After the 2004 Presidential election, many believed the Democrat Party to be in permanent decline. Jonah Goldberg gleefully contemplated that the GOP will have to divide into its social conservative and libertarian factions just to provide the American people with at least two realistic options on election day. In the real world, the Democrats came roaring back two years later to retake the House with a gain of 31 seats, and to tie up the Senate with 5 additional Senators. In 2008, they took the presidency, with further massive gains in Congress. Oh well, so much for the GOP’s Goldberg era.
The Democratic victory in November 2008 led to another round of triumphalism, and predictions for the demise of one of America’s great political parties – this time the Republican Party. Once again, the hegemony was short lived. The Tea Party came out of nowhere in 2009 to crush the Democrats in the 2010 midterms.
You can see what I am getting at. Given the recent past, it’s hard to believe that the new era of Republican domination will last any longer. In fact, I will go one step further. Normally I don’t make predictions, but I believe that one distinct possibility is that the 2018 midterms will be a replay of the 2010, except with the parties reversed.
Why do I think this is possible? For starters, losing gives the loser a number of advantages and the winner a number of disadvantages. Think of it as a negative feedback loop designed to stabilize the system. Their recent losses have given the Dems two big gifts. First, all the Clinton baggage is now gone. They no longer have to defend the e-mails, Benghazi, the Clinton Global initiative, etc. Second, they now have a clear enemy to focus on.
Contrary to popular belief, people to not come together by talking out their differences. That only leads to more acrimony. In the real world, what inspires people to work together towards a common goal is a common enemy. This election gave them that: Donald Trump. Every Democrat agrees that Trump is the enemy.
One big disadvantage for the winner is that he has to govern. And governing is hard. It’s not about promises any more. It’s about picking the least worst option and justifying to the voters all the negative consequences that flow from the decisions you have made. All the electoral reverses I cited were precipitated by mistakes made by the governing party. For 2006 and 2008, it was the Iraq War, the reappearance of chronic deficits, and the 2008 crash. For 2010, it was Obamacare, the Stimulus Package, and trillion dollar deficits.
In 2016, it was a race war that Obama started in 2011 to mobilize minorities against Mitt Romney. Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, Missouri, and Black Lives Matter were all designed to make blacks fear whites (and by extension, the white party – the GOP). They wood Latinos with wide-open, illegal immigration. As a result, to the white working class, it seemed that the Obama coalition thought of them as a bacillus to be eliminated. Unfortunately for Obama, the white working class reciprocated the hostility. It is instructive that while Donald Trump received fewer votes than Mitt Romney or John McCain, he did get a boost from rural rustbelt whites who flocked to Trump. They were telling Obama that there are now two sides to this race war. The most insightful pundit of this election, John Schindler, in this must-read column, calls it “America’s emerging nationalism crisis.”
So why do I think the GOP might get routed in the near future? First of all, the Republicans are in an very weak position for a winning party. This is mainly because of the extraordinary unfitness of Donald Trump. Speaking as somebody who thought Barack Obama was the most unfit man to ever be President, I think Donald Trump now holds that title. While he has all the inexperience of Obama, Trump has a series of grave weaknesses all his own. While Barack Obama is emotionally stable; Donald Trump is impulsive, vengeful, prone to angry outburts, and driven by petty grievances. Obama is literate; Trump has never read a book in his adult life. Obama is a family man; Trump cannot govern his lusts.
Even worse, in a shocking scandal completely ignored by the media, Donald Trump is in cahoots with a hostile foreign power that regards the United States as its “greatest strategic adversary”. For details, see my previous writings or those of the aforementioned John Schindler. This situation is unprecedented in American history. The closest analog is the 1948 Progressive candidate, Henry Wallace, who was also a witting agent of the Kremlin. I don’t think most Americans realize how dangerous the situation in Eastern Europe is, or how close we are – right now – to a conventional war in Europe.
For too many Americans, the only wars they know are the counterinsurgency campaigns of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, they don’t understand that the butcher’s bill for a conventional war can be far, far higher. Against this background, the US – the country that has ensured peace in Europe for the past 70 years – elects a man personally tied to the region’s aggressor. If war comes to Europe, Trump – and the GOP - will own that catastrophe. All of it. And Americans will learn how expensive isolationism can be.
