Robert D. Kaplan: Delusional Propaganda and Childish Name Calling
A window into the construction of the hegemonic discourse
After earning a BA in English, and after an unsuccessful job search, Robert D. Kaplan moved to Israel (Kaplan is Jewish and thus could emigrate to Israel easily ) and joined the Israeli army . Then he became a foreign correspondent reporting on events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. He also worked extensively with the US armed forces. Kaplan has written many books, mainly providing a travelogue type history that purports to unearth historical trends and drivers of todays conflicts. These depict the world in a highly Eurocentric, biased and generally ignorant way; it is very obvious that Kaplan has no training in history and a very shallow grasp of it. But his writing aligns well with the direction of US foreign policy, and the interests of those that fund independent think tanks, such as the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS) where he currently resides as a senior fellow. He is regularly consulted by the media and politicians, while having no problem getting his works published. He is what Gramsci would describe as an organic intellectual, helping to maintain the hegemonic culture that facilitates US elite rule and that elite’s foreign policy actions. His work is representative of much of the work of the US foreign policy establishment, a mix of conscious propaganda, ignorance about the subject being covered, and outright misrepresentations that bolster the elite-serving hegemonic culture.
I have selected the essay The cost of Russia’s collapsing empire: Chaos is spreading across Eurasia, as it well represents his style of writing. It starts off with this paragraph:
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has stalled, and Vladimir Putin is once again blustering as if Russia were a first-rate power. The problem, paradoxically, is that it is not. The damage his country has sustained throughout the course of the Ukraine war has been substantial. Russia has lost 2,200 of its 3,500 tanks in Ukraine, and 315,000 out of 360,000 troops, forcing them to launch recruitment campaigns and raid the prison system. And even if, on full war-footing, it currently looks like it could force Ukraine into accepting that large swaths of its territory will remain under occupation for the foreseeable future, Russia itself has been substantially weakened.
First of all we have a childish use of insulting language, such as Putin “blustering as if Russia were a first-rate power”, insulting both President Putin and Russia in the first sentence. Then there is the outright misrepresentation of Russian losses in Ukraine. Mediazona puts the probable Russian death toll at about 90,000. We must remember that a lot of these losses will have been from the mercenaries recruited from Russian prisons, a process that was in place well before the Ukrainian war; Kaplan misrepresents this as a Ukraine war-related contingency driven by desperation. In reality, it is very efficient for the Russian economy, as most of these individuals would have been a net negative to society, allowing a conservation of law-abiding military-age men. In addition, many of the losses would have been from the Donbass militias, not Russian soldiers; so perhaps 45,000 killed law-abiding military age Russians. Of the injured, many will be able to return to the front after being treated, so these are not long-term losses. Russia is also nowhere near a full war-footing, with a huge number of military-aged men available in the case of a full war-footing. As Business Insider reports, Russia is producing 100 tanks a month and can pretty much keep up with losses in Ukraine, and that’s even if we believe the figures stated by Kaplan. In 2023 alone the Russian armed services received 2100 new and refurbished tanks, in addition many “lost” Russian tanks can be repaired. The last sentence of the paragraph “Russia itself has been substantially weakened” is utterly at odds with the facts, as Russian GDP continues to grow with low inflation, low debt levels, and a government deficit of about 1% of GDP (as against the US 6%), the Russian military industrial complex continues to rapidly increase output, many foreign goods and service shave been replaced with domestic ones, the Russian military goes from strength to strength, and Russia develops its relations with such countries as China and Iran further. Amazing how much misrepresentation and childish insults can be fitted into a single short paragraph! Then he continues:
Over time, a weakened Russia will likely be a harbinger of chaos across its periphery. Empires since antiquity have provided a solution to chaos. But empires, as they collapse, leave chaos in their wake. History has provided no solution to this conundrum.
Well Russia seems to be going from strength to strength rather than being “weakened” and Russia does not qualify as an empire. Then Kaplan flows into one of his pop-history lessons about the Caucasus and misrepresents the recent taking of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan. This was not due to Russian “weakness” but because the new head of Armenia turned to the West resulting in Russia standing back from the conflict. Why protect a partner who is actively and brazenly undermining the relationship?
