One of the most memorable moments from the 2012 election was when President Obama dismissed Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia was the most dangerous threat to America. “The 1980s are calling, and they want their foreign policy back,” he famously quipped during one of the debates.
Obama has been repeatedly roasted for that in recent weeks, given the fact that four years later, with the Democrats losing ground in Congress, and the White House, and possibly more losses ahead, the Russians are suddenly the scourge of the earth. They have been blamed for costing Hillary Clinton the election, by alleging that it was Russian hackers who provided Wikileaks with the information it would then leak in driblets during the last few months of the campaign.
The Russians have also been blamed by those on the left for the new epidemic of ‘fake news,’ which is more aptly described as ‘news and opinion that disagrees with the leftist narrative.’
These charges represent the latest in the offensive against Russia and President Vladamir Putin by the left. Combined with the hatred of Russia from some on the right, and you get a sort of ‘neo-McCarthyism’ in which Russia is the bad guy and thus anyone with the slightest of positive things to say about Russia is possible traitor. Stephen Cohen, professor of Russian Studies at NYU and Princeton, and one of the only mainstream voices preaching common sense, discussed some of this with John Batchelor in a recent podcast. The following is how his description of how institutionalized this ideological stance now is:
Cohen also points out that today’s neo-McCarthyism, unlike its predecessor, is coming mainly from self-professed liberals and their leading media outlets, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and MSNBC, which thereby betray a fundamental democratic principle—protecting, even encouraging, free speech in the form of minority opinions. Democratic Senator Harry Reid, for example, following in McCarthy’s footsteps, insisted that the FBI investigate two of Trump’s American supporters for their alleged “Kremlin ties.” Cohen adds that this is very much an elite project and apparently did Clinton no electoral good. He thinks that a strong editorial in an elite, opinion-shaping newspaper such as the Times, Post, or Wall Street Journal might end the new McCarthyism, but they remain silent, even complicit, while largely banning dissenting opinions about the origins and nature of the new Cold War and featuring only those who blame only “Putin’s Russia.”
For those on the left, the opposition to Putin/Russia is mostly based in the culture war. Consider this quote from Putin, given in a 2013 keynote address:
We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
This is the mindset with which Putin governs Russia. It is an increasingly Christian nation, particularly in comparison to the atheism of communist USSR (which was adored by the left). The Russian Orthodox Church plays a large role in society, and in government, although Russia is officially a secular nation.
Putin is also staunchly anti-abortion, and under his Presidency pro-life forces have risen to prominence. There call to ban abortion has grown louder and louder. Beyond this, there has been a bit of a Putin baby boom, with Russia having a rising fertility rate as opposed to the declining rates seen in much of the West. This runs counter to leftists promotion of postponement of childbearing for women and mindless hedonism, the result of which are birth rates which are now below the rate of replacement in most of the West.
Putin also dislikes the normalization of homosexuality. If you want to organize a Pride Parade in Moscow, you’ll find very little support among the population. Much was made of legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ and huge penalties for exposing children to such propaganda. Indeed, this was behind the denigration of the Sochi Olympic Games by the old media.
In short, not only does Putin oppose the leftist model of culture, he calls such a trend a direct path to degradation. Just as Putin recognizes and fears the spread of this model, the left fears and hates the likes of Putin, because the increase of his, and Russia’s global standing means an increase in the standing of traditional views.
For those on the right, the beef with Russia stems more from Russia being in the way when it comes to Neoconservatives and their Perpetual War Machine, in the advancement of globalism. With respect to Putin, one of the earlier shots across the bow came at the 2007 Munich Security Conference (video below). Putin addressed several world leaders, including warhawk Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, telling them in no uncertain terms that what he saw as an attempt by the United States to create a ‘unipolar world’ in which it was the leader in all aspects of culture, economics and security was creating a far more unstable world.
To the likes of McCain and Lieberman, Putin’s comments might as well have been a declaration of war. You could see the unease they felt as Putin spoke. Fast forward to today, and you can see the continuation of the clash of viewpoints in the Syrian debacle. The United States, continuing its aim to remove all secular dictators from the Middle East set its sights on Syria at the beginning of the decade. The Russians, having seen the mess that was made in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt, decided they didn’t want the same to happen in Syria, an ally and geographically closer than the rest.
This was the landscape which has led to the Syrian civil war, a proxy war with the opposing sides backed by the Russians and Americans. The neocon cohort, led by McCain has been pounding the table for the establishment of a no fly zone over Syria, an action which top generals repeatedly have said would be tantamount to war with Russia. According to the neocons, humanitarian violations were, and continue to be the justification for that increased war effort.
On US television, Putin is regularly referred to as a murderous thug and painted as one of the ultimate villains of World History, up there with the likes of Hitler or Stalin. As Cohen pointed out in his interview, the anti-Russian climate in America is buoyed by the idea that Putin is some sort of war criminal, such that military opposition is justified. Furthermore, to speak positively of Putin in any manner is an outrage.
With both the left and neocon right standing in opposition to Putin/Russia, much of the current political discourse becomes clearer. The old media went to great lengths in blasting Trump during the election for being ‘cozy,’ or ‘friendly’ with Russia, and for his stated aim to get along with the Russians (the horror!). Cohen, now speaking to Democracy Now, articulates this point:
We’re in the most dangerous confrontation with Russia since the Cuban missile crisis. It needs to be discussed. And at the moment, it can’t be discussed because of these charges that everybody is a client of Putin who disagrees with the mainstream opinion. And it’s coming from the Senate. It’s coming from The New York Times. It’s coming from—and I wish we had a second to say what the motives are. But one motive is to keep Trump from going to the White House. Another is to delegitimize him before he gets there. But the main motive—and you can hear it clearly—is Trump has said he wants cooperation with Russia, and the war party here that’s against that is determined to stop it. And the way you do it is level against Putin the kinds of accusations that Mr. Roth uncritically levels, so the rest of us will say we can’t have any cooperations with Putin because he’s a war criminal.
On one hand, you have the neocon warmongers, and on the other the social justice left. And both are singing the same anti-Russian tune. Hillary Clinton was the physical embodiment of this, given she ran her campaign with a severe focus on those leftist issues, while at the same time embracing the neocons on the Russian question. She openly supported the no fly zone, and thus war with Russia.
The American people, in electing Trump, voted against all of that, and Putin understands that. Speaking yesterday, in his end of year press conference, he noted the existence of a substantial part of the electorate which shares sympathies with his line of thinking:
It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.
This is a rather powerful comment. It is a simultaneous dig at both the neocon right (similar views on the world’s organization), and the cultural Marxist left (traditional values being the foundation for positive Russian-American relations).
That both Putin and Trump, two of the most powerful men in the world, are standing on the same side of the issue (that is both men represent nationalism and traditional values over globalism and cultural decay) is potentially an important development in world history. It represents a roadblock against the largely destructive movements of the last 50 years, one which for the first time in my lifetime poses a formidable riposte to those entrenched factions. How it all plays out remains to be seen, but what is certain is that 2017 and beyond will see a lot of history-changing conflict.