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Geopolitics: Eight reasons Carlson's Putin interview ruffled feathers

 President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. [AP photo]

Rarely does an engagement involving a journalist and the leader of a powerful country lead to geopolitical rumbles as did the Tucker Carlson interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Carlson, a former FOX TV journalist, is of a ‘conservative’ bend and likes grating the liberal establishment represented in the mainstream media. He shot into unexpected stardom by going against the grain to have a two-hour interview to give Putin a chance to give his side of the story about world affairs.

The big story, however, was on the reaction mostly from prominent American journalists and politicians who often determine what people should know. They were angry that Carlson had snatched the right to shape world opinion from under their feet. He exposed hypocrisy in the way media present news and impose opinions that justify exploitations and wars in which victims appear as aggressors. He ruffled many feathers.

Carlson was not the first American to interview Putin but he seemingly had the biggest impact given the adverse reaction from the Conceptual West, obsessed with fixing Russia. Instead of addressing the issues raised, the media and politicians turned to what John Mearsheimer termed ‘name calling’ of both Carlson and Putin. The interview, asserted The Guardian’s Margaret Sullivan, was not journalism but “sycophancy”.

Renew relevance 

To NPR’s David Folkenflik, Carlson was a “rightwing television provocateur” seeking to renew his relevance. Carlson, CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria declared, “put forth a bizarre hodgepodge of assertions” in criticizing the US. Former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the one responsible for the mess in Libya and talks of a ‘clash of values’ between the Americans and the Russians, declared Carlson to be Putin’s “useful idiot” and “puppy dog”.

Former British PM Boris Johnson, who had reportedly forced Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky to continue with the war instead of a settlement on Ukraine’s neutrality, called Carlson a traitor. On his part, Carlson alleged that Johnson attempted a ‘shakedown’ by demanding US$ 1 million to give an interview on Ukraine.

In the interview, Putin defended the Russian position very well, showed his mastery of both Russian history and global affairs, and pointed to American arrogance as an obstacle.

In the 1990s, an air of Western triumphalism and a sense of geopolitical omnipotence had prevailed so much that US President Bill Clinton wanted to change Russia despite American promises to Mikhael Gorbachev not to threaten Russia by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe.

As American intellectuals sought to be the new George Kennan, they asserted that the world had no choice but to do as the US wanted. For instance, as Francis Fukuyama harrumphed about The End of History and The Last Man, Samuel Huntington, never a believer in democracy for all, appeared to look for new enemies in his Clash of Civilizations mostly involving the Conceptual West and the Collective East.

Unexpected results

The seeming inebriation with power led to unexpected results. Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida, a former US ally in Afghanistan, turned hostile and started terrorizing worldwide American symbols of power; they did it in East Africa and in the US itself. There was also a gradual reaction from the two targets of Western triumphalism, Russia and China. In trying to recover from its geopolitical humiliation, ‘defeated’ Russia adopted a ‘grand strategy’ of recovery that displayed ‘strength’ both intellectually and physically.

Intellectually, Alexander Dugin responded to American triumphalism in a series of fighting-back publications that pointed out the shortcomings and irrationality of Western thinking while advocating re-assertion of the Russian global presence. These included The Foundations of Geopolitics: Russia’s Geopolitical Future, The Fourth Political Theory, Postmodern Geopolitics and The Theory of a Multipolar World, stressing the multi-polarity rather than the singularity of triumphalism.

Dugin’s thinking coincided with that of Vladimir Putin’s desire to re-establish Russia as a global power that is not subservient to any other.

Gorbachev, Putin believes, made a terrible mistake in dismantling the Soviet Union into geopolitical ridicule. Putin’s interview with Carlson showed the hurt both Putin and Dugin try to address intellectually and practically.  

Putin said nothing new given that leading American academics had warned of the dangers of ignoring the security concerns of others. John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Kennedy at Yale University, after noticing US officials ignoring the dangers that arrogance posed to peace, started teaching ‘grand strategy’ to prepare leaders to acquire the capacity to balance visions and capability and to think of likely negative consequences of bad decisions.

Still, the American desire to remake everyone increased and led to the destruction of Iraq and Libya. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago repeatedly blamed the war in Ukraine on the US. They argued that the American propensity to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, without thinking of or caring about consequences, probably as a new containment strategy, deliberately provoked Russia.

If it was, the strategy backfired badly in that Russia has not collapsed or changed its system.

It is Europe, instead, that is suffering economic dislocation while the Russian economy appears to be on the rise. Russia is not apologetic with Dugin believing that “the West’s claim to be the measure of universal value has failed” and that it is better to have the West as a “full-fledged adversary rather than a patron or ally.”

Russia struggles to convince the US that American hegemony is over, that multi-polarity is the new international normal, and that Russia wants to be in the driving seat of the emerging power relationship. It takes comfort in its collaboration with China which is also suspicious of US intentions to change its basic character. The combined Russia as a ‘military colossus’ and China as an ‘economic colossus’ makes the two a formidable force, Dugin asserts, and “most importantly: they, in the West, are the past, we are the future.”      

The friction, therefore, is over whether Russia would allow the West to change it from being Russian into a copy of the West. Seemingly having tried to cooperate in the early post-Cold War period only to be rejected, Russia had turned to reasserting itself as a big power and found its focal point in Vladimir Putin as president and Dugin as the intellectual engine.

Same writings

The two men, Dugin claims, “are reading the same writings, written in golden letters on the skies of Russian history.” Dugin believes it is better to have the West as a “full-fledged adversary rather than a patron or an ally.” He sees himself as a 21st Century geopolitical strategist, successor to Britain’s 20th Century Halford Mackinder as he pushes for the creation of a Eurasian Empire looking eastwards instead of westwards. Russia is defensive against NATO’s eastward march and likely existential threat.

Eurasianism is essentially a retreat from Europe to avoid confrontation while drawing geopolitical lines. The West tries to penetrate and scuttle Eurasia but the Eurasianists have not developed a counter strategy of penetrating the West. Russia seemingly has no intention of moving ‘west’ and thereby provoking confrontation. This places the burden of ‘peace’ on the West and poor Zelensky finds himself in a tight corner facing new geopolitical realities.

Among those realities is that the US Congress is incapacitating Joe Biden’s ability to supply arms and Johnson is no longer available to stop peace discussions; Zelensky is increasingly alone and might have to deal.

Another reality is that Russia’s initial willingness to settle the Ukraine matter along the line of neutrality that Johnson destroyed has probably shifted to one of discussing the future of Eastern Ukraine as part of Eurasia and not much about Western Ukraine. These are some of the challenges Carlson brought out and angered those probably bent on doing a ‘Carthage’ on Russia because it is there.

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