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Thinking about Putin, Ukraine, and fallacious arguments

Here is an excellent piece from The Libertarian about how to think about what is going on with Russia, Ukraine, etc, and the response to it of various people, including those who fall into the trap of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” fallacy. Other fallacies are addressed such as “who are we to judge X?” and “it’s just not our business” positions.


44 comments to Thinking about Putin, Ukraine, and fallacious arguments

  • Mr Ed

    Well a quick glimpse of the article shows ludicrous arguments like a 97% approval is something found in North Korea etc.

    Asides from elections in, say, North Korea this level of support for anything would be a bizarre aberration.

    What about last year’s Falklands’ referendum? 99.8% ‘Yes’ on a 92% turnout.

    So start again dear article with a bit more general knowledge and don’t make sweeping assumptions yourself.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed – independent opinion polls in the Crimea before the invasion showed that one third of the population supported annexation by Russia (one third is not 97%).

    As for the general situation…..

    No one could despise both Mr Obama (a Frankfurt School person I have been denouncing since 2008) and the European Union (which I have attacked for more than 30 years) than ME.

    But I am not going to make the mistake of thinking that there is anything wrong in the West that Mr Putin is going to fix.

    And I am certainly not going to go on RT (not that they would ask me) and come back full of warm fuzzy feelings because the attractive female presenter fluttered her eye lashes at me, and kept telling me how wise I am.

    Just how STUPID are my fellow middle aged men?

    Do we think with our brains or with our testicles?

    Let us try and think of Putin as President of the United States.

    No Wall Street Journal or Fox News or talk radio dissent – he crushed the Russian version of all of these.

    No trial by jury – Yeltsin’s promise was ripped up by Putin.

    The nationalisation of natural resources and they sending of the previous private owners to camps (Charles and David Koch off to Siberia).

    Barack Obama may be a very bad man (he is a very bad man), but his power is restrained by institutions (not enough, not nearly enough – but to some extent).

    Putin is a vicious gangster who has no institutional limits on his power at all – none.

    This does NOT mean the West should get involved in the Crimea (we should NOT – it is too late for that).

    However, we must NOT concede the idea that Mr Putin has the right to a sphere of influence of countries on the borders of Russia.

    Remember that does not just mean the Ukraine (which I AGREE is a hopeless mess), it means Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland…….

  • Matra

    independent opinion polls in the Crimea before the invasion showed that one third of the population supported annexation by Russia (one third is not 97%)

    The situation changed after the government, which most Crimeans voted for, was overthrown. Obviously Russian nationalist propaganda played a part in pushing Crimeans towards supporting Russian reunification but despite what preachers of the Anglo-conservative narrative claim (the USA is always right!) Crimeans have always been different from most Ukrainians. There was a push for independence in the 1990s. Then when realised that wouldn’t be allowed to happen they voted for greater autonomy and dual citizenship (with Russia) by massive margins. Dismissing their concerns with references to Putin’s deficiencies elsewhere (he didn’t introduce Russians to trial by jury!) smacks of desperation.

    The knee-jerk reaction to the Crimean situation shows that Anglo-conservatives didn’t learn anything from their embarrassing support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. They are still stuck in Cold War mode: USA=Good; Lack of USA government approval=Baddies who hate Freedom.

  • Paul Marks

    “The government that most people in the Crimea voted for”.

    This would be the regime that poisoned a former President (when he was running for the office of President) with radioactive material, and (quite recently) flung a former Prime Minister into prison on trumped up charges.

  • Mr Ed

    Mr Ed – independent opinion polls in the Crimea before the invasion showed that one third of the population supported annexation by Russia (one third is not 97%).

    Which is entirely besides the point.

    However, we must NOT concede the idea that Mr Putin has the right to a sphere of influence of countries on the borders of Russia.

    Indeed, but then again, the EU has no right to a sphere of influence outside its borders either. Whoever heard of mass protests against a government not signing an EU trade deal? All 43 schedules of it?

    RT is a comic station, Pravda TV, anyone who takes it seriously is bordering on delusional. It has some credibility, compared to Press TV, but not many viewers.

    The government that most people in the Crimea voted for

    I think that there was probably a case for Ms Timoshenko to answer regarding her wealth and her position in the State gas company. Anyway, if you have (political) gangrene, amputation is likely to be a blessing. Imagine rUK without Scotland.

  • Kevin B

    Readers Poll:

    Please rank the following news outlets in terms of credibility, factual reporting and lack of bias:

    Al Jazeera



    Russia Today.

  • Paul Marks

    Kevin I must confess that I have not watched CNN for years (I just do not see the point).

