.
@ Walter: Trump and Putin seem to have a somewhat symbiotic relationship. I’ll bet Putin advanced the idea and Trump talked it over with whoever was the semi-sane defense secretary at the time, who told him: “You’re out of your f* mind if you even consider this.” And Trump went back to Putin and said: sorry, can’t be done. At that time, Putin probably thought Trump could offer him far more as a lackey than as an enemy. So he backed off. This is speculation on my part. But it could very well be more or less the way things shook out.
I am slightly to the left of Bernie Sanders and yet I can see no world in which the position of Biden in opposition to an obvious land grab by Putin is an incorrect one. Putin, just like the far right here is grasping for a world that neither exists any longer nor can be recreated without massive destruction and to what 🤬 end? I frankly fail to comprehend how anyone on the left would cheer on the current calamity. Doing so speaks to a lack of basic humanity, whatever you may think of American hegemony or anything related. 😕
@ Sean Robertson: There are alas many on the left (I would call it the extreme left) who share these abhorrent views. While all of us on the left share fierce criticism of US policy, these people have been blinded by either by their hatred or their passion for a unitary universe in which there is only one way to approach every crisis or issue.
No mention of – “Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Woerner”
Had those assurances been kept we ‘might’ not be where we are now.
But it’s all Putin’s fault, and if you don’t accept that you must be a trump supporter. 😅😅😅
@ Alex: All of the names you mentioned were in power decades ago. Are you saying that political and diplomatic positions are engraved in stone for all time?
Not to mention that no decision has been taken by NATO on accepting Ukraine. And I would be certain that the west remains willing to keep Ukraine out as long as there are Russian guarantees that it will not further impinge on Ukrainian sovereignty. In short, two play at this game. You don’t get something unless you give something. Putin’s way is you give, I take.
“Putin has made clear that he wants to reassemble the Old Soviet Union.”
I think this is incorrect. He’s not known for being a fan of the Soviet Union. I think you have to go a little further back to Tsarist Russia.
@ Sean: Oh yes, Putin is a fan of the old Soviet Union. He’s made that clear. But he clearly also has Czarist proclivities as well.
I don’t accept that the situation should be looked at in terms of Russian aggression because clearly the russians are on the defensive. It’s not Russia (or China) who is surrounding America with hundreds of bases but the other way around.
The demand that Ukraine should not, in line with the promises to Gorbachov, become a member of NATO is a reasonable one. Why the hell should it? NATO is not a defensive organisation. It is the main arms of western imperialism with wars in the Balkans, Libya and Afghanistan to its credit. That is what provoked Putin.
In any event the people of Donbass and the other republic have welcomed the Russians just as Crimea voted for annexation under Obama. To understand that one has to go back to the last, EU/NATO inspired colour revolution which overthrew a democratically elected President.
Ukraine has also absorbed the neo-Nazi Azov battalion into its National Guard and they are being armed by the USA (& previously Israel) and they are to the fore in attacking the Dombass. It was the removal of Russian language rights and the attack on them by Ukrainian fascists back in 2014 which was the cause of the breakway or have we forgotten the burning out of a trade union centre in Odessa where 40 people were burned alive by the fascists.
Its strange that in these times, when ‘antisemitism’ is so popular in the imperialist narrative that no one has mentioned the arming of the fascists, the hero worship of Bandera and other Nazi collaborators. For historical reasons Ukrainian nationalism has the blood of literally hundreds of thousands of Jews on its account. But of course to the West it is Hamas which is the main enemy.
@ tony: You’ve done precisely what I asked commenters not to do. I am completely uninterested in hearing people defend the invasion of Ukraine. I don’t care what your arguments are. I’ve heard and read them all before. In my Twitter TL what seems like scores of extreme (or ‘anti-imperialist’ or whatever you wish to call them) leftists have parroted precisely the views you are. And I’ve rebutted them there. I simply don’t have to will, energy or interest in doing the same here. You’ve drunk the Koolaid and there is no sense in trying to talk sense or rebut your view of “reality,” which is no reality at all.
While there is much we have agreed on in the past, we part ways here. Please don’t post again in this thread.
