“Hands off Baghdad”: Dino MC 47, Russia, Regime Change, and America’s Chickens Coming Home to Roost

“Hands off Baghdad,” Dino MC 47 raps in his 2009 single “They Tell Us.” “Hands off Gaza.”

In a song that was relevant then and even more relevant today, the Russian rapper–his stage name is a combination of his nickname “Dynamite” and AK-47–decries the current state of Russian-US and Russian-Ukrainian relations, exhorts Russia’s youth to become politically engaged, and provides a blistering criticism of the hypocrisy of Russian society, where “Underage Nazis are convicted / While our powers that be are of course crystal-clean”; “When are they going to let out of jail / The people who are there for a bag of weed and youthful mistakes / Many can’t afford a good lawyer”; “If we believe them, we are surrounded by terrorists”; and “They tell us enemies are all around us” (it all rhymes nicely in Russian).

Gosh, is this Russia he’s talking about–or the US? It’s so hard to tell sometimes, isn’t it?

In a country (Russia) where art has historically been regulated because it’s expected to serve an important social purpose, many artists seem to take themselves more seriously than they do in the West. I confess that my knowledge of current Western pop music is less than it could be, but the closest thing I can think of to Dino MC 47’s overt outrage and call to action is maybe Lupe Fiasco:

But unlike Lupe Fiasco, Dino MC 47 is coming from inside the power structure, so to speak.  His father was a Soviet officer who was posted to East Germany; presumably the young Dino was raised in a “crystal-clean” ideologically correct and proudly patriotic household, or maybe one that knew how to play the game, because those are the only people who got sent to East Germany.

And indeed, Dino’s oeuvre contains patriotic singles such as “No One is Forgotten, Nothing is Forgotten,” an ode to the heroism of the veterans of WWII–and another call to action to turn away from racism and neo-Nazism:

Or “Hit Harder,” celebrating Russian multiculturalism–as a side note, I recently read an article about the World Cup claiming Russia was lacking in ethnic diversity, and nearly choked on my coffee–religious tolerance, and, of course, an ideal of macho Russian manhood:

So? you ask. So what? What does this have to do with yesterday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and Trump, which has everyone in a froth now?

Other than the opportunity to share some really fierce rap tracks, the first point is that there’s a lot of patriotism in Russia, and not all of it is of the “I Want a Guy Like Putin” variety:

Not that that’s not a significant factor as well, but people like Dino MC 47 are also profoundly patriotic, and ferocious critiques of the Russian war and propaganda apparatus don’t change that:

“Somalia in the Snow,” in which Dino gives scathing call-outs to politicians who ban foreign food while driving around in new Mercedes Benzes, while “Their constituent needs an oncologist / But where he used to work there’s now the office for a joke website.”

So while I was reading the shock and outrage over Trump’s meeting with Putin yesterday that filled my social media feeds, much of it couched in in the language of patriotism and calling on Trump to be impeached for treason, I couldn’t help but wonder: Are you people blind? Or just profoundly forgetful?

Yes, it’s highly, highly, highly likely that Russia did some cyber-hacking as part of an anti-Clinton operation during the 2016 election campaign.  In fact, I would be shocked if they didn’t.  And there are few sadder than me that Hillary Clinton is not our current president.  I voted for her in 2008, and again in 2016.  One of my life goals was to see her as president.  Actually, one of my life goals was and is to see a female president of the United States, and for a number of years she has seemed like by far the likeliest and most qualified candidate. Seeing Trump elected instead was a hurtful slap in the face that I’m not likely to recover from anytime soon.

But. But, but, but. Do Americans, especially liberals, seriously have the temerity to complain about other countries interfering in elections and attempting to engage in regime change?  Like, really?

Occasionally people (like me) remind people that the US has done some pretty serious meddling in Russian presidential elections past.  Not that makes what Russia has done okay, exactly, but boy, are our chickens coming home to roost.

The fact is that the US does not practice what it preaches.  It proclaims the values of freedom and democracy, and then goes around forcibly installing dictators and regimes it thinks will be friendly to it.  And half the time (or more) it can’t even do that right.  Richard Engel reminisces in War Journal about how many of the Iraqis he spoke to during his tenure there as an NBC reporter during the war were convinced that the US was playing some very deep game designed to turn the entire region over to Iran.  He had to tell them that no, in fact, the US simply didn’t know what it was doing.

So while you’re fulminating over Trump’s treasonous behavior, stop and think for a minute: if you’re this outraged over a little cyber-hacking that probably didn’t have have much of an actual effect (the Trump disaster is something we done did to ourselves), how do you think the Russians feel about shock therapy, about the 1996 elections, about the 1999 bombing of Belgrade?

Pretty damn mad, that’s how.  Like how you feel about Trump and Putin right now, but turned up to 111.  It sucks when other countries throw their weight around, take advantage of you when you turn to them for help, bomb your allies against your express wishes, or even mess with your internal policies and electoral process, doesn’t it?  I mean, it really sucks.  It sucks so much that all that nationalism you didn’t even know you had comes exploding out in a firestorm of self-righteous xenophobic vitriol, doesn’t it?

What America needs right now is its own Dino MC 47, someone who will take a long hard look at all our flaws (pro tip: start by listing all the things you don’t like about Russia, and apply them to the US) and conduct a sober reckoning of where we went wrong and how we can do better.  If America wants to be the world’s greatest democracy and that shining city on the hill, it damn well better start acting like it.  Which means we, its citizens, need to start acting like it.  Lord knows we can’t count on Trump to lead the way, so it’s up to us.

Maybe we can start by keeping our hands off Baghdad.

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