    I check the BBC red button service quite often (to see what it thinks the major stories are) – but when I try to watch it more I turn off within a couple of minutes.

    RT and Al Jazeera are oddly fascinating – perhaps the English desire to whip one’s self comes into play here.

  • Rob

    Is it a fallacy to say that it is none of our business? How is it our business? Is it only a tiny part of our business, or is it a very large part of our business, enough to justify intervention and responding to every escalation Putin engineers?

  • Richard Thomas

    There is an obvious solution.

    The Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons on the promise of protection (made by the US, UK and Russia I believe). If we’re not going to stand by that promise (which should never have been made and never have been taken at face value, mind you), they should clearly be resupplied ASAP.

  • Laird

    I agree with Rob: the “it’s none of our business” section is by far the weakest part of that article. First Yusupoff sets up a straw man by claiming that such an argument is tantamount to an assertion that “their freedoms are less important than ours because they’re foreign.” Bunk. No one says that. The comment is no better than Obama apologists crying “racism” in response to every criticism. And then he weasels on about “this does not mean that individuals and governments should refrain from condemning Putin’s actions”, as if anyone had ever made such a claim. Of course we’re all free (both as individuals and as governments) to condemn Putin’s actions; who says otherwise? It’s only overt governmental action (especially military action) which we oppose because, well, it really is none of our business, especially for the US.

    I wasn’t overly impressed by the article.

  • Praetyre

    I’m speaking here as a New Zealander who hasn’t extensively researched either subject and thus obviously has no right to any sort of firm opinion on these matters; so take this with a pinch of salt; this, like a lot of stuff I do, is basically a secular kind of “negative theology”.

    I read both these articles. While I’m not a pacifist (this being by far my largest difference with American libertarians, the others being the almost Chomskyite view many of them have about both A: The causes and perpetrators of statism and B: America), I’m struck by the many ridiculous assumptions the author had in the process, including, but not limited to;

    A: Countries/militaries have an obligation to protect foreigners from other foreigners (that’s not even getting into the actual character of those foreigners). I’m generally quite similar to most Objectivists on foreign policy and many other issues, and I could throw a bit of Hoppean methodology here too; why give non-taxpayers a free ride (heh) from protection any more than foreign aid? Whose interest is served by this crusade, which strikes me (like neoconnism in general, though it’s more than just neocons calling for this and I don’t think the author in question is a neocon) as akin to Trotskyite/Jacobin global revolution fantasies.

    B: Putin is somehow worse than his opponents. And no, I’m not referring to those allegations of Neo-Naziism here; I’m sure Putin is a gangster, but he doesn’t seem quite as insane (partly for cultural reasons and more significantly for reasons Hoppe/Moldbug go into) as many of his Western counterparts either in terms of global-crusaderism (be it of the Warmist or Global Democracy Tranzi/Neocon variety) or people’s statism/politically correct reform of the individual.

    C: The factions supported by the West are somehow better than the reigning government. I don’t know nearly enough about either to make a qualified judgement on this one; but while I personally can’t stand idiots obsessed with imaginary “fascists” to a far greater degree than the actual-communists “persecuted” by Senator Joe ever were, there are some actual nutters of that variety in Eastern Europe and it at least bears some investigation.

    I could say basically the exact same things for the Syria article, and I must say that Putin seemed far more mature and intelligent than Obama (or rather, the State Department and his speechwriters) was in the whole incident.

  • Mr Ed

    Kevin B

    My list would be in decreasing order, starting at the bottom of a South African gold mine lift shaft.

    Al Jazeera.

    The problem with RT is that, unlike Pravda, you cannot light a barbecue with it.

  • Paul Marks

    One odd thing about Mr Putin’s RT is even the presenter calling out that it is all lies and propaganda (live on air) before escaping, does not seem to have dented its credibility (at all) with its “libertarian” and “conservative” supporters.

    It has all been dismissed as a CIA plot.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed – you are very harsh on Al Jazeera.

    Do you have something against a television station that organised lovely parties for child murderers who are released early from prison?

    Why should there not be a big party (with singing and dancing and so on) to celebrate the freedom of the murderers of three year olds?

  • What on earth is a ‘right to a sphere of influence’ anyway?

    Paul, Obama is in fact still being restrained by what is left of the US political institutions, but I see it as a point to counter your position, not to support it: given enough power and global influence, the US government under Obama will destroy what little is left of those institutions much sooner than otherwise, with the result of Obama becoming a dark-skinned, English-speaking, better-looking version of Putin. He will destroy both FOX and WSJ as it is, given time and power, he will also send the Koch brothers to jail given the same. He is no different than Putin.

