An end to chavismo?

Venezuelans queue up to buy groceries that may or may not be on the store shelves

Since we’ve devoted so much space at this site to the plight of Venezuela under chavismo, it’s only right for us to acknowledge – and celebrate – an extraordinary turning point in the history of that country.

We need hardly go into detail here about the devastation wrought upon Venezuela, once one of the richest nations in the world, by hard-core socialism. That the land with the world’s largest oil reserves should decline into such terrible poverty – to say nothing of the steady erosion of individual liberty and human rights – is a classic lesson in the horrible consequences of socialist policies.


Juan Guaidó

On January 5, Juan Guaidó, a fierce opponent of chavismo, was sworn in as President of Venezuela’s National Assembly. Five days later, Nicolás Maduro, who had succeeded his mentor, Hugo Chávez, as President of Venezuela, in 2013, was inaugurated for his second term after being re-elected in what was widely considered an illegitimate election. The next day, Guaidó led a massive rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, at which it was announced that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, he would be assuming the presidency. On January 15, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Guaidó headlined “Maduro is a usurper. It’s time to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

Nicolas Maduro

“We are living in a crisis without precedent in Venezuela,” the op-ed began. “We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions to manipulate them at will.” Truthfully enough, Guaidó called Maduro a dictator, but a dictator with a difference, who had “ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups,” but whose nation continued to have “a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly,” which enjoyed “the backing of the international community and the majority of Venezuelans.”

On January 23, Guaidó formally declared himself President of Venezuela. Almost immediately, he was recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state by U.S. President Donald Trump. By the end of day, he had been recognized as President by the Organization of American States as well as by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. In all of Latin America, only Communist Cuba and socialist Bolivia reiterated their full support for Maduro, while Mexico’s new left-wing leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, criticized Guaidó but instead of totally backing Maduro called for “dialogue.”

Mauricio Macri

The swiftness with which so many Latin American governments endorsed Guaidó’s ascent to power is a reflection of the degree to which socialism in that region has, in a relatively short time, given way to a renewed wave of democratic capitalism. A few years ago, for example, Cristina Fernandez, then President of Argentina, would surely have stood behind Maduro; now, her successor, Mauricio Macri, took to Twitter and explicitly cheered on “all efforts toward rebuilding democracy in Venezuela and reestablishing conditions of life worthy of all its citizens.” Likewise, in Brazil, the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, widely known as the Trump of Latin America, tweeted that “Brazil supports politically and economically the transition back to democracy and social peace in Venezuela.”

To be sure, it’s all easier said than done. At this writing, Maduro seems determined to stay in Miraflores, the White House of Caracas. He still enjoys the support of the military, of the Supreme Court (which he has packed with cronies), and of the powerful and notoriously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. So it will be interesting to see how things develop in the days and weeks to come.

The corrupt new ACLU

We used to admire the ACLU. Some of us are old enough to remember the Skokie affair of 1977. Many Western countries ban Mein Kampf and any symbols of Nazism. Not the U.S. In that year, the American Nazi Party planned a march in the village of Skokie, Illinois. The village successfully sued in Cook County court for the right to ban the event.

Nazis in Skokie

That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union entered the picture. Taking the Nazis’ side, they took the case to the state appellate court and then to the state Supreme Court. Both courts refused to overturn the county court’s decision. So the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a famous ruling ordered that the Nazis be allowed to march.

For some of us, that ruling – as well as the ACLU’s role in bringing it about – was the ultimate reflection of the greatest of America. Not, of course, because the ACLU sided with Nazis or because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nazis, but because both the ACLU and the Supreme Court stood up for the First Amendment.

By their actions, both the ACLU and the High Court made clear their recognition that the whole point of free-speech protections is that innocuous speech doesn’t need protection. What needs protection is the most extreme kind of speech. To refuse to defend the right of even the most offensive people to speak their minds is to start down the slippery slope toward banning any kind of speech that anybody, anywhere might consider inappropriate.

Alan Dershowitz

Times have changed, alas. Many of the most influential people in American society are would-be censors for whom political correctness is a higher value than freedom. The ACLU, unfortunately, has shifted its position accordingly. No less impressive a personage than Alan Dershowitz, the world-famous lawyer who identifies as a liberal and who used to be on the ACLU’s national board, said so in an April 12 article for The Hill. The headline: “For ACLU, getting Trump trumps civil liberties.” Dershowitz explained: “over the last several years [the ACLU] has turned from being a neutral civil liberties organization to a left wing, agenda-driven group that protects its contributors and constituents while ignoring the civil liberties of Americans with whom it disagrees.”

