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Vladimir Putin is an Evil Man and Conservatives Should Defy Him
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On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell to jubilant applause. Only weeks later, on December 5, 1989, the dam ruptured for good, and protesters flowed through the city of Dresden, leaving the East German and Soviet militaries in disarray.
When the secret police, the Stasi, were overrun by East German protesters, it became evident the people were ousting their communist masters.
In the midst of the chaos, protesters began storming a KGB safe house in East Germany. A short man emerged with a pistol, threatened the crowd, and expelled them. When he asked for help in repelling the mass of people, the Soviet military said they could only crush the protesters if Moscow ordered it; but Moscow was silent.
That man was Vladimir Putin. He hastily helped his coworkers burn all evidence in the KGB office before returning to the imploding country. He later called the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the events he witnessed, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Since ascending to the power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has sought one overarching goal: restore Russia to its Soviet glory and ensure Moscow was never silent again. He’s largely been successful in his endeavors.
He has consolidated all political power around himself, echoing the Soviet tyrants before him. He’s reconstituted a quasi-politburo by ensuring the entire oligarchy is loyal to him. And he’s made sure that the police and military follow the rules of the old KGB, of which he was a member.
In short, Vladimir Putin is the leader of a new evil empire. He has worked to recreate the power structures of the USSR while tossing aside the communist trappings.
A New Global Order
His tactics have been cunning, ruthless, and brutally efficient. A sampling of his methods:
- Attacking, framing, and jailing all political opposition, including Russian World Chess Champion, and political dissident, Garry Kasparov in 2007 (read Kasparov’s account of the events in his book, “Winter is Coming.”).
- Murdering his critics in the media.
- Censoring all forms of speech, including art and museum exhibits, free press, and music.
- Pushing government propaganda on the Russian people and its neighbors.
The list could go on, but the point should be clear: Vladimir has a clear idea of his goals: Create a global order where Russia repels and contains the United States, prevent domestic opposition to his power, and control the countries on his immediate borders.
The major issue for policy makers is how the United States should respond to the despotic Putin police state and protect American allies and interests in the face of a resurgent Russia?
Putin’s goals are anti-American. Conservatives have the answers to stopping him; they only have to reclaim their legacy as cold war warriors.
The Conservative Response to Russia and Putin over the last 25 years
Ever since President Ronald Reagan finished the task of containing and ending the Soviet Empire, conservatives have had to reassess how to deal with Russia – the country that arose from the USSR’s ashes.
The Cold War strategy adopted by conservatives from the Truman-era and forward, that of containment, successfully destroyed the greatest post-WWII enemy of America. The United States stood alone as the only superpower in the world.
How to deal with Russia, the remnant of the USSR? The immediate task fell to George H. W. Bush.
Propping up Yeltsin
He and his successor, Bill Clinton, chose the strategy of propping up the Russian government through monetary aid and political support of the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin. Their view was simple: whatever faults Yeltsin had, and they were many, the vacuum created by a defeated Russia was an untenable scenario.
The United States couldn’t allow the country with the second most powerful nuclear arsenal to become a failed state with no control of what would rise in its place – better the devil you know, than the one you don’t.
The problem was that Yeltsin’s administration was replete with corruption, and his efforts at the “privatization” of all the Soviet state-owned industries created a lawless oligarchy, where a few elites owned the entire economy.
When Vladimir Putin arrived on the scene, he marketed himself as a calming influence that would combat the corruption of the Yeltsin era. All of this gave Putin political justifications to crack down on crime.
Bush allies with Putin in War on Terror
George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin came on the international stage around the same time. Bush’s Presidency and his stance towards Putin was quickly colored by the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
The conservative response to Putin at the time was simple: he was open to aiding America in the war on terror, which made Putin and Russia allies with America for the first time since WWII.
It wasn’t until the end of Bush’s tenure that he began to view Putin and Russia as geopolitical foes, particularly after Putin’s decision to invade Georgia. Barack Obama followed Bush’s blunder by committing the same mistake of trusting Putin and presuming he was somehow more qualified to negotiate with Putin than Bush.
Whatever help the United States gained from Russia on the terrorism front was offset by Russia’s incursions into Georgia, the Ukraine, and cyber attacks on the Baltics.
Obama further empowers Putin
In Obama’s first term, it appeared conservatives learned their lesson on Russia. Mitt Romney’s now prophetic debate answer that Russia was the United States top geopolitical foe was foolishly laughed off by Democrats (a mistake liberals are only now beginning to recognize). Conservatives correctly argued against the liberal position of using appeasement-like policies towards Putin.
Obama thought that if Russia were engaged economically and diplomatically, it would encourage Putin to moderate – he wouldn’t feel threatened and have the need to act tyrannically. It was a fool’s mission.
What happened instead was that Putin faced no retribution for his actions and gained access to something his Soviet predecessors never had, admittance into the Western economic system. The Atlantic notes:
Putin had an advantage the Soviet leadership could never have dreamed of: deep economic and political engagement with the United States and Europe. “But wait,” I hear the so-called pragmatists say, “isn’t economic engagement the best way to improve the Russian standard of living and, eventually, the state of its politics?”