    Back to Crimea, I truly do not envy these people’s situation between the rock and the hard place, but I think that those who voted* for annexation by Russia chose the lesser evil from a pragmatic point of view. The great majority of the local population are ethnic Russians, but in an independent Ukraine they would remain a minority, and an unpopular one. Even if Russia (under Putin or whoever comes next) will not take Crimea or the entire Ukraine by force at some future point, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine should always feel under threat of ethnic strife, likely fueled by politicians and politicians in-the-making from either ethnic group, supported by either foreign power. The sad truth is that as things stand now and likely remain to stand in the foreseeable future, and because of its strategic location and other factors, Ukraine has no hope of true independence. So their only choice remains between the rock and the hard place as above.

    *FWIW, I have no real idea how many would have voted and how given a truly free and un-rigged referendum, but my anecdotal impression is that it would still be a clear majority.

  • …and of course, by ‘politicians and politicians in-the-making’ I mean ‘power-wielding and power-seeking thugs’.

  • Mr Ed

    Of course, the BBC cannot be trusted to tell you the weather, not due to lack of means or even wartime censorship, they are quite happy to betray the country that they inhabit during war, but to fit the climate change agenda that they push like spaghetti.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, in my experience leading up to the second Iraq campaign there were plenty of self- defining libertarians who opposed military intervention due to how the key issue was about protecting the interests of America\West, not about liberating foreigners. I have seen people on the paleo side of the libertarian movement even argue this way against the US entry into WW2. So people certainly do deploy the “why worry over foreigners?” argument.

    Me Ed: comparing Crimea and Falklands is a dodge. The latter had been invaded, then the invaders were kicked out. The Falklands have been unambiguously a UK territory since the 1830s. The Crimea vote was hardly conducted without military pressure, so the author’s point stands.

  • Mr Ed

    Jonathan, the quote that I took issue with is evident in my post. It is not a dodge, it is pointing out that the article is shoddily researched and makes a blatantly absurd statement. If you cannot see that, look for the trees, not the wood.

  • Paul Marks

    Errr J.P – I thought the Iraq war was a bad idea.

    As the local population are (mostly) horrible – I believed that any democratically elected government would turn out to be horrible to (most likely pro Iranian – as most of the population are Shia). Although the north (the Kurdish area) is a bit different.

    However, the opinions of nasty people like me were denounced as “racist” by both supporters and OPPONENTS of the Iraq war.

    As I remember the debate was like this…..

    “We must intervene to save the lovely Iraqi people”.


    “We must not intervene – because this will make the lovely Iraqi people suffer”.

    So someone like me (or my late “Uncle Bill” who served in Iraq before World War II) who said that the locals were not lovely – did not really have a place in the debate at all (on either side).

    Anyway I am distracted….

    I just had to turn off “Boom-Bust” on RT – the person who pretends to be an airhead, was interviewing an American “market monetarist”.

    I really, really hate “market monetarists” – I would like to drop them in Iraq and watch (from a safe distance) the locals skin them alive (which they would do, not because they were market monetarists but because the locals like doing stuff like that – to just about anyone really).

    I know this violates the non aggression principle – so I do not mean it is a concrete plan, it is just an emotional reaction (based on what utter scum “market monetarists” are). So I had to switch off.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed – I have a problem with global warming.

    In that, as it is bad news, I tend to believe it.

    For example, if someone came screaming “the elves are attacking – they are going to kill us all!”, part of me would believe it (and be oddly pleased), even though the rational part of my mind knows that there is no evidence that elves either exist or (if they did exist) would want to kill us.

    It is the bit where the person said “and therefore taxes must go up and we must impose more regulations” that would change my position on the elves.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – I fear you are quite correct about Mr Obama.

    After all, in the end, institutions are just PEOPLE – and people give way.

    I remember Chief Justice Roberts with we-have-to-give-in-to-save-the-Supreme-Court.

    If you give in (on things like Obamacare – or the gold confiscation and ripping up of contacts in 1935) then there is no real point in having a Supreme Court.

    And one more appointment and the Supreme Court will be Barack’s (or Hillary’s) play thing anyway.

  • OK Paul, so why should we prefer Obama over Putin then?

  • Paul Marks

    I hope I have never said that we should prefer Obama over Putin – but the U.S. government is (even now) still more than Mr Obama.

    For example, the House of Representatives is still part of the U.S. government – although its influence (which in the Constitution is supposed to be at the heart of the government) has been greatly reduced.

    Are the intelligence agencies not utterly corrupted?

    I just do not know how bad the damage has gone.