Now and then, admittedly, the organization still runs to the defense of “a Nazi or a Klansman as an easy, pretend show of its willingness to protect the free speech of the most despicable racists.” But when it comes to threats to free speech on college campuses, where far-left thugs have increasingly used violent means in an effort to silence speakers with whom they disagree, the ACLU has chosen to keep its dainty hands clean. In fact, in Dershowitz’s view, it’s gone even further, “becoming a cheerleader for the violation of the civil liberties of those on the other side of the political spectrum.”

Michael Cohen

When FBI agents “raided the law office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen,” and possibly “seized material protected by the lawyer-client privilege, including communications between President Trump and his attorney,” the ACLU sat on its hands. “[I]f a similar raid had been conducted on Hillary Clinton,” observed Dershowitz, “had she been elected and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her emails, the ACLU would have been up in arms.” Instead David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, actually described the raids as a “sign that the rule of law is alive.” Never mind the fact that, to quote Dershowitz, the raids were naked “violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.”

Why this disgraceful about-face by the ACLU? Simple: “Virtually every contributor to the ACLU voted against Trump, as I did.” And for the ACLU today, “getting Trump, trumps civil liberties.”

The ACLU, naturally, rejects these charges. We’ll get to that on Tuesday.

A masterpiece of misinformation

We’ve been looking at Howard Zinn‘s 1980 masterpiece of misinformation, A People’s History of the United States – a book that Daniel J. Flynn has rightly described as a “cartoon anti-history.”

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Howard Zinn

Not one American hero goes unsmeared by Zinn. Not one admirable American action escapes being interpreted by Zinn as having its genesis in the very lowest of motives. American achievements are either ignored or belittled. As Zinn tells it, to quote Rutgers history professor David Greenberg, “The Constitution, the Civil War, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima—all were self-serving acts.” Even left-wing historian Martin Duberman, author of a biography of Zinn, has criticized him for treating U.S. history “as mainly the story of relentless exploitation and deceit.” For Zinn, even Pearl Harbor was America’s fault. (People of color can never be the bad guys.)

Nowhere in the People’s History, Flynn points out,

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Down the memory hole: Alexander Hamilton

do we learn that Americans were first in flight, first to fly across the Atlantic, and first to walk on the moon. Alexander Graham Bell, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers are entirely absent. Instead, the reader is treated to the exploits of Speckled Snake, Joan Baez, and the Berrigan brothers. While Zinn sees fit to mention that immigrants often went into professions like ditch-digging and prostitution, American success stories like those of Alexander Hamilton, John Jacob Astor, and Louis B. Mayer – to name but a few – are off the Zinn radar screen. Valley Forge rates a single fleeting reference, while D-Day’s Normandy invasion, Gettysburg, and other important military battles are skipped over. In their place, we get several pages on the My Lai massacre and colorful descriptions of U.S. bombs falling on hotels, air-raid shelters, and markets during the Gulf War of the early 1990s.

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Normandy invasion: quietly omitted by Zinn

In updated editions of the People’s History, we also get a moral equation between the U.S. and the 9/11 terrorists.

In short, Zinn’s book is pretty much an example of wall-to-wall America-bashing. Throughout it, he deep-sixes positive stories, twists good stories into bad ones, and turns heroes into villains. And while doing all this, he does one more very important thing: he takes care not to provide any historical or international context – thereby making it possible for ill-educated readers to come away actually believing that America is a uniquely malevolent country, unparalleled by any other nation past or present.

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Mao: founder of a true “people’s government”

To be sure, every so often Zinn does briefly touch on nations that live under other systems – namely, under Communism. When he turns to these countries, however, he puts on a pair of rose-colored glasses. While describing Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government in China as a “corrupt dictatorship” (which is not entirely incorrect), all he says about Mao Zedong’s rival Communist movement is that it had “enormous mass support” and that, after Mao won the civil war, “China was in the hands of a revolutionary movement, the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.” Mao’s subsequent murder of tens of millions of his own people goes unmentioned.

