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Putin Returns Our Chickens to Their Roost

Mitchell Abidor
December 25, 2016

by Mitchell Abidor

PERHAPS THE HUFFING and puffing about Russian interference in our election has gone on long enough, or rather, should be contextualized before it goes on a day longer. There is no argument about Russia’s hacking having been horrible and clearly aimed at helping us saddle ourselves with Trump, but all this blather about Putin’s “unprecedented” interference needs to be phrased differently. What is unprecedented is for our elections to be interfered with; what is far from unprecedented is our interference in other countries’ democratic processes. As Malcolm X said after the assassination of JFK, our chickens have come home to roost.

It is a bit rich for a country with our history of contempt for other nations to be such in a state of high dudgeon. We spent forty years assisting in efforts to block the Italian Communist Party’s electoral road to power by financing the Christian Democrats. We prevented elections from being held in a newly independent Vietnam because they would have led to a Ho Chi Minh presidency. We overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran, paving the way for the murderous Shah. We armed an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. We financed the coup against the democratically elected Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic and then invaded the country. We provided funds for the anti-Allende strikes in Chile and backed the coup that resulted in the deaths of thousands. There’s Grenada, there’s Panama, there are so many interferences in so many places that it’s almost tiresome to relate them all.

Our current outrage is exactly like that we feel about September 11 -- justified, but selfish and ahistorical. The attacks of that day have led to fifteen years of invasion and war and hundreds of thousands of deaths. But the dead, for the most part, aren’t ours, so there’s no real problem. Our 2,000 dead on September 11, 2001 give us the moral right to inflict uncounted dead on others, because our dead are more sacred than anyone else’s.

Similarly, we can, in the name of “freedom,” trample the freedom of others, or define it for them. Some of the rulers we’ve overthrown were unquestionably horrors, but the debate as to whether we have the right to overthrow them is an open one. Still, our decades-long efforts to block other people’s democratic choice of leaders dedicated to their nations’ welfare and not ours, and the killings and suffering we have imposed on those peoples, undercut our right to the moral high ground. Our democracy is no more sacred than Chilean democracy was, and we didn’t care a fig for it. Let no one say this is ancient history: the architect of Pinochet’s murderous reign, Henry Kissinger, is a man still considered as worthy of respect.

Even if it can be supposed that Putin’s acts tilted the election, I don’t remember seeing Putin’s planes flying over the White House bombing it, which our government thought was a fine thing when done in Santiago, Chile on September 11, 1973. Ours was an auto-coup that left no one dead and that can’t be blamed on anyone else but our own peoples’ lack of moral fiber. Putin knew just what he was doing when he fed into it.

America, after depriving so many countries of their freedom, will now have a chance to commit the same act within its own borders. Unlike the peoples of the world whose countries and governments we’ve destroyed, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. The near certainty that Russia interfered in our process should lead us to reflect on our own past. But does anyone really think it will?

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is the recipient of a Hemingway Grant from the French Ministry of Culture for his translation of Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff. His other new books include Voices of the Paris Commune and his collection of writings by and about the anarchist “propagandists of the deed,” Death to Bourgeois Society. His translations of the poetry of Benjamin Fondane can be found in the collection Cinepoems and Others, published by NYRB Poetry.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.