False Friend– The Putin love-in. 47gh.,b12-3
After Marco Rubio grilled Rex Tillerson at his confirmation hearings about the secretary of state nominee’s refusal to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal, Trump’s Twitter legion attacked the Republican senator. High-profile Trump supporters mocked Rubio, sometimes crudely, with some followers insisting that if the Russian president is a war criminal, Barack Obama is too.
Yet, speaking to rank-and-file Trump supporters online, it is easy to believe that the pro-Putin sentiment is real: Many praise Putin as a strong leader and a potential ally against radical Islamism.
Trump himself, of course, is notorious for speaking warmly of Putin—”a leader, far more than our president has been a leader”—and downplaying his crimes. “Our country does plenty of killing also,” was his response in late 2015 to the observation that Putin is regularly accused of ordering the murders of journalists and political opponents. Some prominent pro-Trump conservatives have joined the bandwagon as well.
After Trump came under fire for praising Putin’s leadership in September, a number of radio talk show hosts and other pundits spoke up on his behalf. Hugh Hewitt explained that although Putin may be “an evil man,” he has “served his country’s national interest better” than Obama has. Dinesh D’Souza tweeted, “What [Trump] admires about Putin is the way Putin—unlike someone else we know—LOVES his country & FIGHTS for its interests.” On the Breit-bart News Daily radio show, retired Navy SEAL and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince described Putin as a “large and in charge” leader who had “at least tried to direct the country”—and with whom we can work against “a common enemy . . . Islamic fascism.”
To be fair, the Putin love-in on the right did not start with Trump. For well over a decade, there has been a contingent of paleoconservative/libertarian Friends of Vladimir, from veteran culture warrior Patrick Buchanan to former congressman Ron Paul. Sometimes, these contrarian views were motivated by dislike of U.S. interventionism, which these critics saw Russia containing; sometimes, by cultural traditionalism, with post-Soviet, Putin-era Russia idealized as a champion of Christianity and morality against the secularized liberal West.
Trump’s ascent unquestionably made mainstream a more positive view of Putin in conservative ranks. Meanwhile, the rise of the Islamic State and Putin’s self-positioning as its nemesis has led to talk of Russia as a valuable partner in combating jihadism, a notion shared by Trump’s incoming national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn and senior adviser Stephen Bannon (both of whom, it should be noted, have also been highly critical of the Putin regime).
As Max Boot has pointed out in the Los Angeles Times, both Russia’s GDP and Russians’ incomes have been suffering a sharp decline; the GDP drop from 2013 to 2015 was a staggering 40 percent.
Nor is Putin a champion of religion, unless “religion” means a Russian Orthodox church hierarchy subservient to the state and ruled mainly by former KGB stooges. Orthodox clerics who have spoken out against the church leadership’s cozy relationship with the Kremlin or urged a full accounting of its Soviet-era service to the atheistic regime have been muzzled and defrocked. And Putin-era regulations have hobbled minority faiths. Last fall, American Baptist preacher Donald Ossewaarde, who had lived and worked in the Russian town of Oryol, was convicted of violating regulations on evangelism by hosting a prayer and Bible study group in his home and promoting it with flyers.
The praise for Putin’s toughness toward radical Islam is even more incongruous, given Russia’s role as Iran’s chief ally and enabler. The actual record of Russia’s military intervention in Syria leaves little doubt that Putin’s interest is in propping up Bashar al-Assad, not fighting ISIS. It is also worth noting that Russia is home to the only actual sharia state in Europe: Chechnya, whose president, close Putin associate Ramzan Kadyrov—granted virtually unlimited power in exchange for loyalty to the Kremlin—has imposed Islamic dress codes and publicly condoned polygamy, honor killings, and murder of blasphemers.
Proponents of conservative-style détente often point out that modern-day Russia is not the Soviet Union, armed with an ideology that regards the capitalist West as the enemy. True. Yet especially in the last decade, Putin has actively sought to bolster his rule by giving it an ideological foundation explicitly hostile to free societies. This pseudo-conservative ideology positions Russia as the vanguard of what one might call an “illiberal international”: opposition to European- and American-style liberal democracy rooted in individual rights and limited government.
What disastrous legacy will friendship with Putin’s Russia leave decades from now?
source–weekly std, cathy young, hugh hewitt, dinesh d’souza, breitbart, erik prince, donald ossewaarde, ramzan kadyrox