FILE - In this July 26, 2006 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro pauses as addresses a crowd of Latin American students gathered in Pedernales, in Holguin province, Cuba, for the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks. As Fidel Castro gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday on Aug. 13, 2016, many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say time has proven that Castro’s economic ideas do not work. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano, File)
Fidel Castro: folk hero

Fidel Castro is described in similar terms, as a wildly popular folk hero who “set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants.” Zinn entirely omits the negative side of Cuban Communism – the systematic repression, the forced international isolation, the mounting poverty, and the mass executions of regime opponents, intellectuals, journalists, and homosexuals.

We’ll wind this up tomorrow.

Zinn’s evil America

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Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn‘s 1980 book A People’s History of the United States has long been a staple of high-school and college syllabi. Indeed, as Daniel J. Flynn has noted, it’s “so popular that it can be found on the class syllabus in such fields as economics, political science, literature, and women’s studies, in addition to its more understandable inclusion in history.”

But it’s not popular because it’s good history. It isn’t. it’s popular because the teachers that assign it agree with its politics. For left-wing “educators” eager to sell their students on a crudely, relentlessly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist account of American history, it’s a veritable Bible.

Zinn himself admitted that he wasn’t out to record history objectively but to spin it in a way that would, in his words, “advance causes of humanity.” In other words, he was selling propaganda – specifically, Communist propaganda. His book viewed every historical event through a Marxist lens. Everything was about class struggle. Every act was motivated by greed. All people were either oppressors or oppressed. Every single fact that was at odds with Zinn’s ideology was either suppressed or distorted by him to fit that ideology.

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The Founding Fathers: a gang of totalitarians

Where other historians had told the story of America as a story largely of inspiring heroes, for Zinn virtually all of those heroes were really ruthless exploiters of their fellowman. That included the Founding Fathers. “Rather than an event that inspired movements for freedom and self-government throughout the world through the present,” Flynn observed, the founding of America represented, in Zinn’s view, the establishment of “a virtually totalitarian system of oppression.”

Of course, Zinn’s attitude here is easily refuted. “If the Founders wanted a society they could direct,” asks Flynn,

why didn’t they establish a dictatorship or a monarchy and model their rule on what was the universal form of government at the time? Why go through the trouble of devising a Constitution departing from a repressive status quo and guaranteeing individual rights, mass political participation, jury trials, and checks on governmental power? Apparently inhabiting an alternate reality, Zinn doesn’t feel the need to account for this and merely explains it away as a charade designed to prevent class revolution. This is conspiracy theory with a vengeance.

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Sorry, Mr. Lincoln: emancipation was just as bad as slavery

So it goes throughout the book. Slavery? Instead of understanding how remarkable it is that an army of free citizens fought a bloody four-year war to liberate other men from slavery, a large percentage of young people today actually believe – thanks largely to Zinn’s selective, slanted reporting and frequent outright disinformation – that no other country than America has ever had slavery. So determined is Zinn to demonize the principal actors in every major event in American history that, for him, emancipation is just as bad as slavery. For both, as Flynn notes,

are explained by the same factor: greed. Whether the U.S. tolerates or eradicates slavery, its evil motives remains the same. To Zinn the important thing about the emancipation of the slaves and the Civil War that brought that about is that they served as distractions from the impending socialist revolution.

More tomorrow.

Barroso’s European “empire”

In 2004, José Manuel Barroso, the Maoist student leader turned mainstream politician (and professed believer in freedom and democracy), stepped down from the post of Portuguese prime minister to become President of the European Commission.

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The three European “presidents” as of November 2011: Jerzy Buzek (Parliament), José Manuel Barroso (Commission) and Herman Van Rompuy (European Council)

The very action – leaving the role of head of government of a European nation to become one of three “presidents” of the European Union (the other two being the heads of the European Council and European Parliament) – underscored the degree of power that the unelected EU leadership had accumulated, by that point, relative to that organization’s supposedly sovereign member states. As leader of the European Commission, Barroso arguably wielded more authority than any head of government in Europe, with the exception of the chancellor of Germany. Certainly Barroso the president of the European Commission was a far more potent figure than Barroso the premier of Portugal.

Although Barroso, on completing his second term as president of the European Commission, would maintain that he harbored no desire to see the EU evolve into a superstate, his own statements and actions while in office seemed – to put it mildly – to belie that claim.

