Russia and the Rights of Man

Vladimir Putin isn’t a czar. He isn’t a comrade. He isn’t a president. He’s like an old-time Pharaoh, an evil king, killing people deliberately to prove his power. Putin isn’t a westerner, a civilized person. He belongs with the tribal warlords, whose power rests on a foundation of propaganda and fear.

Putin should not be likened to Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s ideology was popular. Hitler expostulated Nazism so effectively that the whole German population fervently rallied around its aims. That rally at Nuremberg.

Far from being enthusiastically behind Putin, Russians are cowed. They are quiescent because they’ve seen activists like Navalny be jailed, beaten and poisoned. Russians have seen bad times and Putin has conditioned them to accept future suffering. They don’t want trouble. Ordinary people trust Putin’s explanations; they see his authoritarianism as a necessity. For years, the Russian population has heard only a steady diet of lies.

Putin himself is a coward, so he conscripts younger countrymen to go to Ukraine to commit war crimes for him. His people go because they are ignorant of what Putin is really doing to Russia’s “brother country,” Ukraine. Russians can’t believe their president would bomb a theater filled with Ukrainian women and children, that he would order the bombing of kindergartens and maternity hospitals, that he would murder pregnant women or shell innocent civilians running for their lives.

Putin is sending Russian soldiers to Ukraine without adequate food, fuel, or strategies. His troops are ignorant of the truth. When they encounter the gross reality of the Russian “special operation” in Ukraine, Russian soldiers are surrendering. They are deserting. They disregard orders. They leave behind their equipment. They have even reportedly shot down Russian planes from the sky.

No one has the nerve to oppose or force Putin out, so they go along with his damned course; they lick his boots and lie. Fortune reports that Russian troops positioned around Chernobyl have run roughshod over the radioactive site, raising the chance of their health being gravely impaired during their month-long occupation. The military mediocrity that such episodes reveal is astonishing.

Yet, the “free world” appears dangerously disadvantaged. It adheres to conventions. Decent democrats seem powerless in the face of Russia’s evil. Yet, for all that, the freedom that the rule of law brings is suddenly all the more precious (and empowering to Ukraine). Russia, once eager to be at the forefront of all nations, has fallen behind–economically, intellectually, and militarily. Its condition is provincial and static, because Putin’s regime depends on a closed society, where citizens have little access to news or information technology.

Having rejected the natural rights philosophy that undergirds representative governments in the West, Putin’s Russia is on a downward trajectory. Clearly not Western, it ever more nearly resembles benighted North Korea.

No wonder every decent American feels and thinks what President Biden had the guts and decency to say of Putin aloud: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Image: from this source.


GIVE TO THE WRITERS’ FUND AT AMERICAN INQUIRY

The newly created Writers’ Fund at American Inquiry augments the compensation this platform can offer contributing writers. Every dollar you give, net processing fees, advances this year’s goal of raising $4,500 for the Fund. Contribute in any $10 increment by clicking the quantity button. Your total will appear on the subsequent payment page. Many thanks!

$10.00

The Storm; Or, Putin’s Race To The Bottom

Chromolithograph showing Cupid and Psyche fleeing from an approaching storm (War).

Outside, rain is falling, and all America is waking to the news that Vladimir Putin is sending troops into sovereign Ukraine, having concocted an excuse that the world is too savvy to believe. It’s a deadly serious day for Ukraine, which has been moving fitfully toward genuine self-government.  For Americans, the challenge is to disregard the media hype Putin is deliberately stoking and to see his aggression as the desperate, go-for-broke gesture that it is.  If Americans start thinking that Ukraine is our fight, we fall into a trap that proves Putin’s point.

Putin can’t tolerate the shape of the post-Soviet world.  Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, many of Russia’s former satellite states have gotten used to being self-governing.  They enjoy more autonomy; their citizens have more civic and economic freedom.  Do they want to end up under Russia’s thumb again?  No.