Dreadfully sorry Tony, but Israel is not arming Ukrainian Neo-Nazis.
@ Nate: Nate, Nate–you’re expecting us to believe a Medium blog post written by an “IDF soldier” over a story published in Haaretz? Really? You must learn that I believe in using credible sources. This guy on Medium is as credible as a $3 bill.
[comment deleted: My comment threads are not a place to call my reporting a hoax. If you want to do that you’ll do it elsewhere. I’ve proved beyond doubt that my source’s information about Beirut was accurate. I will not permit my comment thread to be a place for your to attack his credibility or mine. Got that? If you call my reporting a hoax again you’ll be on the first flight back to Ben Gurion.]
@ Nate: I don’t accept demands from commenters that I prove or do anything. Don’t do this again.
The lack of credibility of the IDF in general and any of its members in pumping out is self-evident. I’ve proved it scores of times in my reporting here. Haaretz is a credible source. A random IDF hack writing in a self-publishing site like Medium has none.
[comment deleted: I want all of us to wish Nate a fond farewell. He’s on his way to Ben Gurion, via that Hasbara Airlines flight. We wish him well in his future propaganda endeavors. He’s likely been promoted to haunt Mondoweiss or some other left-wing website. Really, he’s been blocked because he was just an asshole.]
[Comment deleted: I am completely uninterested in who did what to whom 8 years ago. I am interested in what is happening now. No more comments on this subject or in this thread]
[Comment deleted: Tony, I asked you not to comment further in thread because you are straying far from the topic of my post. And I asked commenters not to offer pro-Russian talking pts. Giving you the benefit of the doubt that this is not what you intend. Nevertheless, you are repeating the same arguments offered by the hard left to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is indefensible. If you want to defend, justify or apologize for it, you have your own blog to do that. I have also deleted the comment to which you were responding. So I want you to know that I am policing this for both sides of the argument.]
the next load of horsehit you will be spewing is that the Russians/’separatists’ had nothing to do with the downing of MH17…until today the little dictator Putin’s regime denies that the BUK surface-to-air missiles where used even though it’s been conclusively proven so…the dis and mis-information that emanated from the former Soviet Union is a well known fact and has only become more advanced in Putin’s Russia what with the internet/global reach of such propaganda tools as RT and the like etc
[comment deleted: my post specifically said I do NOT want commenters to rehash pro-Soviet propaganda talking points. I meant what I said.]
I have been in both the Ukraine and the Palestinian West Bank. Under Soviet rule, the Ukrainians were forced to abandon their language and customs for the benefit of being Russianized. Leadership was handpicked by the Soviets and included a preference for Russians.. Putin is an autocratic leader most likely to assert repressive control. The Palestinian West Bank is a similar situation where a people are suppressed and their culture is being eroded ….. all for the sake of sustaining a privileged people viewed as.superior.
Putin’s sense of history is tainted by a desire to restore what was once a czarist republic and the a Soviet republic. Kiev existed before Moscow. Like many European nations, borders have changed. In 1939, western Ukraine was part of Poland. The Ukrainians have had a taste of independence, freedom and democracy. Being conquered by Russia strips that away.
George Bush Sr. took us to war when Saddam Hussein did the same thing to Kuwait.
Tony: Different time, buddy. America isn’t looking to get into more forever wars like the one Putin just got himself into.
[comment deleted: apparently you can’t read; or didn’t bother to read my post, which clearly said parroting pro-Soviet propaganda will not be permitted]
you mean pro-Russian propanda I assume. The Soviet Union no longer exists!
@ Tony: No, I wrote “Soviet” deliberately since Putin wants to restore the old Soviet Union and has said it explicitly. If you would like me to use the word “Czarist” instead of “Soviet” I will be happy to do so, since many commentators have noted Putin’s affinity for absolute rule, a form that even in Soviet days did not exist.
I generally like your work, Richard, but this is lunacy. But since you won’t let anyone refute your grossly mistaken arguments, I won’t bother trying.
@ Kevin: Welcome to the lunatic anti-Semitic hard left. And of course you’re a fan of Vlad the Impaler. Sorry to say I have no use for you or your work.