    I do know that when President Reagan became President (back in 1981) his opinion of what the Agency (and so on)had become was so bad (under his genial manner) that he brought back people who had retired decades before – such as William Casey, and the “new” people were so desperate that they reached out to virtually anyone (even students in Europe).

    In 2017 it may all have to be done again – rebuild from the ground up, if we assume that all Federal agencies have been utterly corrupted.

    Perhaps bring back people (such as Mike Baker?) or even non Federal agencies – such as the Texas State Police (the Texas Rangers).

    And all this assumes that there is a restoration in 2017 – and there may not be.

    The Federal government may be too far gone – de facto bankrupt (in moral as well as financial terms).

    In which case America may (for the first time in centuries) be entering “Article Five” country.

    Not two thirds of both Houses (House and Senate) – but two thirds of the States (CONVENTION).

    Remember either way even the office of President can be abolished.

    My own view is that a directly elected Presidency was a mistake (even Washington violated the Constitution, he used armed force in Penn without the “application” of either the State Legislature or the Governor – and used, I am the elected President of “the American people” as his justification).

    A President should just be the manager of the Executive – who should serve at the pleasure of Congress (who should be able to dismiss him or her at any time).

    And the Congress should NOT “represent the people” it should represent the States (equally).

    “Paul that sounds like the New Jersey Plan” – yes it does.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The juxtaposition of this post and the next made me consider that there are similarities between climate alarmists and anti-war libertarians: both believe that there is a simple formula that solves all of the world’s problems, and if the facts suggest otherwise, then the facts must be wrong.

    Also, climate alarmists think they are fighting against the ruling class, while actually they are fighting for it; and anti-war libertarians think they are fighting against the growth of the State, while actually they are fighting for it.

    “It’s none of our business” is a different argument in the sense that it is not always wrong. In the case of Crimea, however, Americans who think that it is not in their interest to save face, might as well propose to withdraw from all alliances, and to tell American citizens that they cannot rely on the US government to defend their life, freedom, and property when they travel abroad (with the possible exception of Canada).

  • It may be a little point, but I’m pretty sure most of the reports I read were of crimeans voting to Secede from Ukraine rather than join Russia .
    Now I realise that these two things may be effectively the same, but they are not the same.

  • Mr Ed

    “Paul that sounds like the New Jersey Plan”

    Said no one, ever. 🙂 (A dig at us who lack Paul’s “Marvin”esque knowledge.)

    I do wonder what would happen if the Feds simply ignored an Article 5 convention, after all the Congress has to call the Convention in the first place.

  • wh00ps, FWIW, Wikipedia says that Crimea has been an autonomous republic since 1991, and that the February referendum was on accession to Russia.

  • Paul Marks

    whOOps – a possible Lincoln move.

    The Constitution does not say you can not secede, but it does say (Article One, Section Ten) “No State shall enter any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation” so this “Confederacy” you have joined means bang, bang, bang (legitimately).

    Actually the idea of an independent Crimea is interesting – but (perhaps sadly) no one is in favour of it.

    Mr Ed – not only do some people know all about this, I bet they have already spotted the error I made.

    “Paul you utter idiot – you should have STrESSED that Senators in the new unicameral Congress must not be directly elected, they should be chosen by State Legislatures and SUBJECT TO RECALL, otherwise we will end up being governed by the likes of Harry Reid”.

  • Mr Ed

    “No State shall enter any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation” so this “Confederacy” you have joined means bang, bang, bang (legitimately).

    One might think that (i) secession is not, of itself, entering into any Treaty, Alliance or Confederation, but, to be fair it would be intolerable if a State made its own treaties, it could mess up the entire Federation.

    BUT (ii) if you do not meet the requirements of the Union, this means that you may not enjoy the blessing of membership of the Union, and you must leave seems the more reasoned response, after all, in certain establishments, if you don’t meet the dress code, you are asked to leave, and if you don’t you are presumably ‘escorted’ from the premises, not locked in the basement at gunpoint.

    (Which sort of thing actually was, obviously, the purpose of joining the Confederacy for many wicked types).

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed – if only it had been a conflict between lawyers, not between armies.

    Or a conflict between political types.

    One line might have been…..

    “So you have seceded? Oh good! Now we do not have to spend all that time and money enforcing the Fugitive Slave Statutes”.

    Then watch the faces of Jefferson Davis and co as the implications of that sunk in.

    Sadly they would just have tried to expand into West – and the war would have occurred anyway.

    But it would have been a nice moment.

  • Mr Ed

    That would also have been a nice quantum universe to have stepped into, no Civil War, slavery abolished by flight, despite a ‘Cotton Curtain’ on the Mason-Dixon Line. What other horrors might have been averted?