Inside Russia, Putin struggles to turn back the clock politically, cracking down on pro-democracy NGOs and on opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny.  Navalny enraged Putin by exposing how Putin’s United Russia party enriches itself at the people’s expense, famously branding it “a party of crooks and thieves.”  Despite having all the resources of the Russian state at his disposal, Putin can’t tolerate Navalny’s inconvenient truths.  For the past several years, Putin has gone to grotesque lengths to torment Navalny, going so far as to order the KGB to attempt Navalny’s assassination by putting a Soviet-era nerve agent in his underpants.  At this point, Navalny’s death (the poor man remains imprisoned) would likely undermine Putin’s already doubtful popularity, just as the latter seeks re-election, in hopes of remaining president for 12 more years.

Russia is shrinking all over, thanks to Putin’s crooked and cowardly authoritarian rule.  He chose to turn the nation toward oligarchy and repression, instead of being “a river to his people” and empowering them to become creative, healthy, and autonomous.  Russia’s economy is based on the export of oil and natural gas, a narrow base of support for the nation’s population of 144 million people, a population that’s shrinking dramatically and is estimated to have lost nearly a million people in the last year alone.

Russia’s global prestige derives mainly from its military might, but this comes at a high social cost.  Its military comprises some 900,000 personnel.  A war in Ukraine will have require significant manpower, imposing a heavy burden on Russian families.  The population of Russian men aged 20 to 34 is estimated to have been just 14.25 million in 2020.  Russia’s failure to pacify the Donbass region, echoing the Soviet Union’s failure to prevail in its 9-year war of agression in Afghanistan in the 1980s, testifies to how limited Russia’s concrete military successes have been.  Some observers have noted that, when true crises call for a demonstration of leadership, Putin tends to disappear from view.  His decision to send troops into Ukraine will further burden the Russian people and continue to hamstring the Russian economy.

All this needs to be kept in mind as American journalists compare Putin to Hitler and carelessly compare the current moment to WWII.  Russia in 2022 is not Germany in 1939; Putin is not Hitler.  Russian sentiment is not mobilized around the unwarranted aggression against Ukraine that Putin is bent on.  Putin is using a very tired playbook from earlier times, largely because he doesn’t have what it takes to keep his once pre-eminent nation from sliding down to a secondary position in a changing world.

Image: from this source.

Mr Mueller and the Central Crime

Period drawing of puppet-master (putin) and his puppet characters (the Trumps)

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

Such were the parting words of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, as he announced the end of the so-called Russia investigation.  Since the bulk of his team’s report was released to the press and public on April 18th, its central allegation regarding Russia’s infiltration of American media and politics has attracted much less attention than the unsatisfyingly big questions Mueller’s investigation leaves.  “What did Trump have to do with it?” and “Can’t Congress impeach him?” continue to be uppermost in many American minds.

Will Democrats raise their sights and train them on protecting American politics and media from foreign infiltration?  Will they accept the paradoxical truth that, because impeachment is politically impossible, they must channel all their energies into having a “clean” election in 2020 and defeating Trump unequivocally at the polls?

As if Trump were the only president fishy shenanigans aided!  In the end, his election resulted from an ordinary electoral majority, notwithstanding all the dubious preliminaries.  This distinguishes his victory from other, more dubious outcomes such as Bush v. Gore (2000), Hayes v. Tilden (1876), and Adams v. Jackson (1824).  In those cases, the winners gained office only after strenuous post-election day maneuvering.  Given the power of the presidential office, every flaw and vulnerability in our manner of presidential selection should be boosted to the top of our political agenda and eliminated.

Mr Mueller’s remarks were peppered with finality.  Calling the report that bears his name “his testimony,” he expressed unwillingness to comment further on matters involved in the investigation, declaring flatly, “we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.”  No hypotheticals.  For those looking to prove that President Trump is a criminal, no further help can be expected from Mr. Mueller.  What hope is there that American officials will instead turn their attention to the central crime he found?

