Michael Tracey: when does anti-war become pro-Putin?
Freddie Sayers asks the journalist about his controversial reaction to the war
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Western media has been near unanimous in its support for President Zelensky’s resistance and condemnation of Putin’s invasion. Intervention from the US and Europe has now extended to supplying arms and sanctioning Russia. Some are demanding this support goes even further, suggesting ‘no fly zones’ or even boots on the ground in Ukraine.
Journalist, Substacker and Twitter provocateur Michael Tracey takes a very different view. Despite initially condemning the invasion in February, he has since committed his time to exposing what he calls the ‘proxy warmongering’ of Western powers. The reluctance of the US and Europe to enter into a negotiation with Putin is the opposite of peacekeeping, Tracey argues. He sees his duty as an American reporter to scrutinize his country’s role in the protracted conflict. For this, Tracey has been accused of taking the Kremlin’s line. So when does being anti-war start being seen as pro-Putin?
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Michael Tracey joins Freddie Sayers in the UnHerd studio to discuss why he is so critical of Western intervention in Ukraine and why he refuses to be labelled a Putin apologist.
You can read Tracey’s most recent Substack post, ‘The UK is Trying to Drag the US into World War III’, here.
Tracey is far out of his depth in the UKR/Russia war space. He has no special knowledge, inside information nor historical understanding of UKR and this shows in the interview. His only analytic framework is an unmitigated animosity towards Western Lib states – primary the US and their intelligence agencies. His “snake in the garden of Eden” theology is harnessed to do all the work all the time. It explains the Russian invasion of several states plus suffering the world over. That is his micro brand a kind of warmed over, one dimensional Chomsky. He should pivot back to domestic issues in US.
Matt Taibbi is a far better commentator in this space. He spent several years as a journalist in Russia, has a sense of humor and suffers no illusions about Russian nationalist ideology or war making methods. After claiming the US intelligence forecast of an imminent Russian invasion was wrong as always, he immediately apologized to readers once it proved correct without claiming “we made him do it”. If you want a more nuanced and intelligent left analysis of this conflict get Taibbi.
“Ignorance is strength,” haven’t you heard?
in that sense both parties were invincible…
I regard Tracey as an impressive commentator and writer(discovered him here on unherd) but his antagonistic nature combined with the linguistic bravado can be grating. Amiable personalities such as Taibbi make their content far more appetising.
Regarding the invasion, certainly agree with the broad strokes of his argument but agree that his expertise is lacking.
The interview is not far short of an hour long but, rather than hear the guy out, you’ve instead posted a shrill and depressingly familiar deplatform request just 10 minutes in.
Thinking that UnHerd might not be the right place for you?
I’ve seen enough of his nonsense already without needing to listen to him for another hour, thank you very much.
Can’t help disagreeing with S.Roberts. To me Tracey looks like a typical smug journalist, the ’wise guy’ imagining he knows best, because he’s promoting the sceptical view different from that of the ’masses’, and discussing political motives and disagreeing with ’justifying the constant flow of weapons to Ukraine’. Which might just be the need to differ at any cost without regard to mass murders by the agressor at the very moment the discussions are rolling on (incidentally, could that be the reason Zelenskyi is so insistent in his talks?). The crucial point is: behaving nice won’t stop the bully. Not in the classroom, not in international affairs. I totally agree with Sayers about the absurdity of resenting ’warmongering’ to have peace for ’peace’s sake’. The US probably has its flaws, but that doesn’t mean Tracey understands the criminal mind of Russian govt and brainwashed Russians. What’s the point of agreements with someone who has never intended to keep these? The peace won’t stop the deaths. The heads of the Baltic states in the 40s did it ’nice’ and let the Soviet army ’liberate’ them, hoping to avoid people being killed by the overwhelming soviet army. Any good it was. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands were deported to Siberia in the decade that followed, the traditional way of life was torn apart, family ties severed and hearts broken. My Mom’s Mom with her 3 children was herded to Siberia in a cattle wagon (in the month of March, the cold winter temperatures). A baby died there in the first week, and the mother held it in her arms until the body started to decompose. What was she to do, throw her baby out of the door of the slave train? My Father’s family tried to escape, but his Mom’s sister stayed put, because the cows need to be milked – and she didn’t know they’ll come back as they didn’t make it to the port, the Russians cut it off. It does not seem appropriate somehow to speak about (farm) animals when people die, but the cull in Ukraine is horrid. The former farm owners in the Baltics had to see their cattle starve and be abused in soviet collective farms. So, think again why Ukraine has so much sympathy especially from the ’former Soviet states’. Back in the 40-50s many regretted bitterly not firing a single shot. The Ukraine knows that too well. If I were there, I’d join the territorial defence despite being a woman past my ’best before’ in age. I could take care of the soldiers’ food and shelter, if nothing else. It’s better to die than see the repressions afterwards, IF Russia won. And WHY does it have to have some ’buffer zone’ – even more, feel entitled to it? Is it their dirty conscience that imagines everyone is after them? So – no, I don’t agree it’s time to be journalistically intellectual and try to theoretise about punching holes to the general narrative. The beast has to be pushed back to its home, otherwise there WILL be WW3. Don’t imagine it won’t happen if we behave nice. Russia will find a pretext if it wants to. Listen to Sergej Sumlenny right here about how Russia treats its ’in-country’ neighbours. If Russia doesn’t lose, it’ll never let it go. As we know from 2014 in Ukraine. Finally, what is the general objective of the ’collective west’ (as Putin puts it)? Stopping the number of the killed grow? Avoiding escalation? Avoiding WW3? Stopping US gun industry profit? Having a friendlier Russia in the future? Russia must not win, if any of these is to be achieved. Russia wants its ’glory’ back. Unfortunately, the ‘previous’ territories do not obey, having seen the regime from inside. There is no diplomatic solution – how do you debate for something the other one is determined to take, no matter what.