In fact, the opposite happened. As the price of oil skyrocketed over Putin’s first two terms, and industries were consolidated into the hands of his loyalists, the profits of engagement were invested in the security forces and propaganda machine, not liberalization. Russian oligarchs spread their wealth and political influence around the globe; Western companies, notably energy giants like Shell and British Petroleum, returned the favor by investing in Russia.
The real impact of economic engagement was the reverse of the effect its apologists defend: namely the export of corruption from Russia to its “partners” in the free world.
Putin was able to re-establish all of the old USSR powers, with none of the economic sanctions or containment strategies that strangled the Soviet Union. Putin is now the head of a nuclear-armed police state with complete control over the oligarch class and economy in Russia.
His grip over the military and secret police combined with access to Western money has not only made him rich (by some estimates richer than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos – combined) but one of the most powerful dictators in history.
More frightening than anything else, especially for eastern Europe, he’s accomplished all of this with no substantive response from the United States. All the old Cold War strategies and bulwarks that defeated the USSR have been dismantled and forgotten by the succeeding generation – most concerningly of all by conservatives.
Conservatives must defy Putin – using the same tools and strategies we once used in the Cold War
As part of the Super Bowl festivities, Trump gave an interview to Bill O’Reilly, in which he discussed Putin and comparisons to America. FoxNews has the transcript:
O’REILLY: Do you respect Putin?
TRUMP: I do respect him.
O’REILLY: Do you? Why?
TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean I am going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. Will I get along with them? I have no idea.
O’REILLY: He is a killer though. Putin is a killer.
TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?
O’REILLY: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers in America.
TRUMP: Take a look at what we have done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.
O’REILLY: Yes. Mistakes are different then —
TRUMP: A lot of mistakes, okay? But a lot of people were killed. So, a lot of killers around, believe me.
O’Reilly moved to discuss ISIS and other topics. The argument Trump made here was moral equivocation — he claims that America has done bad things, presumably the Iraq War, and that makes us no different than Putin and Russia.
However, there’s a stark difference between America’s war in Iraq, where we liberated a people from a perverse dictator, and Vladimir Putin’s war in Syria, where the Russian military openly targets aid workers and civilians.
America typically aligns itself with a set of principles and beliefs that line up with Western morality and democracy. Putin aligns himself only with those who will further consolidate his power over Russia and former Russian satellite countries.
The United States admits when it makes mistakes. Vladimir Putin lies when he makes a “mistake.” This point is the essence of my previous article on American Exceptionalism. We are exceptional because we try to do better:
America is exceptional, not because it is perfect, but because it keeps trying to be better. The seeds inherent in our country allow us to achieve exceptionalism.
The assumption at the Founding was not that America was perfect, but that it could become more than the sum of its parts. We are the grand experiment upon which all other modern free countries base themselves.
Putin’s police state, as I’ve argued previously, contains the same seeds of destruction that doomed the Soviet Union. The corruption, abuses, and attacks on his people make him a threat to Russia, the region, and the number one geopolitical foe of America.
Strengthening sanctions on the Russians, which Congress and the President have agreed to do, is the first step in the right direction. Sanctions help create the containment strategy that worked during the Cold War.
The reasons for opposing Putin should be clear: he is openly launching cyber attacks on the U.S. government, private citizens, and the American economy. He tried to join forces with China in 2008 to sink the American economy further.
And this doesn’t include the long list of abuses he’s committed in Syria and against the Russian people.
Capitulating towards Putin will not change him or his behavior
While some may consider Trump’s desire to work with Putin admirable, it’s a mistake. It’s ironically the same mistake George W. Bush and Barack Obama made; they believed that they were somehow better equipped than predecessors to deal with Vladimir Putin. They were wrong.
Trump is wrong for the same reason — not because he’s not prepared to work with other leaders, but because Vladimir Putin will not change and cannot be trusted.
Listening to American politicians talk about how they can somehow magically work with foreign leaders like Putin, unlike predecessors, is like listening to a battered woman explain how this relationship is somehow different. It’s not. It never is.
Vladimir Putin is the Scorpion who stings the Frog while crossing the river. He does it because that’s who he is, not because there’s some fault with the frog, or America, or the world.
Vladimir Putin attacks the United States not because of our foreign policy, but because he views the U.S. as a geopolitical threat to Russia. There is no policy the United States could adopt that would cause him to alter his worldview.
The more American leadership capitulates to Putin, the more he will take. There’s no magic line where he’ll suddenly exclaim, “You’ve given enough in our relationship, I’ll change now.”
The only way America will thwart Putin’s ambitions in Russia is through strength, containment, and resolve — the same values that won the Cold War.
America must stand up to Putin, limit his resources through sanctions, cut off his income streams, and starve out his corrupt empire.
Ronald Reagan understood these principles, as did Presidents and military officials before him. Conservatives need to remember the Cold War lessons that allowed us to defeat communism. Those experiences will help us defeat our number one geopolitical foe now and establish a safer future.
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