Paid to Hate Putin

It seems that National Review Editor Rich Lowry never tires of carrying water for the sponsors of his magazine, whether it’s the high-tech giants who help pay his gargantuan salary, or his neoconservative donors, whom he also faithfully serves. Most recently he honored his patrons with a dutiful denunciation of Russian President Vladmir Putin entitled “Vladimir Putin Shouldn’t Be a Right-Wing Hero,” in which he offers this gem:

In recent years, there’s been a reversal in which Democrats who were consistently soft on Russia from the Cold War to Hillary Clinton’s attempted reset have become, at least rhetorically, much tougher-minded about Moscow, whereas elements of the American Right that once were the fiercest Cold Warriors have warmed up to Russia as Putin has grounded his autocracy in religion and social conservatism.

What Lowry fails to see, however, is that the changed attitude among those who were once the “fiercest Cold Warriors” battling Communist Russia is entirely understandable. Most of those on the right who opposed Soviet Communism felt sympathy for the Russian people and traditional Russian culture. In contrast to the zealots on the left who in their fevered imaginations are still fighting Nazi Germany, onetime anti-Communists opposed not a nation but a pernicious ideology. Thus, many anti-Communists of yesteryear quickly changed their attitude toward Russia once its post-Soviet leader turned out to be a man of the right.

Lowry goes through the usual litany of charges against Putin, some of which may be true even if they seem lifted from The New York Times or from the war party at Fox News. For all the charges leveled against the Russian strongman, however, there seems to be considerable evidence that Putin saved his country from dismemberment after Boris Yeltsin’s disastrous rule in the 1990s.

But let us say arguendo that Putin is a ruthless Russian nationalist, who is trying to reconstruct most of the former Soviet Empire and who hopes to take over Eastern Ukraine, which has a sizable Russian minority. Geopolitical differences would clearly divide Putin and what Washington perceives as American interests. The question then becomes how far the U.S. should push back. From Lowry’s tone, it seems that we should be doing something really big to put “one of the world’s most cynical and dangerous men” in his place. Can we ever be excessive in dealing with such a putative monster, whom Lowry evokes in terms that would be more appropriate for describing Hitler or Stalin?

But Lowry’s exercise in superlatives is not necessarily intended to get us to declare war on Russia. It’s meant to underline his contempt for “the sources of Putin’s appeal” in this country, namely “populists from Pat Buchanan to Tucker Carlson.” Although this conglomeration of deplorables is allegedly quite large, Lowry reveals only two of its most visible members. Unlike his erstwhile bud at National Review, David Frum, who in 2003 called out the paleoconservatives by name as “unpatriotic conservatives,” Lowry has no desire to mention the unmentionables (namely readers of Chronicles and other likeminded publications and people); and so, he lists for our benefit only two baddies: Tucker and Buchanan. But he does believe there is a huge crowd out there who envy Putin’s “pushback against fashionable progressive causes and his alliance with the Russian church to form a bulwark in favor of traditional values and Western civilization.”

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