Chris Nineham: The ‘new Hitler’ tag is designed, like all war propaganda, to forestall critical thinking of the war in question

The following leaders have all been described by western politicians and journalists as ‘the new Hitler’: Slobodan Milošević of Serbia, Mullah Omar of Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Bashir Assad of Syria and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

These are leaders who have ruled with various degrees of ruthlessness and brutality. Avid students of military history will also recognise them as the leaders of the main countries the west has invaded or bombed over the last twenty-five years.

As well as being Hitler re-incarnated, these leaders have been described as butchers, psychos, monsters, war-criminals, torturers, terrorists and lunatics. Vladimir Putin has since joined the list of shame. He has been called a sexual predator, an imposter, a bloodsucker, the ‘enemy of the world’, a Stalinist, a fascist and a supporter of Tsarism.

Following comments by Angela Merkel in 2014 that he was ‘irrational and ‘lived in another world’ and a report by the Pentagon claiming he had Asperger’s syndrome, the media began implying he had lost his mind. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin the evil madman has become a media staple.

But it is the Hitler designation that recurs more than any other. The British ruling class started using it as early as the 1950s, when they compared Egyptian nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser to Hitler after he took nationalised the Suez Canal. Nazi Germany remains the archetype of a genocidal, expansionist state. Being compared to Hitler implies almost unfathomable evil, it also carries with it the sense of imminent threat. Every new Hitler is by definition a real and present danger not just to the west but to the whole civilised world.

The Second World War is still the only twentieth century war which retains near-universal legitimacy, and invoking its history has the further advantage that anyone who opposes a war can be condemned as an appeaser.

Mistaken Identity

Comparing Putin to Hitler however, as in the other cases, is wildly inappropriate. Putin is a ruthless and authoritarian leader. He and the Russian ruling class are desperate to regain some influence and territory in Eastern Europe which was firmly under Russian control in the Soviet days but has been systematically drawn into the west’s sphere of influence. Hence the brutal invasion of Ukraine.

But Germany under Hitler was the second biggest economy on the planet, and it commanded the world’s most powerful military. The regime openly boasted of its extensive territorial ambitions. Before the war began it had annexed the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia and it went on to brutally occupy most of Europe. In alliance with Japan and Italy it launched a struggle to dominate the globe. At home and abroad it launched an industrial scale genocide against Jewish people first and foremost but also against gypsies, gay people, communists and socialists.

Russia today is a declining, regional power. Its economy is ranked 11th in the world, producing just 1.32%% of global GDP, compared to the 40% produced by the US and its allies. Three US states individually have bigger economies. It is a nuclear armed state, but it is not even approaching a military match for the western powers. In 2021, Russia spent around $66 billion on its military. NATO’s European members on their own spent more than four times that and the United States military spend is eleven times higher.

As Russia expert Anatol Lieven has said, ‘a Russian army which has had to fight for months to capture relatively small cities in the Donbas hardly looks capable of capturing Warsaw, let alone Berlin.’ The truth is, as the pro-war globalist website pointed out in 2002, the state which has the capacity and indeed the actual record of invading serial countries around the world is the US:

‘As unpalatable as it might seem, the fact remains that the only major military power on earth capable of assaulting, invading and occupying foreign territories effectively — in essence, of threatening other countries like the Germans and Japanese threatened their neighbours in Europe — is the United States.’

Selective Memory

The Hitler tag is designed, like all war propaganda, to forestall critical thinking and to stop people examining the actual dynamics of the war in question. Its use is of course thoroughly selective, as the US is happy to work closely with some of the most brutal regimes on the planet. It is also historically specific, serving a particular purpose at a particular time.

Just as ‘monster’ Saddam Hussein was a ‘valued ally’ of the west during the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s, so Putin has had periods of favour with the west. As pointed out in a previous installment of this series, Tony Blair welcomed Putin to Downing Street in 2000 at the very height of his brutal suppression of the Chechen uprising. The wider British establishment were on board to the point where Putin was hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

This wasn’t a one off. Blair, who is now a firm supporter of the western war effort in Ukraine, went further and proposed publicly that Putin should have a seat at the top table of international affairs. He argued that it would encourage him to “reach for” western attitudes and the west’s economic model. At the time US president Bill Clinton had a similar assessment of Putin, “he’s very smart and thoughtful. I think we can do a lot of good with him.

Blair continued his charm offensive with Putin until he left office in 2007. At the heart of this was the effort to secure Russian oil production for BP, but the close relationship also involved a huge increase in arms sales to Putin from Britain.  In the six years after Vladimir Putin became president of Russia in 2000, the number of export licenses granted by the UK government for military equipment to Russia jumped 550%.

As Blair himself admitted recently there was talk at the time in the west of trying to find ways of incorporating Russia into western security and economic structures, something that Putin was very keen on.

Crossing the Line

Those seeking some level of co-operation with Putin were gradually marginalised within the US and in the western alliance. Attitudes in the US began to change after George Bush took office in 2001. Especially after the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11, the new regime adopted a crusading, civilising vision for the US in what they regarded as a unipolar world.

‘Normal’ great power diplomacy with its rough recognition of clashing interests was declared out of date. In President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, he insisted that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”

The US elites had taken the words of Secretary of State Madeline Albright to heart when she said that the US was ‘the indispensable nation’. It launched a series of interventions in the Middle East, meddled increasingly in Latin America, continued surrounding China with bases and pushing NATO east in Europe. In the comic strip imagination of US presidents, anyone who tried to stand in its way was part of the Axis of Evil and deserved everything they got.

This turn towards a more openly aggressive foreign policy was the context in which western politicians stopped engaging with Putin and started demonising him. Russia was expected to acquiesce to a new world order created and dominated by the United States. Any opposition was regarded as an affront.

In 2002, Bush had taken the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty. Tensions between the two powers rose during the west’s illegal war in Iraq. By 2008, the US and the western powers were openly discussing NATO membership with Georgia and Ukraine, something that successive Russian leaders had said would be crossing the brightest of red lines. Warnings were ignored.

As Ukraine was drawn closer into the western orbit during the following decade, the west’s attitude to Putin continued to harden. By 2019, Putin had already risen to the very top of the list of international pariahs. He was the world’s chief mischief-maker, subverting our democracies and challenging the ‘international liberal order.’ It was only a matter of time before he would take his turn as ‘the new Hitler’.

15 Jul 2023 by Chris Nineham

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