Then onto Serbia, with more misrepresentations and childish insults:
Throughout his time in power, the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, has played a delicate game, serving in turns as an ethnic arsonist and quickly thereafter offering himself up to European interlocutors as a firefighter. But while he seems to have pulled off the same trick this time, Vucic, or someone even more extreme in his government, may judge that a Nagorno-Karabakh moment could be within reach for Serbia, and that it would be in their interest to more thoroughly stoke the flames of war in the region. And, should open conflict between “breakaway” Serbs in Kosovo, Bosnia or Montenegro force the redrawing of borders once again in the Balkans, it’s not clear where that trend would stop.
Vucic is an “ethnic arsonist” whatever that means, and two-faced! Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia where the ethnic Serbs have been significantly ethnically cleansed by the KLA (the Kosovo Liberation Army, previously deemed to be a terrorist organization by the US) with the full support of the US and NATO. This included the illegal 3 month bombing campaign legitimized by the lie that significant ethnic cleaning of Albanians was taking place when it was not. The mass fleeing of civilians occurred after the start of the NATO bombing campaign. Tensions are being escalated by the breakaway Albanians in a province of Serbia, the facts on the ground being a complete reversal of Kaplan’s telling.
Then Kaplan gives away his narrative of a “weakening” Russia leading to conflicts on its borders, when in fact it is the US that is actively stirring up trouble as directed in the 2019 RAND Report Extending Russia. Hilariously, RAND has now put in a statement that “Russian entities and individuals sympathetic to Putin's decision to invade Ukraine have mischaracterized this research” and asking people to read an utterly propagandist nonsense document pertaining to Russia’s “firehose of falsehood”; desperately trying to protect their propagandist anti-Russian discourse.
All this may just be a prologue for trouble across the longitudes of the Russian empire and its shadow zones from Europe to Asia, a curtain-raiser for ugly unrest elsewhere. Just as Aliyev smelled the Kremlin’s relative weakness as he moved into Nagorno-Karabakh, others might act similarly, motivated as they are by separatist tendencies.
Its all Russian “weakening” not Western meddling! Then later on we have this gem of a paragraph:
Disorder might not just spring up from local strongmen pursuing their narrow goals in upending longstanding imperial ethnic understandings. Russia itself may be tempted to overturn things. There is an assumption that the current battlefield stalemate inherently favours Moscow. But even if it does, it continues to drain resources from the Kremlin, making the system over time more militaristic and brittle. And history, from ancient Assyria to Prussia, has been clear that militarism signals the eventual demise of imperial rule.
That’s right, local strongmen may drive separatist leanings in the Russian nation that is not an empire! Then of course, Russia may be “tempted” to get aggressive as it becomes more “militaristic and brittle”. The last sentence is utterly ridiculous as history in no way supports the assertion that “militarism signals the eventual demise of imperial rule”, unless that devilish little word “eventual” means many hundreds of years later! Rome lasted half a millennia after its defeat of Carthage in the Punic Wars, and that wasn’t even their earliest war! This supposed foreign policy specialist doesn’t even know basic Roman history.
Then this empire-loving garbage, if only the Prussian, Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires had not collapsed in WW1 the world would have been such a better place!
In other words, an age of imperial decline is upon us. And while an era of new-found freedoms for all the peoples of the former Soviet empire may lie somewhere in the future, for the moment we are facing the greatest threat to world order since 1945. The First World War gave the 20th century its monstrous and tragic direction precisely because it went on for four long years, killing close to 20 million people. Had it ended in 1915 or 1916, Corporal Hitler would not have won his Iron Cross First Class (as he did in 1918) and the Prussian, Habsburg and Ottoman empires might not have collapsed as they did, leaving a vast and unstable void that Hitler, the war hero, was able to ultimately fill. Every month that the Ukraine War drags on, and however well Russia appears to be surviving the war, the potential for unintended consequences grows. The only thing more frightening than a Putinesque Russia is a slowly crumbling Russia with its nuclear arsenal intact.
The problem isn’t a strong “Putinesque” (whatever the hell that means) Russia but a slowly crumbling one! Somebody should tell this chap to look at Russian economic statistics, Russia is doing just fine and building on its relationships with the “other seven billion” outside the West’s golden billion.
