The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush on Putin: Mad about Vlad
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: ”Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, ”He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
The leadership of Stop The War find themselves in agreement with someone called Hitchens…
Lindsey German 02 March 2014. Posted in News at the Stop The War website:
The situation in Ukraine and the Crimea is developing into a new cold war, says Lindsey German, and the rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
- Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture. At the end of the Cold War, as agreed with the western powers, Russia disbanded the Warsaw Pact, its military alliance. But the United States and NATO broke their word to Russia, by adding most of Eastern Europe and the Balkan states to their own military alliance, and by building military bases along Russia’s southern border. Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and NATO have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’. In military expenditure, the US and its NATO allies outspend and outgun the Russian state many times over.
- The war in Afghanistan, now in its thirteenth year, was fought after the West lost control of its erstwhile Taliban allies, who the US had supported in order to bring down a pro-Russian regime.
- US secretary of state John Kerry has made strong statements condemning Russia, and British prime minister David Cameron has argued against intervention and for national sovereignty. No one should take lessons from people who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and bombed Libya. Last year, these war makers wanted to launch their fourth major military intervention in a decade, this time against Syria. They were only stopped from doing so by the unprecedented vote against military action in parliament, with MPs undoubtedly influenced by the widespread anti-war sentiment amongst the British public. Nor should we place any value on concerns for national sovereignty and international law expressed by people like Obama and Kerry, who launch illegal drone attacks against civilians in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and beyond.
- United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s statement that Russia is threatening the peace and security of Europe ignores a number of questions, such as the role of western imperialism in the region — including direct intervention in the formation of the latest Ukrainian government — and the role of fascists and far right parties in Kiev and elsewhere in the country. As in all these situations, we need to look at the background to what is going on.
- The European Union is not an impartial observer in this. It too has extended its membership among the east European states, expressly on the basis of a privatising, neoliberal agenda which is closely allied to NATO expansion. Its Member State foreign ministers, and its special representative Baroness Ashton, have directly intervened, seeking to tie Ukraine to the EU by an agreement of association. When this was abandoned by the former president Yanukovich, the EU backed his removal and helped put in place a new government which agreed to EU aims.
- The United States is centrally involved. It oversaw the removal of Yanukovich, and its neocons are desperately trying to develop an excuse for war with the Russians. Neocon former presidential candidate John McCain visited Ukraine and addressed the demonstrations in Kiev. As did Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the US state department. Nuland is most famous for her recently leaked phone conversation about micromanaging regime change in Ukraine, in which she declared ‘fuck the EU.’ Her husband is neocon Robert Kagan, who was co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, the ideological parent of the Bush/Blair war on Iraq.
- The talk of democracy from the west hides support for far right and fascist forces in the Ukraine. They have a direct lineage from the collaborators with the Nazis from 1941 onwards who were responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Jewish sources in Ukraine today express fear at the far right gangs patrolling the streets attacking racial minorities. Yet the western media has remained all but silent about these curious EU allies.
- The historical divisions within Ukraine are complex and difficult to overcome. But it is clear that many Russian speakers, there and in the Crimea, do not oppose Russia. These countries have the right to independence, but the nature of that independence is clearly highly contested. There is also the reality of potential civil war between east and west Ukraine. The very deep divisions will only be exacerbated by war.
- Those who demand anti-war activity here in Britain against Russia are ignoring the history and the present reality in Ukraine and Crimea. The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government’s role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to.
- The crisis in Ukraine has much to do with the situation in Syria, where major powers are intervening in the civil war. The defeat for intervention last year has infuriated the neocons. They are determined to start new wars. After the US failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the neocons are looking for a defeat of Russia over Ukraine, and by extension, China too. The situation is developing into a new cold war. The rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
Source: Stop the War Coalition
PUTIN: HANDS OFF UKRAINE!
‘The Stop the War Coalition opposes imperialist interventions wherever they occur, and by whatever government carries them out. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti war opinion in Britain and throughout the world. That tide of anti war opinion has made itself felt in the past few days. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Ukraine and call upon President Putin to to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty. We will demonstrate on Saturday against this intervention. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that Putin is forced to abandon the attack on Ukraine now that the country with which Russia is supposed to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ has carried out an exercise in national self-determination.’
