We’ve devoted a certain amount of attention on this site to top-drawer Hollywood stooges like Sean Penn, Robert Redford, and Steven Seagal, but so far we’ve neglected to cover one of the most assiduous ones: Danny Glover, star of such films as The Color Purple and Lethal Weapon, and, um, Lethal Weapon 2, and – let’s see, what else? – oh, yes, Lethal Weapon 3 and Lethal Weapon 4.To read the most prominent sources, you’d think Glover is a prince of a guy. “He is an active supporter of various humanitarian and political causes,” reads his Wikipedia page. On IMDB, he’s identified as an “[a]ctor, producer and humanitarian.” On his own Facebook page he calls himself an “actor, producer, activist, and humanitarian”; the h-word is also front and center on his official website.
Yet look beyond the PR and you’ll find that Glover’s outsized enthusiasm for despots makes some of his fellow Tinseltown tyrant-fans look almost irresolute by comparison.
Let’s start with Venezuela. Glover was chummy with the late strongman Hugo Chávez for years: along with Harry Belafonte, Cornel West, and others, he met with the caudillo back in 2006. So close was he to Chávez that El Presidente actually set up financing for a couple of movies Glover planned to produce – one of them about Simón Bolívar, the other about Haitian rebel leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. (Neither of these films has yet materialized, although the latter is listed as forthcoming on Glover’s IMBD page.)
Glover’s love for the Caracas regime didn’t end with Chávez’s death. Last year, when a gang of the usual suspects, among them Oliver Stone and Tom Hayden, wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress expressing support for Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, Glover’s name led the list of signatories.
But Chávez isn’t the only dictator, alive or dead, with whom Glover’s been chummy. Guess who his other fave is? We’ll take a look at that friendship on Monday.
We took a brief look yesterday at credentialed crank Jesse Ventura – at, in particular, his friendship with Fidel Castro and his enthusiasm for the Castro regime, whose praises he sang in a 2012 interview. That interview wasn’t the only occasion on which Ventura has publicly eulogized the Cuban dictatorship. In another conversation with a reporter, he offered up what he saw as irrefutable evidence of Fidel’s humility: “The main downtown building in Havana has this huge flat wall and it has got a huge portrait on it. It’s not Castro. It’s Che Guevara. The biggest photograph in downtown Havana was a mural on a wall of Che. Now if Castro was such an egomaniac and all this, wouldn’t he put himself up there instead of Che?”
During his visit to Cuba, which took place in 2002, Ventura spoke at the University of Havana, where he urged students “to dream big and work hard to achieve success.” A few months ago, Humberto Fontova, a Cuban-American author and eloquent Castro critic, had the perfect reaction to Ventura’s comments:
Here one blinks, looks again—and gapes. You long to believe otherwise, you grope for an extenuation, you hope you misread—but it’s inescapable: A man elected as governor of a populous and prosperous U.S. State (and a “Harvard Visiting Fellow”) cannot distinguish between the subjects of a Stalinist police state and the attendees of an AmWay convention.
Ask anyone familiar with Communism. To achieve “success” in such as Castro’s Stalinist fiefdom, you join the Communist Party, you pucker up and stoop down behind Fidel and his toadies and smooch away. (Either that or jump on a raft.)
Castro isn’t the only brutal dictator for whom Ventura has a soft spot. In his 2012 interview, the ex-wrestler quoted fellow Fidel fan Oliver Stone as having told him: “Governor, you’d love Hugo Chávez because he’s you. You and him are alike. You’re men of the people.” In 2010, appearing on The Larry King Show with Stone to help the director promote one of his unctuous “documentaries” about Chávez, Ventura said that although he’d never met the Venezuelan caudillo, he believed that Stone’s propaganda film about the guy “should be mandatory viewing for every high school senior in the United States of America.”
Plainly, Jesse Ventura is one “libertarian” who’s somehow forgotten – if, that is, he ever knew – the meaning of the word liberty. Hell – this is a guy who loves severe juntas so much that his name is actually an anagram for “severe juntas.”
Jesse Ventura has long been a familiar figure in the American media. Open and outspoken, colorful and controversial, he’s had a remarkably varied career, working in turn as a Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, film actor, and one-term Governor of Minnesota. Since leaving office in 2003, he’s spent much of his time criticizing top U.S. officials and floating conspiracy theories in countless TV and radio interviews. He’s played coy about where he stands on many of these theories, sometimes vehemently denying, for example, that he’s a 9/11 “Truther” – a believer, that is, that the Bush Administration plotted the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon – and sometimes explicitly endorsing “Truther” theories. From 2009 to 2013, he hosted a TV show about conspiracy theories, and in recent years he’s co-written a couple of books on the subject, one of which argued that the JFK assassination was an inside job.