  • Paul Marks

    It worked in Brazil – a Princess convinced the authorities to stop sending escaped slaves back to their masters, so slavery collapsed.

    But then the monarchy was overthrown – and the history of Brazil after that has not been good (and will soon be worse).

  • I have a problem with . . .
    “this does not have any relevance to people who, you know, had nothing to do with Iraq voicing criticism. Excluding the UK, most EU governments were opposed to the Iraq War.”

    I think the Romanians, Czechs, Poles, Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Italians, Portugese, Spanish, Slovaks, Hungarians, Dutch, Bulgarians, Norwegians, and the Danes might have been a little confused then.

    oh, and I left out the Ukrainians, … though rather obviously not in the EU

  • Greg


    “He [Obama] is no different than Putin”

    Agree. I had the same thought about BushII or at least the crony capitalist, cozy arrangements of the Feds under Bush. But the above (typically excellent) conversation prompts a question about the similarities of US/Russian leaders: is each country simply getting the leaders they want? I’ve heard it said that “Putins” arise in Russia because they historically like a strongman leader. Have politics in the US arrived at the same place? I don’t want such leaders and I think at least 50% of my fellow citizens are with me, hopefully many more than that. But how many on the left are ok with “the Chicago Way” because it’s boss and his machine are delivering the goods? Or how many on the right are ok with the Bush family because they delivered for their side?

  • […] Thinking about Putin, Ukraine, and fallacious arguments […]

  • is each country simply getting the leaders they want?

    I don’t really think so, Greg, not as far as the US is concerned. Russia – yes, in large part: Putin still enjoys immense popular support as far as I’m aware, although it seems to be diminishing. American culture is materially different from the Russian one in many respects, even though there are also some similarities. In fact, and now that I think about this some more as I type: Russia may be the flip image of the US, in that Putin is what a regular Russian wants, while Obama is what the US elite wants. Or at least wanted in 2008 – I see quite a bit of buyers’ remorse lately.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Putin controls the education system and the media.

    It is possible to withstand such brainwashing – some people can resist.

    However, it is not true that the majority of people are unaffected by their education and constant media propaganda.

    To win an election one only needs to influence 51%.

  • Sorry Paul, but I’m afraid that Mr. Putin would have still been very popular even if he did not control the education and the media. Maybe to a lesser degree, but not significantly so. Even worse, I think too many Russian like the fact that he has the control he has in those areas.

  • Paul Marks

    You may be right Alisa.

    After all your knowledge of the culture is vastly greater than mine.

  • I doubt the ‘vastly’ part, Paul, and I could be wrong. In fact, I wish I were.

  • And, BTW, cultures can and do change, so this is a chicken and egg kind of thing: leaders who are the result of a certain culture tend to perpetuate it and prevent it from changing.

  • Mr Ed

    Interesting take on the Ukraine gas/energy industry here.


    Historically, the most significant red flag for new investors in Ukraine has been working with the government. It’s too early to determine whether that will change. Bureaucracy generally kills deals more than anything, and foreign companies coming in will never be able to understand how the bureaucracy works. The smart investor will employ capital through a Ukrainian private entity to maximize investment dollars.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jonathan, the quote that I took issue with is evident in my post. It is not a dodge, it is pointing out that the article is shoddily researched and makes a blatantly absurd statement.

    What is blatantly false? The author of this piece says, quite reasonably, that there is, at least on first sight, something fishy about a 97 per cent vote for something as controversial as joining another country, of giving up nationality A for B, and doing so when there is clear pressure involved (in this case, from Russia). Alisa may well be right that a clear majority in Crimea would have said yes to rejoining Russia anyway, but this was an election under conditions of considerable external pressure.

    I want to go back to Laird’s denial that people say freedoms of others are less important than their own. Some clarification: I think that as self interested beings aiming at our own long-term happiness, there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to tend to our own interests and freedoms first; it is also prudential not to weaken our own liberties in any potentially foolhardy drive to “save the world”. Goodness knows that there is enough of that sort of nonsensical thinking. Even so, it should be remembered that a lot of anti-war people, especially on the Right, in advance of Iraq, etc, were making what I would call the “tend to our own first” sort of argument, saying that there was nothing really worthwhile in saving, or trying to save, a region from a tyrant, and that anyway the locals, or most of them, were horrid (Paul Marks has more or less said it).

    Is this always a shameful thing? No. Sometimes the people involved in these conflicts are not especially deserving. In my rough reading of events, there is not all that much we can easily do to thwart expansionists such as Putin; Russia is not as powerful as some fear, although it does have some weapons at its disposal. Far better for us to focus on strengthening our economy, by pursuing pro-freedom ideas at home.