[NB: if it's not obvious...ONLY JOKING!]
Assad’s friends and supporters on the Stalinist and semi-Stalinist “left” have had little - in most cases nothing – to say about the report accusing his regime of the “systematic killing,” with photographic evidence of torture and starvation, of about 11,000 detainees.
When the Guardian and CNN broke the story on Wednesday, they made no secret of the fact that the report had been commissioned by the government of Qatar, which of course backs the rebels: I expected Assad’s western supporters and apologists to use this to attack the report’s credibility, even though the three authors are all former war crimes prosecutors with impeccable records, and their main source, “Caesar” provided photographic evidence that experts have pronounced genuine beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, Assad’s UK supporters – the Morning Star, and the so-called ’Stop The War Coalition’ - have said simply nothing. One would like to think this was the result of embarrassment and shame. But these people know no shame. The truth is, they simply don’t care, and are betting on their man eventually winning. One doesn’t have to harbour illusions in the rebels (we at Shiraz certainly don’t) to be revolted by the degeneracy of a “left” that can give de facto support to this butcher, and turn a blind eye to killing and torture on an industrial scale.
One exception is the unabashed Assad supporter John Wight over at the miss-named Socialist Unity blog: this preposterous male model, jew-baiter and failed bit-part actor makes no secret of his panting, Gallowayesque admiration for tyrants and strong-men, and wallows in his world of conspiracy-theories. But at least (unlike his gaffer Nooman) he makes no secret of his love for the mass-murderer Assad, and – against all the evidence – simply refuses to accept the findings of the report.
Doing ‘la quenelle’: Nicolas Anelka (R) with his friend Dieudonne
Of course! Footballer Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture (described by some as a “reverse Nazi salute”) isn’t antisemitic at all: it’s “anti-Zionist“! How stupid of all of us who assumed the worst, just because it’s the signature gesture of French comedian (and friend of Anelka’s), Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose hilarious anti-Zionist jokes about the holocaust have been misunderstood as somehow antisemitic.
By the way, if you don’t buy the line that la quenelle is “anti-Zionist” (as distinct from “antisemitic”), then the alternative explanation is that it’s “anti-establishment.” Either way, West Brom’s caretaker manager Keith Downing has stated that Anelka’s gersture “has nothing to do with what is being said. It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very well. I think speculation can be stopped now, it is rubbish really. He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it.”
So let that be an end to the matter…
…unless you’re one of those humourless zealots determined to see racism everywhere, in which case you may want to let West Bromwich FC know what you think about Anelka’s gesture and Downing’s reaction.
Above: “Posh Boy” Milne
This is becoming worrying; I’m agreeing more and more with the Pabloite revisionist Coates (who’s just posted this about the public school Stalinist and friend of clerical fascism, Milne ):
In 2004 Seamus Milne, an editor at the Guardian wrote,
It is the insurgent spirit of political Islam, however, that has brought the issue of how progressive movements should relate to religion to a head. Modern Islamism has flourished on the back of the failures of the left and secular nationalists in the Muslim world and has increasingly drawn its support from the poor and marginalised.
In 2008 he developed this theme,
Just as the French republican tradition of liberation came to be used as a stick to beat Muslims in a completely different social context from which it emerged, so the militant secularists who fetishise metaphysics and cosmology as a reason to declare the religious beyond the liberal pale are now ending up as apologists for western supremacism and violence. Like nationalism, religion can play a reactionary or a progressive role, and the struggle is now within it, not against it. For the future, it can be an ally of radical change.
In this spirit Milne, who has a problem with French republicanism and secularism, wrote in 2011,
“The once savagely repressed progressive Islamist party An-Nahda (which) won the Tunisian elections this week on a platform of pluralist democracy, social justice and national independence.”
Few would now describe the conservative, anti-secular, pro-free market Islamists of Ennahda as progressive”.
But Milne has not given up.
