Is the Right a Fan of Putin?
Americans sometimes forget who their real enemies are. As some far-right American extremists side with Vladimir Putin’s bloodthirsty incursion into Ukraine, thinking he is somehow a “misunderstood” kindred spirit, a little review of history may be helpful.
On February 20, 1939, Madison Square Garden in New York City overflowed with more than 20,000 convention attendees. Before the assembled throng on the dais, beneath an enormous bronze eagle, was a fifty-foot-tall standing image of George Washington, flanked by four American flags of equal length.
What the attendees found inspiring about the first president was the number of African-American slaves he had owned. They were Nazis, you see, known as the German-American Bund (“GAB”), and their allegiance was to Adolf Hitler. They lovingly praised Washington as the “First Fascist.”
They had convened in New York to denounce the “Jew Deal,” their way of characterizing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s controversial New Deal policies, which they believed were being implemented by a “Bolshevik-Jewish” cabal in Washington, D.C. Three years later, groups of German Nazi saboteurs supported by the GAB landed in Florida and New York with plans to foment terror and undermine the U.S. government. The units were apprehended and the members executed or jailed.
You’ll have a great deal of trouble finding a story about Japanese-Americans during World War II that is remotely as horrifying as the story about the Germans. Yet it was the Japanese and not the Germans who were rounded up by the thousands and chucked into concentration camps to keep them from undermining the U.S. war effort.
This brings us to modern-day extremists like Ron Paul (whose pro-Putin words were trumpeted on the Kremlin’s Russia Today propaganda network) and Pat Buchanan, men who look up to Putin the same way the GAB's "bundesfúhrer" Fritz Julius Kuhn looked up to Hitler, and who seek to organize American cabals that support Putin and his neo-Soviet crackdown both at home and abroad. Summarizing their feelings, Ron Dreher writes: “Putin may be a cold-eyed cynic, but he’s also onto something.”
And then there’s Rand Paul, who was for Putin until he was against him. On February 26, WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin scathingly reported on how Rand was kissing up to Putin as the latter unsheathed his knives in Ukraine. Apparently Rand, who’d like to be the next U.S. president, got the message, though, and just two weeks later, he suddenly changed his tune and penned a scorching anti-Putin diatribe in Time magazine, calling Obama out for his weakness and appeasement on Russia.
Maybe Rand had got wind of the fact that a leading conservative group, Concerned Women of America, was so disgusted by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine that it pulled out of the “Pro-Life Olympics” being hosted by Moscow this year. Or maybe he just saw that a host of other leading Republicans, from Ted Cruz to Paul Ryan to Marco Rubio, had taken tough lines on Putin.
Indeed, just as Americans rejected Rand’s father at the polls for president, they reject his line on Putin. Nearly 70% of Americans see Russia as a serious threat to U.S. security and disapprove of Putin. Mitt Romney’s stance on Russia as a major geopolitical enemy of the USA has been conclusively proved correct, and Obama’s policy of appeasement indicted as foolhardy and dangerous. So Rand Paul is scampering towards the Reaganites just as fast as ever he can.
The right-wing extremists are saying that the USA “lost Russia,” that Russia has a “legitimate security interest” in a leased naval base (in Sevastopol) that isn’t even on Russian territory – a lease signed by a maniacal dictator who has just been deposed and impeached – and that Putin is only reacting to the unreasonable expansion of the NATO alliance up to his doorstep.
How such men can call themselves “conservatives” while at the same time essentially embracing the failed “reset” policy of Barack Obama is very hard to understand. They ignore the fact that Ukraine was forced to disarm and promised, by Russia, in writing, in exchange that its territory, including Crimea, would be permanently inviolate.
Such folks claim that if only NATO had left places like Poland and the Czech Republic and Estonia as sitting ducks for Putin’s army, he would never have been motivated to start going after places like Ukraine that were left out of the NATO fold, much less after any of them. As long as he was confident, in other words, that he could grab any one of them, he’d be satisfied. And if the people who lived in those countries had to have a few sleepless nights, well, that’d be a small price to pay for peace in our time.
None of these folks ever write about Putin’s crazed and benighted policies having “lost the USA” despite the Obama administration’s efforts to implement a “reset.” They don’t talk about how Putin “lost Germany” despite the fact that over 80% of Germans (German-language link) now believe that Russia is not a trustworthy partner. They never assert that NATO has a “legitimate security interest” in Ukraine, which borders not one, but three NATO members. And they don’t pause even for a second to consider that if Putin is willing to risk global war in order to annex Ukraine, he might have been similarly bold in regard to places like Poland if NATO security guarantees were not in place.
It’s all very psychological. It’s so comforting to think about Putin as being not evil, but merely misunderstood, such that a little adjustment in our attitude would end his reign of terror. The alternative – that Putin is a megalomaniac bent on regional domination at any cost – means that we would actually have to gird our loins, step up, and do battle. What’s more, men like Buchanan and Paul seem to find Putin’s state-sponsored religion, crackdown on dissent, racism, and homophobia rather attractive.
Make no mistake: advocating appeasement on Russia is very dangerous. A recent poll by CNN indicated that Americans strongly support tough economic sanctions on Russia if Putin does not pull out of Ukraine, and this no doubt reflects the public’s rejection of Obama’s leadership; barely 40% now approve of him. However, the same poll indicated that Americans don’t support an economic aid package to Ukraine, much less arming it, likely because they overwhelmingly reject sending U.S. military forces to Ukraine and believe that direct support to Ukraine would encourage a war into which U.S. forces might be drawn.
It’s the scare tactics used by the likes of the Buchanan brigades that give rise to such misguided notions. Ronald Reagan understood that the only way to stop war is through a show of strength, not weakness. But of course, when bombarded by weakness and complicity from both the right and left, Americans can easily become distracted.
In 2008, John McCain called for confrontation of Russia, while Obama called for conciliation. McCain’s VP, Sarah Palin, predicted that if we followed Obama’s course, Russia would soon be in the Ukraine. Now it is there, and McCain’s call to oust Russia from the G-8 is being implemented. Will we allow the likes of Buchanan and Paul to distract us from the mission at hand?
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.