In addition, this election has laid bare a number of the GOP’s structural weaknesses. The first is the alternative media. If you asked me six months ago, I would have said that talk radio, Fox News, conservative Internet sites are conservatism’s greatest strengths. No more. This wretched election cycle has exposed about 80% of them to be “infotainment hacks”, to use Jay Cost’s memorable phrase. While some in the conservative media are insightful and honest news disseminators, too many are ignorant fools propagating nonsense to goose ratings.
Even worse, the Republican Party’s ideology is now broken. From Abraham Lincoln down to 2016, the Republican Party was the party of Anglo-Saxon conservatism, that is of Edmund Burke, free enterprise, classical liberalism, constitutionalism, the rule of law, and a respect for tradition. Now that Trump is its de facto head, the GOP is being governed by a central European, nationalistic, socialistic ideology. This doesn’t mean that every Republican, or even most Republicans, think this way, but it does mean that the GOP will be pulled in this direction by a leader who thinks like a South American caudillo. Will the GOP revert back to its roots when Trump is gone? Hard to say. I hope so. More to the point, this ideological schism makes it hard for the party to pick itself up after the next electoral loss.
Unfortunately, the GOP has nobody to blame but itself. Coming off of 8 years of Obama misrule, winning in 2016 was almost preordained. The Republican Party didn’t need to take the problematic direction it did. But it did, and it will pay the price.
In Europe, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin supports every fringe party and movement, both far-left and far-right, as long as they destabilize the status quo. For this reason, many anti-EU parties are funded by the Kremlin. For instance, in Greece, both the ruling Coalition of the Extreme Left, and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party are bankrolled by Russia. Until recently, this sort of interference was unknown in North America.
Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin has succeeded on getting his tentacles inside every major political party in the US. First, there is Jill Stein of the Green Party. Last year, she attended the Russia Today 10th anniversary dinner. Afterwards, she sent this creepy message from Red Square:
“It’s been so wonderful to see people come together from across all borders and from the across the political spectrum, really, come together around basic human values, around human rights, around the need for international law, including the need to reign in U.S. exceptionalism and totally reform and revise our foreign policy so that it is based on international law, human rights, and diplomacy”
This from a country that recently invaded two other countries, that has conducted a scorched earth war in Chechnya, has threatened Denmark with a nuclear attack, that has practiced a nuclear attack on both Sweden and Poland, and whose current leader ascended to power by orchestrating a terror campaign against his own people that killed 293 souls.
Then there is Gary Johnson, the leader of the Libertarian Party. On Russia Today, he defended the Russian takeover of the Crimea, stating that the Ukraine (a sovereign country) is to Russia what Puerto Rico (a territory taken from another country) is to the US. I guess Johnson is unaware of the Budapest Accord, which guaranteed the borders of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine handing over its nuclear weapons to Russia. Both the US and Russia are signatories of this agreement – and therefore guarantors of Ukraine’s borders.
The real problems however are only encountered when you move up to the A-list of Presidential candidates. With Hillary Clinton, the concern is that Russia has the e-mails she had on her private server. The blackmail potential is huge. Against this, it must be noted that Hillary Clinton’s stated foreign policy has not to date favoured Putin.
More worrisome is the hack on the DNC server, which seems to have been done by Russia. Is Vladimir Putin is trying to tilt the election in Donald Trump’s direction by creating turmoil in the DNC? (Debbie Wasserman-Schultz had to resign over the contents revealed.) If Hillary Clinton’s principal opponent were a normal candidate, he would have immediately condemned this inexcusable foreign meddling. Instead, Trump made a stupid joke about it, regaling in his opponent’s misfortune.
Speaking of the Trump campaign, it has so far been the epicenter of Kremlin influence. Mike Morell, the former head of the CIA, said this:
“President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.
In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation. [Emphasis added]”
An unwitting agent. An assessment like this - by a former CIA head of a presidential candidate - is unprecedented in American history. Trump supporters dismiss Morell, claiming that he is in the tank for Clinton. Of course, they do not consider the possibility that causality may flow in the other direction, that Morell only favours Clinton because he is horrified by Trump. This is what John Schindler says about Morell:
“His depiction of Trump as “an unwitting agent” of Vladimir Putin is shared by many American intelligence personnel, including most of the ones I know. And I know a lot of them from my own time in the Intelligence Community. Among seasoned Russia-watchers and those acquainted with counterintelligence, I don’t know any spies who would substantially disagree with Morell’s comments on the Republican nominee.