Woolwich attack: If the whole world’s a battlefield, that holds in Woolwich as well as Waziristan
Denying a link between western wars in the Muslim world and the backlash on our streets only fuels Islamophobia and bloodshed
“Leave our lands and you can live in peace,” the London-born Muslim convert told bystanders. The message couldn’t be clearer. It was the same delivered by the 2005 London bomber, Mohammed Siddique Khan, and the Iraqi 2007 Glasgow attacker, Bilal Abdullah, who declared: “I wanted the public to have a taste” of what its government of “murderers did to my people”.
To say these attacks are about “foreign policy” prettifies the reality. They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the wilfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.
Mainstream Islamic teaching supports the right to resist foreign occupation, while rejecting violence against non-combatants or outside the battlefield. But it is the US and its closest allies in the war on terror who have declared the whole world to be a battlefield, in which they claim the right to kill whoever they deem to be a threat.
Nobody on the left would make excuses for the actions of the US and its allies in attempting to impose their ideas and power on the rest of the world, least of all their violent methods.
But is this what is at stake here?
Milne complains about the reaction to what he admits was a brutal murder.
What on earth would he have expected in any country in the world?
And is it just foreign policy that motivated these killers?
This is a report of Michael Adebolajo’s speech at Harrow Central Mosque in 2009.
Wearing a white skull cap and a traditional black Islamic robe, he says: ‘You are here only to please Allah. You aren’t here for any other reason.’
The demonstration was organised in response to a nearby protest by the English Defence League and a group called Stop the Islamisation of Europe.
During the 80-second clip, Adebolajo says that the Prophet Muhammad fought against ‘way worse’ opposition.
‘They are pigs,’ he shouts. ‘Allah says they are worse than cattle. Do not be scared of them. And do not turn your back to them. Don’t be scared of them, or police, or the cameras.’
A witness at the rally said of Adebolajo’s address: ‘After the speech some of them started running around. An imam even came out at one stage and told the hotheads to calm down and get inside the mosque, saying that they should be praying.
So the “filthy non-believers” are also a problem.
But Milne disregards evidence of pure religious hate, and tries to give a political lesson on foreign policy without considering that this loathing has its own ideological causes.
He focuses on Western actions,
They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the wilfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.
It goes without saying that this is a feeble explanation for the violent atrocities taking place every day in Syria, the sectarian violence in “Muslim countries”, and the murders of Africans, Christians and Muslims, by Islamists.
When will Milne ever admit that Islamism is a problem in itself?
It is clear in fights over these (“Muslim”) countries the poor and marginalised are the victims of Islamists
That, in conclusion, it is the duty of progressives, that is, the Left, to fight Islamism.
The whole world is indeed a battlefield, and Milne is not on the right side.
At first it looked as though we were shouting into the wilderness: a few blogs (including us at Shiraz) drew attention to the outrage, and a small demonstration took place; just 8,000 people signed an online petition. It looked as though Universities UK (UUK) would get away with one of the most outrageous and craven capitulations to religious bigotry and misogyny in recent years: their so-called “guidelines” sanctioning gender segregation in UK universities.
Then the issue seemed to take off. To his credit, Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna declared that a Labour government would outlaw gender segregation at universities, and – belatedly – Cameron intervened, issuing a statement against segregation, and UUK backed down and withdrew its “guidance.”
A truly wretched and shameful performance by UUK’s Nicola Dandridge on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme in which she stated that gender segregation was “not completely alien to our culture,” may well have been crucial. Listeners were outraged, especially when, in the same programme, one Saleem Chagtai of the so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy, claimed (under questioning from the excellent Mishal Husain) that “psychological studies” had shown that men and women were “more comfortable” when seated apart, and that “wanton depictions of women” were not allowed by his organisation.
In a ignominious climb-down, UUK has now withdrawn its guidance and says it will be seeking advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which has already indicated that UUK’s “guidance” is almost certainly illegal). In our opinion, Nicola Dandridge should now be considering her position.
