On Siding with NATO

Published at 07:41 on 29 March 2022

There is a subset of the Left — probably not a majority, but definitely more than just a few people — that is very “both sides” about the war in Ukraine, refusing to see either side as being worthy of support. “Why are you siding with the US empire,” they ask.

My answer is: for the exact same reason I “sided with the Soviet empire” on the issue of East Timor in the 1980’s, when I first became aware of it: because that side was on the morally right side of that issue, defending a weaker nation that had been brutally invaded by a stronger one. The US Empire was strongly backing the invading nation, Indonesia, and the Soviet one was aiding the mostly leftist rebels fighting the invaders.

Just because both empires are seriously morally compromised does not mean that every last position either one takes on any issue taints that side of the issue beyond hope. That is not political strategy, that is oppositional defiant disorder. It is possible for a morally compromised empire — and all empires are evil — to nonetheless take a stand on a particular issue that is the morally correct one.

As morally compromised as the entire first Cold War was, it was also the case that the nations of Western Europe were much better places for human freedom than the nations of Eastern Europe. If you can’t acknowledge that plain fact, then you are simply not paying attention.

Once one got outside Europe, of course, the picture quickly got a lot murkier. The USA and its allies often supported brutal and kleptocratic colonial (and post-colonial neoimperialist) power structures. The USSR and its allies often opposed these same power structures (pity that the ones they set in place were seldom any better).

That the First World media generally ignores happenings in the Second and Third Worlds worked to the advantage of the US Empire, because, to reiterate, in Europe, the confrontation was also distinctly one between a world with more freedom and a world with less.

What this all calls for is nuance over simplicity. It is possible to acknowledge that what the West is doing in response to the invasion of Ukraine is generally what should be done, without going to the level of then concluding that anything the West does anywhere must be supported.

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