No fan of him. But I also like free speech and free exchange of ideas, no matter how distasteful his views are (which I agree with u)
People like Sayers were “understanding” the Soviet Union right up to the time it imploded. Then the “Putin verstehers” started. But even they couldn’t “versteh” this. So I guess someone still has to do it.
But seeing the military-industrial complex as the root of all evil is no different from seeing witches as the root of all evil in the 17th C. The evidence is just as fragmentary and contradictory.
To a post-modern mind, however, that’s just fine.
You are right plus Sayers needs to watch Neil Armstrong interviews very carefully then try again. This was, what I think, Brits call weak tea on both sides.
Whoops I meant Andrew Neil…
Tracey needs applauding, it is in times of war particularly that commitments to ones beliefs and allegiances are really tested. The social and political pressures are intense, he has put his head above the parapet undoubtedly.But he seems to have a narrow understanding of wars as simply a subjective consequence of the “military/industrial” complex.Apologies to him if that is not his position. Certainly that specific sector of capitalism benefits and will have governmental influence etc but overall wars are not economically beneficial situations for capital, quite the opposite. The causes of wars are multiple, uneven, disparate and often illogical and even unplanned to an extent. What they certainly reflect in complex ways are global elites acting upon the inherent contradictions of capitalist society to ensure its survival for capital often in convoluted ways. In that respect Tracey at the beginning makes the most important observation,that he as an American citizen and the other 350M have a role and responsibility role is to act as he sees best upon his own elites as they are his problem in wars. It is here that Sayers seems to baulk – unless it is purely as a devils advocate for interview purposes – at the suggestion western elites bear a huge responsibility for a very long time in destabilising the region for their deliberate geo political needs. This is a major political problem in the west particularly, to take sides against ones own elites who are the problem of humanity globally, requires firstly believing it is necessary for peace and to stop the barbarism of wars,but secondly it requires a stout political defence and a serious polararising democratic debate to take place. The events Tracey describes in the warmongering HoC shows how much of a political problem to stop wars exists in the west.
The Russians used to have a term for leftwing anti-war types – “Useful Idiots”. Now the useful idiots are rightwing – think Tucker Carlson. But Russia doesn’t care if its useful idiots are leftwing or rightwing, so long as they are useful and idiot.
People throw around the analogy to Munich in 1938, a terrible analogy. World War I is much better, and we are now in a situation analogous to late 1914. Putin struck because he felt his country was threatened, not without reason but perhaps more than he should have–not entirely unlike Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914. The almost universal assumption of a quick Russian victory has been disproven and Ukraine has been successful beyond almost everyone’s expectation–like the Western Front after France won at First Marne and the Race to the Sea ended in stalemate.
NOW is the time that Ukraine should be seriously negotiating with Russia, the US and NATO all at the table–Ukraine’s position is about as strong as it is ever likely to be. Over time, the weight of size and numbers favors Russia, though further escalation from the West can blunt this, with increasing Ukrainian and Russian casualties and increasing risk of nuclear war. We need to de-escalate rather than escalate emotions and wartime actions that make everyone more intransigent.
Historians can spend the next century arguing over who was to blame and how much, as they still do about 1914. We need to end this war now, in a way that it won’t start up again in a few years, before many thousands more people are hurt, and if it goes nuclear, many millions. That means Ukraine will not be in NATO, the Minsk Accords are honored or some other arrangement is worked out to protect the predominantly Russian eastern fringe of Ukraine, and ideally a final resolution of Crimea tho that could perhaps be held in abeyance, and sanctions reduced to the pre-war level (or further if Crimea gets settled). But the time is now.
If Putin was so threatened, why does he keep winding up with more territory? Shouldn’t it be the reverse, if there really is a threat?
It seems what you are really saying is that, if paranoids feel people are out to kill them, they have a right to kill their supposed attackers.
Post-modern thinking has lost almost all credibility because “feelings” somehow outweigh objective reality. The result is people like Putin…and Trump…and Le Pen…and Xi…and…
As always, Sayers’ insightful interviews, professional style and perscipaceous choice of topics does credit to this magazine. It’s the reason I joined as a subscriber.
I have no idea if he is a disgusting man or not. Did he say anything in the interview that you think is disgusting?
Russia is never going to give way – it is a major power with infinite military resources and a population which supports and, in many instances, reveres Putin.. (The latter can be verified from the series of TV programmes on Russia broadcast last year)
At this stage it is not a case of who was to blame initially – and who stands on the moral high ground – but how can the killing stop without either side losing face. Something must be done before Ukraine is totally destroyed and an all-out European war is started by default.
An agreement to elections in the Dombras region and also Crimea could be a starting point for negotiations..
Prior to the war, Ukraine had largely accepted the existence of the Russian-backed Republics in that region and also Crimea, which is 54% Russian according to Wikipedia and many more than that with Russian allegiance.
I think we’re seeing those ‘military resources‘ are not so ‘infinite‘.
“The reluctance of the US and Europe to enter into a negotiation with Putin is the opposite of peacekeeping, Tracey argues.”
What would it achieve? Dobby only understands threats and force.
John Mearsheimer, Doug MacGregor, Oliver Stone, Scott Ritter, Jacques Baud, Vladimir Putin
…and Uncle Tom Cobley and all!
I hate to comment on aesthetics rather than substance, but I recommend the audio only version of this interview. Tracey has highly exaggerated hand movements and I found it very distracting.
Any act of pre-emptive warfare should be condemned? Nonsense. I’m pretty sure Chris Rock could have used some pre-emptive warfare against Will Smith.
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