But we should also remember that the left-controlled National Union of Students supported the UUK “guidance” and that the SWP has helped organise and then defended, gender-segregated meetings. There was a time when the left would be at the forefront in defending secular, enlightenment values. But no longer: cultural relativism and “identity” politics infected sections of the “left” and the Guardianista “liberal”-”left” some years ago, and they are now, all too often, on the wrong side. But our defeat of UUK shows that cultural relativism can be beaten; our immediate and most dangerous enemies are not the clerical fascists themselves, but their “left”/”liberal” appeasers, of the Guardianista / SWP variety.
The fight-back begins here!
Lest we forget.
David Cameron was a member of the Federation of Conservative Students when they published this on posters and T-shirts:
And here‘s an attempt to defend of Cameron over this shameful business. But even the apologists can’t get round the simple fact that Cameron was a member of the FCS when the poster was published in the 1980s - and, of course Thatcher repeatedly called Mandela a “terrorist” at that time.
Cameron the shameless, eh?
Above: Michael Coren exposes himself as a stupid bigot, even in this friendly interview
Standpoint magazine, a publication supposedly dedicated to enlightenment values, seems to be increasingly in thrall to religion – or at least to Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. The mag maintains a hostility to Islam that I would describe as “healthy” but for the evident fact that it takes such a sympathetic line on other religions.
Last month’s edition carried a particularly crude and self-righteous attack on Richard Dawkins, penned by one Michael Coren (billed by Standpoint as “a broadcaster and columnist in Canada”). A clue as to where Mr Coren was, so to speak, coming from, might have been picked up from his comments about Catholic child abuse (involving “at most 3 per cent of clergy” and “the vast majority of cases were in the past”) as well as his approving reference to a particularly silly quote from the Catholic fake-”Marxist” Terry Eagleton. Oh, go on then: read it for yourself here.
Matters were made worse by the fact that the magazine (as part of its regular “Overrated … underrated” feature, compared Dawkins unfavourably to the egregiously overrated misanthrope and ontonologist, C.S. Lewis.
I intended to write in, mainly to point out Lewis’ grotesquely inflated reputation and all-round unpleasantness, but of course didn’t find the time. The eulogy to Lewis remains unanswered, but I’m pleased to note that at least two Standpoint readers have rallied to the defence of Dawkins and their excellent letters are worth reproducing here (especially as they don’t appear on the mag’s website):
Michael Coren’s foam-flecked hatchet-job on Richard Dawkins (Overrated, November) is one of the most singular examples of the pot calling the kettle black that I can ever recall reading.
He castigates Dawkins for having “this selfish, perhaps genetic, need to be noticed.” This is rich coming from a notoriously abrasive, attention-seeking controversialist who has regularly appeared on shouty talk shows on North American television such as Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions.
Having sneered at Dawkins for having “suburban” views, he proceeds to accuse him of being “snobbish”, albeit in a context which suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of the word.
He claims that Dawkins would be anonymous were it not for his “ostentatious” atheism. His own Catholicism, as expressed in books entitled Why Catholics are Right and Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, is no less ostentatious. Dawkins’ followers, he alleges, often act in a “cult-like manner”. What is the Catholic Church if it is not a cult? (OED: “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object”.)
Dawkins, he further alleges, “is a man happy to silence those with ehom he disagrees”. Has no pontiff ever done this?
If Coren doesn’t enjoy the experience of being “ridiculed with contempt” by the likes of Dawkins, the remedy is in his own hands: he can refrain from slash-and-burn polemics in trying to defend the indefensible.
Martin Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
So for Richard Dawkins to expect that the prevalence of abusers in the Catholic clergy might be less than 3 per cent was for him to operate with a “deeply flawed premise”.
I am sure that Dawkins will have no difficulty in lowering his future expectation so that it more accurately reflects the empirical evidence. And he might do so even though “the vast majority of cases were in the past” because it is not as if they could be anywhere else.
However, for my own part, I think I shall abstain from expecting that an Emeritus Fellow and retired Professor for Public Understanding of Science be at the “cutting edge” of evolutionary biology. I would not wish to incorporate a false premise into my own arguments.
R. Thomas, Newcastle upon Tyne