‘The US Is Allowed, Russia Is Not?’ Why We Should Avoid the Comparison

“The Russians are right, look at the U.S. mess in Iraq.” From the beginning of the Ukraine war, folks have been pestering me, insisting that the Russians are right. Ivaylo Ditchev explains why this analogy is incorrect.

Since the beginning of this war folks have been pestering me, insisting that the Russians are right, because, well, look at the U.S. mess in Iraq. Also, Israel has been holding onto its own occupied territories for quite some time, and, please note, we are not that disapproving.

The Ukraine and Iraq Wars

The problem is that such history is personally problematic. I opposed the Iraq War, a war that was part nonsense, part unlawful. Back then I wrote against Bulgaria’s participation in the “coalition of the willing,” a participation opposed by the wiser French and the Germans, who warned us. And still, could we compare that war to this one? Did the U.S. make Iraq its 51st state? Did George W. Bush tell the world that Iraq as a state does not exist because, for example, it is the homeland of Mesopotamians, so the Arabs should leave, if possible?

That war was meant to replace a dictatorial regime with a democracy, an objective for which the U.S. paid the colossal sum of $1.1 trillion — a sum much larger than any potential oil profits, which, for our geopolitical materialists, was the main goal of the intervention. At the heart of it all was the neoliberals’ naive idea that democracy could be exported. This is at least something, a concept of what the world could and should be.

One cannot fathom what Vladimir Putin’s goals are for Ukraine. Perhaps his initial intention was regime change — such interventions were par for the course during the Cold War, on both sides. This failed. What does he want now, except to destroy all of Ukraine? Is he ready to pay for its reconstruction, as the U.S. did with Iraq?

Can One Compare Crimes?

The comparison of wrongdoing is also asymmetrical. After 2003, we heard of U.S. soldiers who, exceeding their authority, committed crimes against the local population. Russia’s murders, rapes and kidnappings of children are, unlike America’s transgressions, not litigated in Moscow’s court system. Yevgeny Prigozhin’s [German SS] Schutzstaffel-like militia and [Chechen] Ramzan Kadyrov’s force with its beheadings have been given a hero’s welcome. The democratic world is rightly indignant toward Washington’s decision to supply internationally prohibited cluster bombs to the Ukrainians. Why did no one object when the Russians began using these same cluster bombs 1 1/2 years ago in order to further ethnic genocide?

What about Israel and the Palestinians?

Let us explore the other argument — Israel. It is an unsympathetic country: armed to the teeth, ethnically segregated, a country that transformed Gaza into a giant concentration camp, and perhaps a state that possesses its own nuclear weapons. Why, the left inquires, does the West support Israel while it simultaneously condemns Russia, if both states are occupiers?

It is not the same. Since 1948 Israel has fought at least four wars against its Arab neighbors, neighbors that did not recognize Israel and attacked first, and this does not include all the intifadas. The Cold War played a part, too, as the Soviet Union supported the Arab coalition while the U.S. supported Israel. The Palestinian Authority, financed generously by the European Union (300 million euros this year), has failed to become a state, mainly because, in my opinion, of the radicalization of Hamas. Hamas makes the deceased terrorist Yasser Arafat look like a dove of peace. The Palestinian territories are noncontiguous, it is difficult to delineate a single coherent enclave, and radical parties are periodically raising the temperature by firing rockets toward Israeli cities, prompting a furious response. The West is trying to find a solution, but the knot grows ever tighter. Do you see an analogy here with the situation between Ukraine and Russia, two sovereign countries with clear borders, countries that recognized each other in 1994?

Let us set aside common sense, which dictates that two wrongs do not make a right. Let us instead consider these arguments through a different analogy. An analogy that is quite popular in Bulgaria.

What do supporters of systems of government with a strong presidency say? They say — look at the U.S., look at France, powerful democracies. What do the opponents say? Look at Russia, look at Turkey — dictatorships. In English this is called “cherry-picking” — you choose only the examples that support your bias. If you support referendums, you bring up Switzerland. If you oppose referendums, you bring up Brexit and the British people’s regret at being tricked by populists. The point is — you take the cherry out of context — national traditions, type of government, historical framework, etc.

The successful comparison of heterogeneous circumstances creates a feeling of erudition and competence in the listener, who has not had enough time to carefully consider the items compared. Another example is the euro: Opponents use Denmark, which is rich without it, while others believe Greece went bankrupt because of it. Hungary has high inflation and interest rates without it, while Croatia experienced economic stabilization because of it. To be convincing, a speaker must simplify to the extreme — thus different geopolitical examples become metonyms. France — nuclear energy. Germany — a mixed electoral system. Anglo-Saxon — gender ideology, etc.

The French proverb “comparaison n’est pas raison” means that a comparison is not an argument. If we want to draw analogies with Russian aggression it is possible to go further than American intervention around the world. You can compare Russian aggression to Russian or Soviet imperialism, to the National Socialism of the 1930s, even to the 14th century, when the Mongol empire crowned Russian czars with Monomakh’s Cap. It is not a bad idea to remember that every analogy is a means of expression within a dialogue, a means toward understanding a process that requires a thorough inquiry into the full complexity of a given position. We should judge ideas by values we share, not convenient analogies.

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