Yesterday, I dedicated a post to an old friend and referred to him as "brainwashed by decades of Fox, Hate Talk Radio and the Florida sun." What brought it on was a note ehe had sent me in the morning, asking me to watch this insidiously deceitful video of Tucker Carlson, which is pure Kremlin propaganda. He wrote "Hey Howie, a friend of mine (a Russian who is pro Putin), sent me this. I know you hate Fox News, but this is not a politically slanted video. Tucker Carleton exposed the government lying about having bio labs in the Ukraine. He did so using publicly available information (which I checked out myself), it's all true. You really need to watch this, I watch all news sources, I even read RT news to see the Russian propaganda machine. I was really surprised by this, Tucker Carelson goes through a lot of proof on US sites and from recent senate hearings etc. Tell me what you think, again, this isn't Republican vs Democrat here."
I sent him a lot of information showing him that Carlson is a shill for Russia and Putin and that this particular story is a Russian propaganda initiative and I spent a lot of time yesterday trying-- unsuccessfully-- to persuade him to see a psychiatrist for deprogramming. He's a former meth-head so it isn't possible for him to see that he's been brain-washed. Sad. He doesn't realize he's part of QAnon. Anyway, this morning I found this when I woke up: "I was watching his show last night for a little bit when a movie we were watching finished, his show came on. He was defending Russia, makes you wonder if he really is a Putin shill." A step in the right direction for my friend? Maybe. Despite the old meth problem, he has a high IQ. (He followed up a couple of hours ago with this: "Wouldn't it be funny if they uncovered he was being paid by the Russians?") Both Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) have said they think ole Tucker is working for Putin.
God gave us Neville Chamberlain so that we wouldn't raise appeasers up into positions of leadership ever again. But God didn't think we would allow conservatives (primarily, but not exclusively, Republicans) to defund education so that no one would remember who Neville Chamberlain is just a few short decades after the calamity he was in part responsible for (World War II). If you need a little refresher course on Neville, the last paragraph of this post from Thursday will tell you all you need to know.
Walter Russell Mead teaches foreign affairs at Bard College, is a scholar at the far right Hudson Institute and is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Yesterday's column, How To Deal With The Unappeasable Putin, begins by asking if Putin is "a political genius we underestimate at our peril, or is he an overrated buffoon who, intoxicated by a long run of good luck, has fatally misjudged his prospects in Ukraine?" Mead doesn't turn to Chamberlain to draw his analogies, but to one of his contemporaries, Italian fascist Benito Mussolini.
"History offers another way to think about figures like Putin," wrote Mead. "Benito Mussolini had an astonishing career, creating a political movement that ruled Italy for 20 years. His methods often were morally repugnant, but the Fascist movement he created found sympathizers and imitators from Germany to Japan. There was a time when Fascist Italy looked to be leading Europe out of the 'decadence' of parliamentary democracy toward a postliberal era. But Mussolini had an Achilles’ heel. His political project of re-creating the Roman Empire couldn’t be realized. He could build the most powerful political movement in modern Italian history, he could conquer Ethiopia, he could help Franco win the Spanish Civil War, but none of it brought his goal within reach."
Like Mussolini, Putin has a long record of success. The war in Chechnya was ugly, but he began his time in office by ending what many thought was the inevitable dissolution of the Russian Federation and reasserting Moscow’s control over its restive regions. Coming to power when oligarchs dominated Russian politics, Putin skillfully played them against one another until he emerged as the unrivaled master of the Russian scene.
He reasserted Russian power in international relations. Post-Soviet Russia was a helpless and weak state, unable to halt the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or to influence American and European power in the Balkans and Central Asia. A combination of adroit diplomacy and the ruthless use of force gave Putin a de facto veto on NATO expansion after his 2008 invasion of Georgia. In 2014 he snatched Crimea and invaded the Donbas, drawing only halfhearted sanctions from a divided West. [Here's where he could have mentioned the Rhineland, Anschluss, the Sudetenland and Chamberlain.]
Defying the sanctions, and profiting from the Obama administration’s strategic confusion, Putin seized the opportunity of the Syrian civil war to support longtime Russian ally Bashar al-Assad, making a mockery of John Kerry’s pompous demand that Assad had to go. Russia’s new role in Syria gave it an entrée into Middle East politics, which it used to build a close relationship with Israel and the Arab oil producers. Employing mercenary organizations like the Wagner Group, Putin was able to extend Russian power into Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, forcing the French out of Mali. By selling sophisticated antiaircraft weapons to Turkey, he drove a wedge into NATO even as he cultivated close relations with countries like Hungary and Italy in ways that undercut European Union cohesion.
Like Mussolini, Putin was fortunate to face an ungifted generation of Western leaders. Nobody will be expanding Mount Rushmore with sculptures memorializing any of America’s post-Cold War presidents, and the generation of European leaders that included figures like Gerhard Schröder and François Hollande will not long be remembered. Playing a weak hand aggressively, Putin managed to divide and confuse this motley crew long enough to threaten the Western order in Europe and reassert Russia’s place among the great powers.
But as Mussolini discovered, diplomatic and even military victories cannot make an impossible dream come true. Mussolini was unable to build an Italian economy that could support his ambitions or a military capable of rivaling the great powers like Germany and Britain. This is where the limits of Putin’s achievements also seem to lie. After 20 years in power, he has failed to equip Russia with either the economy or the military that a great power needs. And because his power rests on such narrow and unsatisfactory foundations, his foreign policy remains one of brinkmanship and adventurism that is always vulnerable should his adversaries call his bluff-- or if he miscalculates and bites off more than he can chew.
The best way to think about Putin is as a gifted tactician committed to a strategic impossibility: for Russia to regain the superpower status once held by the Soviet Union. Such leaders are unappeasable because their goals can never be reached. The rise of China, Russia’s continuing demographic decline, and its continuing inability to create a modern and dynamic economy will not end because Russian flags fly over the ruins of Kyiv.
There are two mistakes we can make about figures like Putin. One is to underestimate their talent for troublemaking if they don’t get what they want. The other is to believe that by giving in to their demands we can quiet them down. The West has made both mistakes with Putin in the past. We must try to do better now.