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With Muammar Qaddafi at an EU-Africa Summit

In 2007, for example, he said: “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire.” He added, paradoxically, “What we have is the first non-imperial empire.” In 2010, sounding very much like the Maoist he had once been (and supposedly no longer was), he expressed outright disdain for elective government, saying that “decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong.”

Two years later, declaring the need to “move toward a federation of nation states” and to “move to common supervisory decisions,” Barroso announced plans for a European banking union that would subordinate every financial institution in the eurozone to the European Central Bank – a clear step toward even greater power for Europe’s unelected masters in Brussels and toward even greater weakening of the authority of elected national legislatures and heads of government. Of course, he had no intention of asking the people of Europe whether they approved of such a move. The next year, he reiterated the need for increased “integration,” for more “federalism.” 

After Irish citizens, in a 2008 referendum, rejected the Treaty of Lisbon, formerly known as the EU Constitution, Barroso issued an absurdly counterfactual statement saying that “this vote should not be seen as a vote against the EU” – and saw to it that the Irish were made to vote again. (The second time, they cast their ballots the “right way.”) 

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Mario Monti

It was on Barroso’s watch that Silvio Berlusconi, the elected prime minister of Italy, was replaced, in 2011, with one of Barroso’s own right-hand men, Mario Monti, who had never held an elective office. (So that he could serve as prime minister, he was summarily appointed “Senator for Life” by Italy’s ceremonial president.) Like a good EU soldier, Monti proceeded to implement EU policies in that country. The next year, again with Barroso’s blessing, essentially the same thing happened in Greece. 

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With Angela Merkel

Throughout his tenure, moreover, Barroso responded with anger to criticism of the EU, of the European Commission, of the organization’s lack of democratic accountability. Consistently, he blamed problems that are inherent in the very structure of the EU and the eurozone on the governments – and the citizens – of member countries. When Ireland collapsed economically in 2013, Barroso rejected the idea that the yoking of the Irish economy to those of other countries via the euro had anything to do with it; instead, perversely, he turned the whole situation upside-down, charging Ireland – get this – with causing a problem for the euro.  

He is one of those bureaucrats, in short, who act as if – and who genuinely seem to believe that – the people exist for the sake of institutions of government, rather than the other way around. Barroso the EU honcho may not still have been a Maoist, but he still, quite clearly, had the young Maoist’s belief in tyranny.

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With David Cameron

Certainly Barroso’s own fierce authoritarianism, his extremely aggressive efforts to strengthen the EU’s power over member states, and his adamant refusal to address the inherent structural problems and lack of democratic accountability that make the EU a net negative force in the lives of millions of Europeans, helped lead to the recent vote by British citizens to bow out of the EU. You’ve got to hand it to Barroso, then, for his latest move: having left his EU post in 2014, he accepted the job, in July of this year, of non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International (GSI) at €5 million a year. His task? To “help Goldman Sachs as it deals with the fallout from Britain’s exit from the European Union.” Well done, good and faithful servant. 

Barroso: From Beijing to Brussels

You’d think he’d brought about world peace or discovered a cure for cancer, because the litany of awards he’s collected goes on for pages: a couple of dozen honorary degrees from universities around the world, plus fifty or so sundry international distinctions, ranging from the Transatlantic Leadership Prize of the European Institute in Washington, D.C., to the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great (Lithuania), from the Gold Medal of the Hellenic Parliament to the Prix European of the Year.

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José Manuel Barroso

From 2004 to 2014, based in Brussels and Luxembourg, José Manuel Barroso was the president of the European Commission, a post that made him one of the most powerful men on the continent. But he started out in Portugal, where during his college years, in the immediate aftermath of his country’s democratic “Carnation Revolution” in 1974 – which overthrew the longstanding right-wing dictatorship that had begun with António de Oliveira Salazar in 1932 – he was a leader of a Maoist group called the Reorganising Movement of the Proletariat Party, or MRPP (later known as the Communist Party of the Portuguese Workers/Revolutionary Movement of the Portuguese Proletariat, or PCTP/MRPP), which was notorious for its alleged involvement in terrorism.