In a recent column analyzing Trump’s bizarre comments on Crimea and Ukraine, I explained that his falsehoods uttered on national television meant that the GOP’s candidate “Either is clueless about Crimea and Ukraine, being totally unfamiliar with the basic issues, and decided to pontificate on the subject regardless while on national television. Or he is consciously parroting Kremlin propaganda.”
Morell has chosen my second option for Trump, characterizing him as Putin’s man. The term “unwitting agent” is spy-speak for what Lenin (supposedly) famously termed a Useful Idiot, that is, someone who is duped into spouting propaganda that he may not fully understand. This is a harsh assessment but more charitable than the accusation that Trump’s is a witting agent of the Kremlin.[again emphasis added]”
Who is John Schindler? He is a former NSA man and a former professor of the Naval War College who has written extensively about Hillary’s e-mail scandal, carrying the torch on this issue since the beginning. He believes Clinton has committed numerous felonies. And he wrote the above lines in a newspaper owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Roll that in your Trump cigar and smoke it.
There are also worrisome reports about Donald Trump’s finances. According to Edward Lucas – probably the best observer of Eastern European affairs writing today:
“His carefree ways with other people’s money — including numerous near-bankruptcies in past decades — mean that American banks shun him.
Yet his debts have grown over the past year, from £270 million to £485 million; which suggests he may have borrowed heavily.
His cash assets, meanwhile, have shrivelled. So where is the money coming from.
The short answer is Russia.
As the leading American newspaper, the Washington Post, reported: ‘Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.’
Trump’s son, Donald Jr, boasted to a property industry conference in 2008: ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.’”
Then there are the numerous Kremlin-connected operatives in Donald Trump’s campaign, with the now-gone Paul Manafort being only the ugliest and most notable member. According to Schindler, Manafort was so closely connected to the Kremlin that he was probably run by a GRU (Russian military intelligence) operative when he was in the Ukraine working for Putin’s puppet there. He may have even helped orchestrate violent protests against US Marines in the Crimea in 2006. There is a word for somebody like that.
Then there is Carter Page, the Trump advisor with direct financial ties to Gazprom, the state-owned gas company that Vladimir Putin uses regularly as a foreign policy tool to enforce his will on other countries and to enrich his friends.
Third, there is Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s foreign policy guru, a retired Lieutenant General, and former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency. According to Schindler:
“It seems that Flynn remains furious at Obama for firing him, and that anger may be the driving force behind his cozy relationship with the Kremlin. General Flynn has frequently appeared on RT (formerly Russia Today), the Russian government’s news channel aimed at the outside world. RT is unadulterated Kremlin propaganda—not a normal news network—as evidenced by its showcasing avowed neo-Nazis and having its own Illuminati correspondent.
Since Flynn is a Cold War veteran and a career spy, he knows exactly what RT is—he has no excuses. Yet this has not deterred him from appearing there regularly. To top it off, last December he attended RT’s 10th anniversary gala in Moscow, including a photo op with President Vladimir Putin.
It’s safe to say Putin would have a word for any top retired Russian intelligence general who regularly appeared on official U.S. television and did a photo op with President Obama. It’s not a nice word, and that general would be well advised to avoid drinking tea.
To make matters worse, neither General Flynn nor RT were willing to comment if he is a paid contributor to the network. If a possible vice president is an actual paid employee of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, that seems like something the American people should know.”
Again, to Trump supporters: this assessment also appeared in a newspaper owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
You know, people ask me why I so strongly oppose Donald Trump even though I am a deeply committed conservative. This is why.
Conservatives have made a big deal of Hillary Clinton’s well-documented venality. And if she were facing off against any candidate but Donald Trump I would say the corruption charges against her would be disqualifying. But in the bigger picture, the Democrat Party has been corrupt for 150 years. There was Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine. There was the Daly machine in Chicago and there was fightin’ Tommy D’Alesandro of Baltimore. While Hillary Clinton may be high on the corruption scale, what she has done is no different than what Tom Pendergast did in Missouri 100 years ago. Another 4 years of Democrat corruption won’t kill the Republic.