I . . . close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments: That there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

 

A Legitimately Elected President

Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Michele Obama, and Jill Biden among dignitaries on inauguration dias.
The conclusion of the Mueller investigation presents leading Democrats with a fateful choice: whether to continue digging into the past in hopes of hobbling or delegitimizing Trump’s presidency, or to concentrate on the present and the future, when all their ingenuity will be needed to beat Trump and deny him a second term.

Though the latter would be better for the party and nation, turning away from the special investigation requires fortitude.  The Mueller report hasn’t been made public, and the pundits and pols who are against Trump aren’t satisfied with Attorney General William Barr’s disclosures and conclusions.  The Democrats want more information.  This desire, as reasonable as it is, distinguishes them from the mass of American citizens who are really tired of this subtle affair and who are dying for evidence that the government is still capable of . . . . GOVERNING.

If the Democrats want someone new in the White House in 2020, they need to persuade voters that their nominee and their vision will be better for the nation than what Trump offers.  Yet they are so far from presenting this impression that one can scarcely imagine their unifying around a tenable candidate and winning.

Democrats are procrastinating.  They are shirking the hard work that follows from acknowledging that Trump won office legitimately.  He enjoys an authority that is foolish to argue with: In 2016, he understood the rules of the electoral game and exploited them more effectively than did Hillary Clinton.  He won the electoral votes he needed by persuading enough citizens to go to the polls and vote for him in key states.  Two years later, most of the president’s opponents have yet to reckon with this reality, even though any political strategy leading to Trump’s defeat must be designed with this geography in mind.  To defeat Trump, Democrats must peel away moderate and independent voters in states fed up with stale Democratic memes.  The Dems face an uphill battle, even with teamwork, ideological innovation, and the right nominee.

And where is Democratic rage when it comes to the real bogeyman, Russia–the real villain who prejudiced American voters against Hillary by waging a campaign of misinformation, who smeared her and deployed assets to promote Trump, a candidate who, for various reasons, Russia wanted instead?  What is Congress doing to ensure that foreign nations don’t infiltrate and corrupt American political discourse in the future?

While real danger looms over American democracy, one wonders whether the Democrats will ever look up from their game of Clue and do something.

Image: Screen shot of leading Democrats attending Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
© 2019 American Inguiry

Russia’s Patsy

What Americans know without further investigation is that their president is a fool.  President Trump is a laughingstock in the eyes of global sophisticates and rival nations.  His vanity and naiveté combine to keep him from realizing how ridiculous he is.

What we know about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign is that Russians wanted to see if they could manipulate Trump and his people and found that they could.

Donald Trump is all the more a patsy if his protestations of innocence are true.  Given his vanity, he could well have failed to recognize how blatantly the Russians were playing his team.  He has yet to acknowledge the wrong he committed in surrounding himself with people willing to serve parochial or rival interests rather than those of the United States.  Whether Trump colluded with Putin’s hirelings has yet to be established, but, by leaving the nation open to a sort of embarrassment that amounts to a dangerous vulnerability, Donald T. Rump showed a gross incompetence that is incontrovertible.

What prompted Trump to select Michael Flynn, as his national security advisor?  Flynn was an embittered army general intent on getting even with the US by selling his services to dubious foreign clients.  Even after the acting head of the Justice Department warned Trump that the Russians could manipulate Flynn by threatening him with exposure, Trump postponed Flynn’s dismissal, leaving him in a highly privileged position for nearly a month.  Trump’s stubborn loyalty to a man who mattered far less than our security interests must have filled the Russian establishment with glee.  While the president ingenuously bragged to high-ranking Russians about the quality of American intel, their compatriots were probably busy hacking the NSA.

Which is worse: having a grandiose bumbler in the White House instead of a person who, as the Founders intended, represents the best of America; or knowing that the President is incapable of serving the nation in accordance with his oath?

Image: Screen shot of Russian officials laughing,
as Putin jokes at the Americans’ expense (May 2017).