A 1976 TV clip showing the young Barroso is now famous (or infamous) in his homeland. The clip shows Barroso, then a student, at a meeting of the Lisbon University Revolutionary Students Commission. Speaking with an interviewer, he gives a thumbs-up to a proposal that has just been ratified by the commission. According to the less than felicitously translated subtitles, he says approvingly that the proposal aims “on the right direction of the combat, made within a revolutionary structure.” He goes on to speak of the “crisis of the bourgeois Education System” and to describe a recent government action as “anti-proletarian.”

Barroso, who had become active after the Carnation Revolution, was reportedly well known on campus for committing acts of petty revolutionary vandalism – writing anti-capitalist slogans on walls and stealing university furniture. Years later, one Portuguese politician who had known Barroso in his student days told the BBC that he had been “very radical, hard-working and ambition” back then, but that he had “no strong convictions on anything” and was driven not by principle but by power.

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Mao Zedong

Indeed, when the Portuguese left failed to win power in the 1970s, Barroso performed a 180-degree quick-change – leaving the Maoist fold in 1980 and joining the country’s major party of the right, the PPD-PSD. Presumably, he was now a devotee not of Beijing-style totalitarianism but of individual liberty and elective democracy. As we will see, there has been very good reason in recent years to wonder about the authenticity of this long-ago conversion.

As in the MRPP, he rose quickly in the party’s hierarchy. From 1992 to 1995, he was Foreign Minister; from 2002 to 2004 he was Prime Minister. If he has any great gift, it is apparently for figuring out how to climb to power.

But the greatest prize of all was yet to come.

Giving May Day new meaning?

It’s May 1, which before the fall of the Iron Curtain was a day on which the peoples of the Communist world were constrained to celebrate the very system that oppressed them. In many countries today, May Day continues to be officially observed, complete with red flags, banners inscribed with Soviet-era slogans, and the Internationale played by marching bands – all supposedly in the name of honoring workers and the labor movement. 

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Ilya Somin

In today’s Washington Post, Ilya Somin – a law professor at George Mason University and Cato Institute scholar who was born in the Soviet Union and was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was five years old – argues that instead of propping up this ragged old Communist institution, we should turn May 1 into an international “Victims of Communism Day,” memorializing the millions who perished at the hands of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other Marxist tyrants. Noting, correctly, that people in the West tend to be far less aware of the crimes of Communism than of the crimes of Nazism, Somin writes:

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A recent May Day march in Oslo, Norway

The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total [of people killed by Communism] at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so.

An excellent proposal. Not only do the victims of Communism deserve to be remembered; but such an annual act of recognition would go a long way toward countering the shameless, untiring efforts of the useful stooges among us who continue to whitewash Communism and its atrocities. 

Mearsheimer’s “realpolitik”

The title of John J. Mearsheimer‘s September/October 2014 essay for Foreign Affairs said it all: “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault.”

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John J. Mearsheimer

Like his NYU colleague Stephen F. Cohen, whose perverse defense of Putin we’ve already looked at, fellow Putin apologist Mearsheimer – a University of Chicago poli-sci prof who’s been called the “standard-bearer of the pro-Putin realists” focuses his wrath largely on NATO growth, which he calls “the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West.” By extending NATO eastward, Mearsheimer charges, the West has moved into “Russia’s backyard” and threatened “its core strategic interests.”

This language of “orbits” and “backyards” and “strategic interests” is standard issue among self-styled “realists” like Cohen and Mearsheimer. And it’s very effective at sweeping aside such concepts as freedom, sovereignty, national self-determination, territorial integrity, and a country’s right to choose its own allies and arrange for its own defense – all of which Mearsheimer finds naive, part of “a flawed view of international politics.”

Mearsheimer, of course, champions “realpolitik.” But take a good look at his brand of “realpolitik” and you’ll realize that it renders meaningless the end of the Cold War, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the liberation of Eastern Europe. As far as he’s concerned, the decades-long existence of the Soviet Union, during which formerly independent countries were either incorporated into or subjugated to the totalitarian USSR, gives Russia, even now, a historical right to keep dominating them.

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Vladimir Putin

Writes Mearsheimer: “it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them.” But Russia’s neighbors? In his view, they have no right to decide what threatens them. And that goes double, apparently, for Ukraine. Noting that some Westerners “claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West,” Mearsheimer counsels:

This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states.

