IT WAS all too predictable. Any criticism of the West’s role, and heaven forfend you should mention US Deep State meddling, in the course of discussing or analysing the horrific debacle that’s playing out in Ukraine and you are either a Putin apologist or suckering his cause. In other words you’ve been taken in by a madman.
Douglas Murray was first out of the traps along these lines in an article he wrote for the Spectator, which stated in his view ‘What the Right gets wrong about Putin’.
He observed that ‘an interesting divide has grown among conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic’, between the old Cold War warriors and ‘an assortment of conservatives [who] have come to see Putin as some kind of counterweight’ whose view can be characterised as “We are weak, Putin is strong. We are dumb, he is smart”.’ Having used the term dumb myself about the West, I bridled. I bridled even more as I read more of his caricature of the divisions that now exist on the conservative right.
What Murray fails to acknowledge is that there exists a perfectly coherent and objective analysis of ‘dumb’ Western decline that ‘smart’ Putin has undoubtedly taken advantage of; which reflects a cultural as well as a political degeneracy, so brilliantly articulated by David Starkey recently. ‘Putin looks to the West and sees only weakness and smells only decay,’ he said, pointing to the years of Western self-indulgence and its illusion of choice. Whether a one-time Cold War warrior or an ‘offensive realist’, it is hard not to agree with the objective truth of this, or that whatever the merits of liberal reforms there have been many downsides.
A recent article in UnHerd ran on similar demonising lines, this time focusing on populists, a term in this article associated with the Republican right. What bothered the author was the extent to which several high-profile populist conservatives were seeming ‘to reflexively side with the cruel Russian autocrat’.
Out poured all the names – Steve Bannon, Donald Trump; not one of the ‘populist elites’ who have ‘continued to carry water for this killer’ was missed – Marine Le Pen, Eric Zemmour, Viktor Orbán – all of whom Eric Kaufmann charges with having, at moments, spoken warmly of Putin. For saying that Ukraine was client state of the United States State Department, he singled out Tucker Carlson for special reproof.
‘Making excuses shames conservatives’, this ‘bizarre empathy towards Putin’s thuggish regime ‘ was the nub of his specious argument. But not to be following the herd, not to be joining the virtue-signalling competition for the best mad/bad Putin denouncement, hardly makes you pro-Putin. It may define you as a sceptic, it may be a negative expression of your anti-emoting stance and refusal to add to the fuel being poured on the flames of social media hype. Nor does a refusal to blind yourself to the objective realities of Western corruption, Nato strength or EU hubris, make you a Putin apologist or give him succour. It reflects your intellectual honesty. Since when, exactly, were people in the West expected to close their eyes and not criticise their own government, or organisations we are party to, or evidence of the State’s corruption, as was the practice in Soviet Russia and which continues under Putin?
That’s why it was some relief to find I was not alone in my irritation with this article. A brilliant take-down of the supposed failure of supposed nasty right-wing populism brought about by the Ukraine war landed in my inbox two days ago. It’s not just Kaufman, says Sohab Amari writing in The American Conservative, who has been playing this game, several ‘liberals’ have. And they all get a drubbing.
He starts by going to the heart of their theory:
‘Now that Putin has launched a failed invasion of Ukraine – failed according to Twitter and feverish media wish-casters, at least – his populist fan club is also tainted by his cruelty and incompetence. Ergo, “populists are losing this war,” as a headline in UnHerd put it.’
After noting ‘the sheer grotesqueness of this ideological posturing at this moment’ he goes on to lay bare its ‘foundation of deliberate misunderstandings, misdirections, and outright slanders’.
While some of the criticisms might apply to some populists, they don’t apply to others. The smearing itself is a form of censorship or attempted censorship. The liberal columnists’ underhanded tactic to tar us all with the same brush to see what sticks needs to be called out. He does.
You can read his full article here.