But what would be unprecedented - an event unparalleled in American history - would be a President beholden to a hostile country, one with nuclear weapons aimed at the United States and who regards the US as its “greatest strategic adversary” (Putin’s words not mine). The only other example I can think of is Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate in 1948. But he came a distant fourth in 1948.
The world situation is more unstable today than it has been since the end of the Cold War, largely because the American President for the last eight years has been so weak. If his replacement were somebody actively rooting for the other side, I do not think the center will hold.
This is why I don’t want Donald Trump in the White House. Every other consideration is secondary.
Donald Trump is frequently accused of being an America First-er. America First is another name for isolationism, an old strain among America’s right. The guiding foreign policy principle of isolationism is that the United States should avoid all entanglements with other nations.
Donald Trump gets the America First reputation from his consistent disparagement of NATO. The Daily Wire has a good summary of Donald Trump’s comments about NATO that he recently made to the New York Times:
“First, The New York Times asked Trump if he would defend NATO allies if they were attacked by Russia. He answered that he would “decide to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations ‘have fulfilled their obligations to us…If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.’”
This destroys NATO.
The whole purpose of NATO is deterrence: if you attack one of us, you attack all of us. Even if Trump were to consider whether to defend Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania – or, for that matter, Poland or Czech Republic – on a case-by-case basis, you don’t say that out loud, unless you’re either stupid or unworried about signaling to Russia that they can invade sovereign nations with impunity. Ed Morrissey of HotAir, who is not prone to exaggeration, wrote, ‘This kind of talk from prospective Commanders-in-Chief is no mere academic or political exercise; it’s actively dangerous.’”
Unfortunately, Trump’s love affair with unsavoury Russian governments is not some recent passion. This is what he had to say about glasnost in the Soviet Union:
“I was very unimpressed... Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”
I guess he agrees with Vladimir Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst catastrophe of the Twentieth Century.
And Russia is not the only enemy of America that Donald Trump has expressed positive views about. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Trump said this:
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak... as being spit on by the rest of the world.”
Earth to Carnival Barker: There was no riot in Tiananmen Square. There was a massacre, planned, initiated, and executed by the Communist government of China. Those students were peacefully protesting for western liberal values. Their symbol, the Goddess of Democracy, was modeled on the Statue of Liberty. To stop those protests (and save their miserable necks), the Chinese Communist government crushed the students with tanks and chopped them up with machineguns.
That all of this was well known at the time makes Trump’s comments all the more inexcusable. After seeing the photograph of the lone protester standing in front of a line of tanks, Donald Trump must have been the only person in the West whose reaction was one of sympathy to the people who sent the tanks. That is, Trump and a few Stalinist cranks handing out leaflets on the street-corner.
Oh yeah, he has also praised Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un. Of the latter, he had this to say:
“You've got to give him credit. How many young guys (he was like 26 or 25 when his father died) take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden... he goes in, he takes over, he's the boss.
It's incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. This guy doesn't play games.”
You really, really get the feeling that Donald Trump likes vicious strongmen. Personally, nothing can be more disqualifying of the Presidency than such an attitude.
But here is the real question: given Donald Trump’s well-documented trail of comments disparaging America’s allies, has he ever said anything positive about a foreign government that wasn’t hostile to the United States? Especially a formal ally?
Given that the governing principle of the America First movement is neutrality towards all foreign governments - showing no favour or disfavour to anybody, doesn’t Donald Trump’s consistent support of America’s enemies make Donald Trump an America Last-er?
For there is nothing neutral about Trump’s foreign policy preferences. He loves America’s enemies.
One of the most dismal trends to emerge from conservatism in the past several years is the rise of the Putin-lover. I find these people hard to take. These purported conservatives hold up a former KGB thug who morphed into a gangster in the 1990’s as an avatar of conservatism. And why? Because gay pride parades are banned in Moscow – or something. Or I guess it is because he – the man who set up an Islamist strongman in Chechnya - is the Champion of Christendom.
In response, I usually bring up a revealing and horrifying incident from Putin’s past that has been driven down the memory hole – the Moscow Apartment Bombings.
What are the Moscow Apartment Bombings? Here’s a Cliff’s Notes summary: After spending a year as head of the FSB (the successor of the KGB), Putin became Boris Yeltsin’s Prime Minister in May 1999. By that point, Yeltsin’s popularity had plummeted to 2% in the polls. As well, his health was failing, Putin was a total unknown, and new Presidential elections were around the corner. Then a miracle happened:
“During the 12 days from September 4-16, however, everything changed. Four Russian apartment buildings were blown up in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk. The controversies that wracked the country over corruption and privatization were suddenly forgotten. Eight years of post-Soviet Russian history was telescoped into the shocking images of bodies being carried out of the rubble of bombed apartment buildings.
