A couple of weeks ago, after attending a showing of the Russian TV talk show Vremia pokazhet, British journalist Angus Roxburgh complained that what he saw shocked even as hardened and cynical a Russia-watcher as him. ‘Xenophobia, fear, and intimidation’ were what he witnessed, he said.
I confess to be an occasional Vremia pokazhet watcher. It’s hard to understand what people are saying half the time, as the show tends to descend into a shouting match. But that’s kind of the point. There’s always a vigorous debate. It’s not just somebody spouting the official line, although it has to be said that the official line tends to win out when the dust settles. But let’s engage in a little bit of whataboutism. Would Mr Roxburgh be equally shocked if he spent some time watching American TV? Would he come across ‘xenophobia, fear, and intimidation’ there?
Let’s take a look.
A couple of days ago, CNN interviewed Congressman Mike Quigley. This is what Quigley had to say:
When you meet with any Russians, you’re meeting with Russian intelligence and therefore President Putin.
What exactly is denouncing an entire nation of people as untrustworthy if not xenophobia? I wonder also what Quigley would have to say about his all his fellow Congressmen (including members of his own Democratic Party) who have met Russians. Like Congressman William Clay shown here meeting Gary Kasparov at the Congressional chess tournament in 2014? According to Quigley, meeting Kasparov is like meeting Putin! Should we not investigate Mr Clay for collusion with Russian intelligence?
But it’s not just Quigley. Take a look at Fox News’ Tucker Carlson demolishing international security ‘expert’ Ralph Peters during an interview last week. According to Peters:
The Russians have not been seriously fighting ISIS. The Russians have been bombing hospitals, clinics, refugee columns, schools … We can’t have an anti-terror alliance with terrorists, which is what the Russians are. … They hate the United States of America. … Vladimir Putin hates us. He is malevolent. He is as close to pure evil as I can find. … Vladimir Putin … bombs women and children on purpose in Syria. He is as bad as Hitler.
I’d never watched Carlson until a few days ago, but I might start doing so more regularly. A day after speaking to Peters, he conducted an interview with another ‘expert’, Max Boot, who claimed that it would be immoral to ally with Russia in Syria, because,
We do not share common goals with Russia, because Russia is trying to further the murderous Bashar Assad regime, they are trying to further Iranian hegemony. … We should not be complicit with Russian war crimes.
Now, you could say that there is a difference between all these and Vremia pokazhet, because in the Russian example it is state TV propagating the fear and xenophobia, whereas CNN and Fox are private companies. Besides, Carlson does a pretty good job of making Peters’ and Boot’s look idiotic, thereby discrediting their xenophobic views rather than enhancing them. Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that these interviewees aren’t just ordinary Joes. Quigley is a Congressman. Peters and Boot are respected members of the American foreign policy commentariat. Both have published numerous books and articles, write for leading newspapers such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek, lecture to military officers and publish in military journals, regularly appear on TV as pundits, and so on. When you listen to them, you’re not just listening to them; you’re gaining a glimpse into what is a fairly widespread worldview among elected officials and opinion formers in Washington. It’s not a pretty sight.
In the current East-West tensions, the paranoia of both sides feeds off that of the other. It’s a mutually reinforcing spiral of fear and xenophobia. Roxburgh isn’t wrong to say that it’s there on the Russian side. But it’s just as strong in America. Instead of ratcheting it up still further, we need people who can start ratcheting it down. Tucker Carlson appears to be trying. Good for him.