Then Kaplan memory-holes the whole Western funded Ukraine coup in 2014, the extensive arming and training of the Ukrainian military by the West, and the Ukrainian army’s attempts to crush the Donbass Republics so that he can claim Ukraine as the victim of unprovoked Russian aggression, leaving “the United States with little choice but to come to their aid”. Oh, and Russia is carrying out “vast human rights violations” even though the civilian death toll in two years of war in Ukraine is less than what happened in Gaza in a matter of weeks. Then more ahistorical rubbish:
Yet the Ukraine War, by forcing Russia to lean increasingly on China for support, has fused the conflict zones of Europe and Asia, so that there is now a single Eurasian battleground in a more claustrophobic and crowded world. For its part, China, another former empire, is facing a historic economic crisis that could at some future moment ignite a social crisis, even as Xi Jinping’s regime distracts its population by stoking imperial grievances over its determination to capture Taiwan.
So now China is also supposedly a former empire and its striving to reclaim the province of China, now called Taiwan, is “imperial” in nature. Oh, and China is certainly not “facing a historic economic crisis”, as its economy grew 5% last year and is forecast to do the same this year. Then the special pleading to continue funding Ukraine, even if that means ignoring the elected representatives of the US citizenry. Because if we don’t it would only further Russia’s imperial ambitions, even as Russia degrades; the last sentence seems to contradict itself, is Russia stronger or weaker?
As a result, US policy needs to be delicately balanced. The US military and economic support of Ukraine must ultimately find a way to continue, whatever Congress does. Completely abandoning Ukraine to Russia would only further whet Russia’s imperial ambitions, even as the material basis for its empire’s continued existence continues to degrade.
Then finally, thankfully, the last paragraph of this arrant nonsense:
At the same time, however, we should not want the war to grind on indefinitely. We should aim to leave Russia chastened but not collapsed, since that would lead to second- and third-order effects from Europe to China even more serious than those I have just laid out. Indeed, we face no choice but to manage the interlocking wars and crises afflicting the Eurasian land mass — for, ultimately, they can’t be fixed.
Yeah Kaplan, the crisis afflicting the Eurasian landmass could easily be fixed if the West would stop their widespread meddling and subversion. The problem isn’t Russia or China or Iran, its the still colonially minded West. Oh, and if the West makes peace with Russia with respect to Ukraine its not a sign of Western utter incompetence and weakness but because we don’t want the “weakening” Russia to collapse. Instead the West just wanted to rap Russia’s knuckles to deliver some chastening!
Yes this is the “quality” of the work of a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS). It would most probably get a failing grade in an undergraduate history or politics class, and it certainly would not get past the editor’s desk of any self-respecting academic journal.
The mission statement of the Unherd media organization that hosted this Kaplan article states that “UnHerd aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places”. That Robert D. Kaplan would be considered in any way to be providing new and bold thinking, that pushes back against the herd mentality, shows the utter lack of really dissonant voices within the US and Western foreign policy community.
The Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd was previously the Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, not exactly an anti-establishment organization. The Editor has held senior positions at the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Daily Mail, and the Evening Standard, all very mainstream and right-wing media organizations. The Deputy Editor regularly contributed to the Daily Telegraph and The Independent. The Political Editor previously worked at The Atlantic and Politico. The Commissioning Editor only graduated from her Masters in 2018, and the Editor of The Post at Unherd (where Kaplan’s piece was published) previously worked for the Sunday Times, the MailOnline, and World News Media. So pretty much a conventional right-wing media outfit attempting to pass itself off as being outside the mainstream. Unherd is significantly funded by Paul Marshall, who is the co-founder of Europe’s biggest hedge fund.
CNAS was founded in 2007 by Michelle Flournoy, who served in the Defence Department under Clinton and Obama, and Kurt M. Campbell (an Armenian) currently serving as the National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific and previously served in the Obama administration. Its donor list is heavy in defence contractors, oil companies and large investment banks together with the regime-change Open Society Foundation, the US government, the government of the UAE and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (i.e. the Taiwan government). Its staff are featured regularly in the mainstream media, constructing and maintaining the hegemonic culture for the benefit of its donors; with a revolving door between Democrat administration and itself. The warmongering, regime changing, and rabid anti-Russian Victoria “cookies” Nuland was a previous CEO.
Two organizations acting as ruling capitalist class organic intellectuals while funded by large oil, defence and finance corporations, rich individuals and their foundations, and Western and allied governments. Of course, none of this is mentioned when their staff are regularly featured as “experts” by the mainstream media, their work is regularly published, and they rotate back and forth with government roles.