Conservatives are anti-anti-Putin – The American Conservative
What was once a discussion reserved primarily for American intellectual circles has increasingly spread to the national political scene.
LOS ANGELES — Eight long years ago, Patrick J. Buchanan, Associate Editor of TAC, provocatively wrote, “Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative? Is he one of us in the Kulturkampf for the future of humanity?”
Long before “Russiagate,” “Ukrainegate,” or the former’s invasion of 2014 and a possible re-invasion of the latter, Buchanan preempted POTUS 45 by essentially asking, “You think our country is that innocent?”
“President Reagan once called the old Soviet empire ‘the focal point of evil in the modern world.’ President Putin implies that Barack Obama’s America may deserve that title in the 21st century,” Buchanan wrote for TownHall.com in December 2013, Promiscuity and the Full Range of Hollywood Values.”
Buchanan may have been a grandee of both the Reagan and Richard Nixon administrations, but like his later presidential campaigns—not to mention this magazine’s historical project—his perspective on front-line Republican politics was alien at the time. How things have changed.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s analysis is more geopolitical than cultural, but the push for greater neutrality toward Russia is clear enough. “The same people who led us into two failed wars in two decades made possible the rise of China [and] botched evacuation of Afghanistan are angry that I oppose putting more Americans in Europe at risk when our signal threat is China. It’s time for change,” he said this week.
Hawley has channeled his inner George Kennan, the legendary former director of policy planning at State, who warned that we were making a mistake with Moscow in the Bill Clinton era by going East even after the Soviet Union was wiped out. Hawley says he opposes Ukraine’s entry into NATO, the binding treaty on mutual defense. Even in the often stuffy US foreign policy community, it’s a fairly common view that Ukraine is ultimately not worth the risk of nuclear war. But that didn’t stop White House press secretary Jen Psaki from arguing that Hawley’s testimony was tantamount to reciting the Kremlin’s perspective with island bird obsequiousness.
Hawley appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show Wednesday to reinforce his view; Carlson has led the charge right outside the convention halls for this kind of shift in thinking. The GOP establishment clearly fears that the new guard will triumph, but Carlson and Hawley still have to contend with powerful conservative rivals like Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, senior member of the Intelligence Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have made it clear that they abhor this perspective. Carlson denounced McConnell in his opening monologue Wednesday night, albeit on a different matter.
Players used to be important in Congress, especially to foreign policy. Think of the late Senator John McCain. Think of John Kerry. Think Joe Biden. But to Russia, and right… how did we get here?
The quick answer is Donald Trump, who has consumed half his presidency on baseless accusations of being Putin’s scapegoat (though his affection for the ex-KBG knifefighter is plain enough). No real connection — no financial, no telltale, no pee-erotic — was ever made between the duo, aside from liking the cut of each other’s jibs.
But maybe that’s the point. The relative fulcrum on the right of Russia’s hawkishness is not so much the stuff of espionage as it is style. More secular nationalists may not be on board when it comes to pushing back on gay rights or the whole gamut of “Hollywood values” (again, Buchanan predicted the future; a few years later it would be the GOP President’s runner-up, Ted Cruz, unsuccessfully trying to stall Trump by tying him to “New York” values).
But Putin is conceded very quietly but very firmly by many of America’s center-right elites that in his own way, however imperfectly, however unacceptably murderously, he has nonetheless “put Russia back in order.” Once miserable, birth rates and family formation are at least officially a mission of the Russian state, a Republican Senate candidate told me recently. Ditto for an all-hands-on-deck approach to a heinous rate of alcoholism that, at worst, would shame even the Brits (one grins easily if Russia would have to endure a “Partygate” if it were a democracy).
Considering the stunning current pessimism in my newly adopted state, America’s largest and most prominent, as highlighted in a poll by Politically California on Thursday, one wonders why there isn’t a more urgent discussion of national greatness, or what has become of it. Read the headlines in America’s tech capital six hours north and you read the Chronicle of San Francisco not from an alcohol crisis, although this country probably has one, but from the terrible and deadly fentanyl craze. Instead of worrying about their rivals moonlighting for Russia Today, where’s the White House in it?
That seems to be the perspective of many Republicans. The perspective of many Americans.
Meanwhile, cold reality intervenes. America is already in the fight of its life against an autocratic regime in Eurasia – and it is not the Russian Federation. “Our interest is not in the ‘liberal order,'” former defense official Elbridge Colby said this month. “It denies China’s hegemony … Disorder in Europe is a problem but pales in comparison.”