What Mearsheimer is saying here to the people of Ukraine – and to all of Russia’s other neighbors and former vassals – is this: you know that freedom you thought you won in 1991? Forget about it. Be realistic. You’re still at the mercy of Moscow, and always will be – and should be. What’s more, if you stubbornly refuse to accept your role as an obedient satellite in Russia’s orbit, it’s up to the West to give you a good swift kick in the teeth: “There is no reason,” Mearsheimer lectures, “that the West has to accommodate Ukraine if it is bent on pursuing a wrong-headed foreign policy….Indulging the dreams of some Ukrainians is not worth the animosity and strife it will cause, especially for the Ukrainian people.”

Dreams, in short, of living in freedom rather than behind an Iron Curtain.

The illogic, injustice, and moral iniquity of Mearsheimer’s position are self-evident. He urges us to take seriously Putin’s putative fear that NATO, once settled in on Russia’s borders, will invade it. But the thoroughly legitimate, historically well-founded fear, on the part of Russia’s neighbors, that Putin might invade them? That’s something Mearsheimer wants us to dismiss out of hand. Indeed, he wants more: he wants us to accept Russia’s right to invade them. For it’s only Russia’s comfort, Russia’s security, Russia’s inviolability that matters. In Mearsheimer’s eyes, its neighbors’ freedom – including the freedom to form alliances to protect that freedom – is nothing but a provocation.

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Here’s a revealing line from Mearsheimer: “The West’s triple package of policies – NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion – added fuel to a fire waiting to ignite.” Read that again. What Mearsheimer’s saying here, basically, is that the West’s very dedication to freedom – and to the defense thereof – represents a provocation to Putin. And why? Pace Mearshimer, it’s not because Putin really thinks we’re going to march on Moscow, but because he’s a dictator who hates freedom. Period.

There’s a word for Mearsheimer’s kind of thinking. It’s not “realism” or “realpolitik.” It’s “appeasement.” Rank appeasement. Do whatever it takes to keep from rousing the beast. Somehow it’s always OK for Putin to be belligerent; whenever he does so, it’s because he’s worried about us. But if we respond to his aggression in any way other than by stepping meekly back and letting him have his way, then whatever happens is the West’s fault.

What does Mearsheimer prescribe? In part, this:

…the United States should emphasize that Georgia and Ukraine will not become NATO members. It should make clear that America will not interfere in future Ukrainian elections or be sympathetic to a virulently anti-Russian government in Kiev. And it should demand that future Ukrainian governments respect minority rights, especially regarding the status of Russian as an official language. In short, Ukraine should remain neutral between East and West.

Here’s a thought: why not follow this kind of thinking to its logical end, and disband NATO entirely, so as to avoid giving Putin any worries?

But even that, truth be told, wouldn’t do the job. For Putin’s aggressiveness, as Russia expert Robert Horvath underscores, isn’t really motivated by a fear of NATO invasion but by a “terror of democratic revolution” on the part of his own people. Indeed, the ultimate problem with the cockamamie analyses served up by the so-called Russia “realists” is that their interpretation of Putin is rooted entirely in the assumption that he’s a rational actor rather than a tyrant who fears his subjects’ hopes of freedom. As Horvath puts it, he’s “paranoid, irrational and dangerous.” Or, to quote Chris Dunnett of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center: “Far from being a ‘realist’ policy maker, Vladimir Putin is a myopic autocrat.”

Bingo. And for Mearsheimer, Cohen, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and other big-name “Russia experts” not to recognize such an obvious fact is well beyond myopic – it’s blind. Perilously, treacherously blind.

Pat and Putin – a love affair

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Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin has invaded other countries – but, hey, they used to be part of the USSR, and who are we to question his desire to bring them back into the Kremlin’s loving embrace? He’s had his critics imprisoned, tortured, poisoned – but, hey, you can’t deny that the Russian people love him! Also, he’s terrorized gay people – but, hey, it’s all in the name of protecting Russian youth from perversion.

Such is the reasoning of one American conservative after another who think the Russian despot is the bee’s knees.

Never mind that he’s driven the Russian economy into the toilet. They like his style. They like his demagoguery. They like his contempt for the EU and UN. (They don’t seem to realize that it’s possible to disapprove of these institutions without becoming a Putin fanboy.) And they like the speeches in which he celebrates “traditional values” and his country’s Christian heritage – never mind that he’s pretty much as far as possible from a model of gospel virtues.