Putin, the newly appointed Prime Minister, expressed perfectly the desire of the country for revenge. On September 24, Putin said, ‘We will pursue the terrorists everywhere. If they are in an airport, then in an airport, and, forgive me, if we catch them in the toilet, then we’ll rub them out (mochit) in the toilet…. The question is closed once and for all.’”
The bombings terrorized Russia, so much so that many Russians were afraid to sleep indoors. 293 people were killed and another thousand were wounded. But unexpectedly the bombings stopped as quickly as they had begun. On Sept 22, an apartment in Ryazan was targeted but the bombers were caught. They were FSB agents.
The official Kremlin story was that the Ryazan incident was not the attempted bombing it appeared to be but rather a “training exercise”. Of course, one of the serendipitous results of this terror campaign was that all of Russia’s economic problems were forgotten. On October 1, Russian forces entered Chechnya\ and Putin was elected President in March after an unprecedented rise in his popularity.
Curiously, no further bombings occurred or were attempted after Sept 22 ‘training exercise’. In the following year, the Russian Duma - now dominated by Putin supporters - sealed all records related to these bombings for 75 years.
Hmmm. The likeliest explanation is that a senior politician conducted a deadly terror campaign on his own soil in order to bolster his popularity and win an election. Let that sink it.
Given that Putin is a major player on the world stage today, and increasingly popular among certain fringe circles in the West, this story is more relevant than ever. For this reason, I am glad David Satter providing an in-depth retelling of this story over at The American Interest. Satter is a journalist and a foreign policy expert who specializes in Russia.
Go over to The American Interest and read the article. It should be read in full. Even though I knew a lot about this atrocity myself, I still learned a lot I didn’t know before. For instance, I did not know that rumours were actively circulating before the terror campaign that the Kremlin was considering such a thing. But apparently there were.
The quote above is taken from that article, which is in turn taken from an upcoming book on Russia, The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road To Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin. It sounds like this should be mandatory reading to anybody who is interested in who runs Russia today.
Yesterday, in his daily podcast, commentator Andrew Klavan listed five examples of things Trump has done that disqualify him for President. All five reasons are valid, but it was the fifth reason that struck a chord for me: that Trump often “has kind words for dictators.”
Mark Steyn has often said that he is the most pro-American. If that is true, then count me as the second most pro-American non-American. One principal reason I am is that - more than any other country - the United States has opposed tyranny and dictatorship. Obviously considerations of realpolitik require alliances of convenience with unsavoury regimes, but until recently, this was done reluctantly and only for pressing foreign policy reasons, and even then, not always. What was always the case was that no Democrat and Republican President ever romanticized a foreign strongman or considered him to be anything other than a lowlife and a thug. At least until Barack Obama, who has shown open favour to Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Donald Trump seems to want to continue this abhorrent policy.
Trump’s affection for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is well known. Putin would be the former KGB goon who became the corrupt mafia leader of Russia; who rose to power via a terror campaign against the Russian people conducted by the FSB (the successors of the KGB); who openly murders his political opponents, such as anti-Putin journalist Anna Politkovskaja (who was machine-gunned on Putin’s birthday) and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (who was butchered in broad daylight in Red Square); and who runs Chechnya through a vicious Islamist warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov.
If that weren’t enough, and to prove that he bromance with Putin isn’t some recent flight of fancy, in a 1990 Playboy interview he seems to agree with what the Chinese Communist government did in Tiananmen Square:
“What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world–
Why is Gorbachev not firm enough?
I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere- which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader and we should continue giving him credit, because he’s destroying the Soviet Union. But his giving an inch is going to end up costing him and all his friends what they most cherish-their jobs.”
So the Chicoms “almost blew it” because they ‘almost’ didn’t massacre the peaceful pro-liberty protesters? He also seems to blame Gorbachev for ending the Soviet Union. When asked about these comments during the election, he referred to the Tiananmen Massacre as a “riot”. Hey Donald, just a minor point of terminology: when peaceful protesters are machine-gunned in half and then run down with tanks, that’s not a “riot”, its a massacre.
