One needn’t celebrate Russia’s increasingly aggressive interventionism regarding Ukraine to highlight the veritable buffet of hypocrisy spewing from U.S. officials over this current ersatz-Cold War moment.
I wonder how many cups of coffee were spat out by even the cursory observers of recent U.S. foreign policy when Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on NBC Sunday morning to say, with no obvious irony, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests … This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”
Fans of beloved British comedy of errors “Fawlty Towers” might recall the bumbling protagonist hotelier urging in front of German guests that his fellow Brits “Just don’t mention the war!” But Kerry’s comment was no satire and does not stand alone: It fits within a pantheon of hypocritical grandstanding that performatively brushes the warmongering operations of U.S. empire under the carpet. Just don’t mention the wars. Especially not those wars waged “on phony pretext” of an ever changing marker, like terror, “in order to assert your interests.”
During his Sunday talk show appearance, the secretary of state did not wholly skirt the problem of hypocrisy surrounding international stances on Ukraine right now. He even suggested it would be hypocritical for Russia to send in forces after objecting so forcefully to outside military action in Syria and Libya. So, at the very least, we know that Kerry knows the basic meaning of the word “hypocrisy.” As such, we can’t blame his self-unaware posturing on some lexicographical misunderstanding. Our options are thus twofold in reading Kerry’s (and other U.S. officials’) hypocritical decrials of Russian interventionism. One, we could take Kerry at his word that he genuinely thinks 21st century U.S. warfare has not been marked by phony pretexts in service of U.S. politico-economic interests. Or two, we could assume the veteran statesman is aware of his own hypocrisy, but is playing the game nonetheless. Parsimony points toward the latter, because that is, after all, politics. Which is not to say that the Kremlin isn’t engaged in the same discursive political game. But while the U.S. and Russia jockey for position of pot assigning blackness to kettles, Ukraine remains in a dangerous state of turmoil, which needs no exacerbation by Cold War-style posturing.