Tom Stringham: Response to Henry Srebrnik

Henry Srebrnik might just take the cake for this week’s most Putin-friendly account of the downing of civilian flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. Outside Russia, that is—mainstream Russian news outlets have claimed the attack was a failed assassination attempt on Putin’s life, or alternatively a US conspiracy to make Russia look bad (the conspiracy must be working). Video, audio and physical evidence have implicated pro-Russian rebels, but Srebrnik, in his narration, was unable to admit this without a quadruple qualification (“presumably”, “so-called” and two sets of scare quotes).

This was, to his credit, a harsher treatment of Putin than the rest of his piece, where he alerted us to “truly alarming” rhetoric from the West. Apparently the Washington Post was so bold as to call Russia a rogue state, and the Daily Telegraph said that Putin was a pariah. Actually, the Post’s op-ed was on the verge of forgiving the Russians for supplying incompetent rebels with advanced anti-aircraft missiles. The rogue state comment was saved until after recounting that the Russian defense ministry actually tried to implicate a Ukrainian warplane in shooting down flight MH17, in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary. No one brought it up but you but yes, Professor Srebrnik, this behavior is a little North Korea-ish.

Now, any good Westerner will admit the media’s foreign policy bias toward the Ukrainians. Geopolitics aside, I admit my own sympathy to those who would rather have a European standard of living than a Russian one, despite acknowledging the brutality of the conflict. And as Srebrnik charges, the newspapers certainly led the rallying cry for the home team during the Iraq War and the bombing of Serbia.

But if we’re identifying double standards as he suggests, then saying “I don’t recall any American newspapers calling the U.S. a rogue state” is a little rich, at least while Russian newspapers are making false accusations about American involvement in their own blunders to avoid incriminating Putin.

If we really insist on drawing a moral equivalence between Putinist Russia and the West, then let’s do it right and test Russia against the liberal democratic Western standard. I’ll even offer a challenge (but not really). I’ll go to Russia and denounce Putin and the Russian media, and Henry can continue to denounce the West here at home. Whoever stays out of jail longest loses.

The Hustings