Oh yeah, he also had kind word for Muammar Khaddaffi and Saddam Hussein.
I think it is obvious that such sentiments are completely contrary to the wording and spirit of the US Constitution, and would be abhorrent to America’s founding fathers if they were alive to hear them. The low regard for strongmen is one of America’s sterling qualities. It has propelled the United States to the first rank among the world’s nations. If you think America would have had as much success with a strongman in charge, think again. Why is it that all (and I mean all) the poor, decrepit nations of the world are governed by iron-fisted tyrants?
The worship of the strong man is also contrary to the principles of conservatism. Anglo-Saxon conservatism has two strands: libertarianism, and the conservatism of Edmund Burke. It is obvious that the worship of strongmen goes against every principle of libertarianism. To see what Edmund Burke thought about the worship of power, read this.
In other words, I regard Donald Trump’s infatuation with thuggish foreign strongmen as not only unconservative but contrary to the founding principles of the United States, principles that have made the US the world’s greatest nation.
Donald Trump should not be President.
In a surprise move, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is creating a new paramilitary police force:
“In less than a week, he liquidated the federal drug control and immigration agencies, firing more than 50,000 people, including his longtime ally from the KGB, Russian drug tsar Victor Ivanov. Putin then let Russians know that he had created a new force, called the National Guard, a powerful structure that includes more than 180,000 interior ministry troops plus special police units.
Putin’s shakeup creates a military and police force of up to 400,000 well-trained servicemen loyal to him personally. The newly appointed commander is one of Putin’s most trusted men, a former undercover KGB agent named Victor Zolotov, a man with the massive build and intimidating face of a bodyguard who has been responsible for the security of the Russian leadership for almost 20 years.”
As the good professor points out, “That’s usually what leaders do when they’re afraid of a coup.” The Daily Beast goes on:
“When The Daily Beast asked Putin supporters why Putin decided now to form what amounts to a vast Praetorian guard, they said (privately) that the Russian president is terrified a new Russian revolution will be staged by Washington.
‘Of course, the president is concerned, he can see that the United States wants to overthrow him, like they did to Gaddafi, or look what they have done in Ukraine—they dream of seeing Russia fall apart, so Putin takes measures to prevent a Ukrainian-style coup,’ Sergei Markov, a member of the Duma`s Public Chamber, told The Daily Beast.”
By Putin supporters, this article refers to Putin’s actual supporters in Russia, people who have some inside knowledge of Kremlin affairs, not Putin’s useful idiots in the West.
Returning, to Reynold’s question, Putin’s actions don’t seem to fit those of somebody confident in the support of his people, which contrasts with his sky high popularity that Russian public opinion surveys indicate.
This brings me to the thesis that I proposed a couple of years ago - that recent events have only confirmed: that the root of Putin’s recent bellicosity was the near-disastrous (from his perspective) 2012 Russian Presidential election when he transitioned back to the President’s office from a stint as Russia’s Prime Minister. The whole election was supposed to be a propaganda love-in for Putin, sort of a big Stalinist Kumbaya moment.
The first sign of trouble was when he was booed at an MMA tournament, the kind of event that should attract Putin supporters. Then came the demonstrations against corruption and abuse of power. To counter this, Putin pulled out all stops. Every TV channel covered Putin’s re-election campaign non-stop while ignoring the protests, his opponents, or anything else that might indicate that things in Russia were amiss. The existence of his real opponent, Mikhail Prokhonov, was buried. Only 8% of Russian’s even knew that he was a Presidential candidate. There was widespread ballot-box stuffing. Stories circulated that Putin supporters were bussed from work to rallies as well as the polling booth (and sometimes to multiple voting stations). There were reports that “one third of all electoral commissions had substantial irregularities at the stage of vote counting and tabulation.” It was reported that in some polling places in Chechnya - that traditional hotbed of Putin support – Vladimir Putin received greater than 100% of the vote. The results were so suspect that even the Communist Party didn’t acknowledge the results.
And still - after all that - Putin only received 64% of the vote!