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Pat Buchanan

We’ve seen how respected conservatives like Christopher Caldwell have found ways to reduce Putin’s perfidy to a handful of peccadillos. But the real master of pro-Putin propaganda is good ol’ Pat Buchanan. When the Kremlin was the headquarters of a dictatorship that ruled a so-called “union” of so-called “republics” and that identified itself as Marxist-Leninist, Buchanan was among its fiercest adversaries in the West; now that the Kremlin is the headquarters of a dictatorship that rules Russia alone in what is supposedly a non-Marxist republic, he is one of its fiercest defenders in the West.

In September 2013, for example, he praised a New York Times op-ed by Putin in which the Russian president assailed the U.S. position on Syria and decried the concept of American exceptionalism. A few months later, Buchanan extolled a speech by Putin condemning NATO expansion. “When he talks about the Cold War he has a valid point,” Buchanan insisted on an episode of the McLaughlin Group.

The Soviet Union,” Buchanan explained, “took its army out of Germany, out of Eastern Europe, all the way back to the Urals. They dissolved the Warsaw Pact. And what did we do? We moved NATO into Central Europe, into Eastern Europe, into the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. We’re trying to bring in Ukraine, trying to bring in Georgia. He’s saying, ‘Get out of our space; get our of our face.’”

Why is Pat so big on Putin? Largely because Buchanan, famous for his “culture war” speech at the 1992 G.O.P. Convention, sees Putin as a brother-in-arms – a fellow culture warrior out to rescue traditional values from Western secularism.

In August 2013, for example, Buchanan mocked Western outrage over Putin’s new Russian law against “homosexual propaganda” – which could lead to imprisonment for anybody, gay or straight, who had anything positive to say about gays or even about any particular gay individual. Citing Pope Benedict XVI, Buchanan reminded readers that the “unnatural and immoral” nature of homosexual acts “remains Catholic teaching.” So, he argued, “if we seek to build a Good Society by traditional Catholic and Christian standards, why should not homosexual propaganda be treated the same as racist or anti-Semitic propaganda?”

Buchanan also ridiculed Western support for the gutsy women of the anti-Putin rock group Pussy Riot, who, as he put it, “engaged in half-naked obscene acts on the high altar of Moscow’s most sacred cathedral.” He asked: “Had these women crayoned swastikas on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., would the [Washington] Post have been so sympathetic?”

For Buchanan, Putin’s crackdown on gays and protests and so on was all part of an admirable effort “to re-establish the Orthodox Church as the moral compass of the nation it had been for 1,000 years before Russia fell captive to the atheistic and pagan ideology of Marxism.” Quoting Putin’s statement that the “adoption of Christianity became a turning point in the fate of our fatherland, made it an inseparable part of the Christian civilization and helped turn it into one of the largest world powers,” Buchanan asked: “Anyone ever heard anything like that from the Post, the Times, or Barack Hussein Obama?”

Four months later, Buchanan again found occasion to extol the Moscow martinet. “In the culture war for mankind’s future,” he asked rhetorically, “is he [Putin] one of us?” For Buchanan, the answer was clearly yes. Putin has blasted the U.S. for supposedly revising “moral and ethical norms” and equating “good and evil.” Buchanan helpfully provided a “translation” of Putin’s critique: “to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil.” For Buchanan, plainly, the validity of this charge was self-evident. “Our grandparents,” he lamented, “would not recognize the America in which we live.”

Most Americans and most people around the world, Buchanan went on to argue, share his and Putin’s “traditional values” orientation. “Only 15 nations out of more than 190,” he noted, recognize same-sex marriage. “In the four dozen nations that are predominantly Muslim, which make up a fourth of the U.N. General Assembly and a fifth of mankind, same-sex marriage is not even on the table.”

Putin Views Russian Arms On Display At Expo

Predicting a 21st century in which “conservatives and traditionalists in every country” would be “arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite,” Buchanan made clear that he was on the former side, arm in arm with Putin, the Communist rulers of China and North Korea, the tyrants of sub-Saharan Africa, and the brutal Islamic regimes of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran (where gays are, of course, executed), and against the liberal democracies of North America and Western Europe.

Again: one can deplore many aspects of 21st-century Western culture without throwing one’s lot in with the world’s most murderous despots.