My thesis is that after this near-death experience, Putin quietly said to himself, never again. I think all of his aggressive geopolitical moves, in Ukraine, in the Baltics, in Syria, against Sweden and Finland and Denmark and Great Britain and the US, all of it is designed to foster an Us vs. Them mentality among the Russian people. This is a standard go-to gimmick that demagogues use to drum up popularity and it has worked so far, mostly because Putin has been allowed to win (except in the Ukraine where he increasingly appears to be mired in a Vietnam-style conflict). Nobody has given him a bloody nose – yet.
Of course, as George H W Bush can attest, popularity after a military victory can be fleeting. In spite of his approval rating was 89% after the Gulf War, he went on to lose the Presidential election of 1992 to Bill Clinton badly. If Putin suffers a defeat somewhere, I think this US vs. Them dynamic will boomerang against him hard. Especially as there is nothing else positive going on in Russia these days.
Of course, how much damage this thug creates on his way to the ash-heap of history remains to be seen.
Feliks Dzerzhinsky was one of the original Bolsheviks who, in the October Revolution of 1917, overthrew the Czar to set up the world’s first communist government. Dzerzhinsky’s contribution to the fledgling Soviet Union was to organize Cheka, the communists’ feared secret police force. Due to various purges and reorgs down the years, the name mutated through various alphabet-soup acronyms. Today, this organization is best known by the three-letter acronym KGB. This name lasted from 1954 until 1991, when it was divided into the various components that exist today: the FSB, the SVR, and others.
It has been estimated that the Soviet Union deliberately murdered between 10 and 30 million of its own people for nutso political reasons. The main agent behind this atrocity was Cheka and its successors. For his role in setting up Cheka, Feliks Dzerzhinsky established himself as one of history’s greatest criminals. He was truly a loathsome person in every way. In his personal life he was apparently a sexual sadist. In this way, both his personal and professional lives were twisted and perverted.
As a result, a statue of him in front of the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters, was removed in the early 90’s. This was newly liberated Russia distancing herself from an evil part of its history. Now we hear news that the City of Moscow is planning a referendum – the first on any topic since the collapse of the Soviet Union - on the restoration of Iron Feliks’s statue.
If one said that this is kind of like Berlin wanting to set up a statue of Heinrich Himmler, one would be wrong. It is not kind of like putting up a statue of Himmler, it is exactly like putting up a statue of the Reichsfuhrer.
Given that nothing happens in Russia these days – especially in Moscow - without at least the tacit approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin, I would like to pose a question to all those conservatives out there who think Putin is a swell guy. Do you still think he is the champion of western civilization?
Well, do ya?
One of the themes in my writings is that dictatorships are weaker than they appear on the surface (the reverse - that democracies are stronger than they appear – is also true).
For instance, some people – some even conservatives! – view Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as some kind of a Nietzschean superman who is so competent and capable that it is futile to resist his will. A related view - often held by these same people - is that the Western democracies are too decadent, weak, and corrupt to defend themselves - as evinced by weak, stupid and/or incompetent leaders like, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande, and Obama. Both opinions are of course wrong, even when they are not bleeding into cowardice. The simple fact is that Western democracies seem weaker than they really are, and despotisms seem stronger than they really are, because we air our dirty laundry out in public and the dictators hide it. Even if the above appraisal of world leaders is completely accurate, I will bet on the strong institutions over the strong individuals any day.
In line with this, it should be remembered that the Russian economy is a one-note song and took a terrific hit with the collapse in oil prices. Since the Crimean takeover, Russia suffered a net migration of million people out of the country! With this backdrop, and in addition to his ongoing adventures in the Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been conducting ongoing military exercises at an aggressive pace. For instance, upon returning from his mysterious 10-day absence, he abruptly announced a full-scale military exercise.
In light of this, I wonder how much is all of this costing him. Most people do not realize that a significant part of the cost of running an army is operating those expensive modern weapon systems. They may be expensive to buy, but so is running them. Those Tupolev Bear bombers that Russia has been flying alongside everybody’s borders (propeller-driven aircraft designed by German POW’s after the war, I might add), don’t fly themselves. This is why most of the Russian Air Force and Navy was idle throughout most of the 90’s and early 2000’s. They couldn’t afford to operate the ships and planes. With the price of oil coming back down to earth, all of this activity must be imposing a terrific strain on the Russian state – a strain that the Kremlin is able to, for now, hide behind a wall of slick propaganda.
If the West had a real leader, he’d understand that this show of force is really an indication of weakness not a sign of strength. And he’d push back hard.