It’s tempting, of course, to dismiss Ventura as a marginal crank – an obvious crackpot whom nobody could possibly take seriously. But we’re talking here about a guy who’s in a position to get his books published, get his TV shows aired, and get himself booked on any number of high-profile TV and radio shows. A self-styled libertarian, he presumably has fans (at least one of his books was a New York Times bestseller) and thus at least a degree of influence, and during the last year or two has often offered himself up – and he doesn’t seem to be kidding about this in the slightest – as a candidate, if not in 2016 then in 2020, for president of the United States.
Which is why, despite the man’s manifest preposterousness, it’s worth drawing attention to one aspect of his life that’s perhaps relatively obscure – namely, his outsized, highly un-libertarian enthusiasm for none other than Fidel Castro. “I can only judge Fidel by the hour I spent with him,” Ventura told an interviewer in 2012 – an extraordinarily unserious and irresponsible thing to say, of course, when you’re somebody who’s eager to be regarded as a serious thinker and responsible political player. You can only judge a head of state with a decades-long record – one that includes mass torture and innumerable executions without trial – by the hour you spent with him? Really?
Of all things, Ventura enthused over Castro’s handshake: “I will always remember his handshake. Always. And I’ve shaken how many hands? But I will always remember his.” Although famously prepared to believe the most absurd conspiracy theories about the U.S. government, Ventura credulously parroted the transparently mendacious propaganda about Cuba’s purportedly magnificent health-care system. And although he rode to victory in Minnesota by claiming to be an ardent believer in libertarian values, he was quick to defend Communism as merely “a different form of government.”
His summing-up on the topic? “Castro never lied to me. My government has.”
Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.” That’s Sean Penn, Oscar-winning actor, political activist, and ex-spouse of Madonna, upon hearing the news of Hugo Chávez’s death. “I lost a friend I was blessed to have,” Penn lamented, adding that “Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Maduro.”
On the same occasion, Michael Moore tweeted: “Hugo Chávez declared the oil belonged 2 the ppl. He used the oil $ 2 eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all. That made him dangerous. US approved of a coup to overthrow him even though he was a democratically-elected president.”
We’ve already surveyed Oliver Stone‘s tributes to Chávez, which included not only any number of embarrassingly fulsome press releases but two classic examples of film agitprop. But in addition to this trio of ill-informed Hollywood stooges (whose equally deplorable Fidel fandom we’ve previously covered), the putatively humble-yet-heroic Hugo – and his less colorful but equally vile successor, Nicolás Maduro – have also accumulated praise from people who actually should know better.
One of them is ex-Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II – JFK’s nephew; Bobby and Ethel’s oldest son – who today runs a green-oriented nonprofit called Citizens Energy. In February 2014, under the headline “A Kennedy Shills for Maduro,” Sohrab Ahmari reported in the Wall Street Journal that TV ads for Citizens Energy were praising Maduro for providing free heating fuel to underprivileged Bay Staters. Calling the commercials “an almost-perfect exercise in demagoguery,” Ahmari described one of them as follows:
“The cold can overwhelm even the toughest amongst us,” Mr. Kennedy says, as a sad piano tune plays and images of children with cancer fill the screen. “The heating bills just keep piling on,” Mr. Kennedy goes on, and we see him hugging a young cancer survivor, who smiles but also seems slightly uncomfortable. Then, following a burst of upbeat music, Mr. Kennedy says: “The people of Venezuela and President Maduro are once again . . . the only country to answer our call to provide heating assistance to the poor.”
As Ahmari noted, the ads didn’t mention such “other hallmarks of the Maduro regime” as outrageous corruption, soaring crime, shortages of food and medicine, and the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López. “Given the situation at home,” Ahmari summed up, “Maduro must be thrilled that he can count on useful idiots like Joe Kennedy to sing his praises to the world.”
Then there’s Belén Fernández, who in February 2014 published an article at the Al Jazeera website that was one long sneer at the “absurd hysterics that typify the Venezuelan opposition,” a.k.a. the “doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite.” Fernández’s case in point: a Caracas blogger, Emiliana Duarte, who’d written about having to visit ten different supermarkets in order to find all the ingredients she needed to bake a cake.
Duarte’s account nicely illustrated the impact of chronic shortages on everyday Venezuelan life; but for Fernández, it was nothing but an “elite right-wing…sob story” and a “less than persuasive evidence of the supposedly brutal tyranny under which Duarte and her socioeconomic cohorts are forced to reside.” Of course, the story wasn’t intended to provide evidence of brutal tyranny but of economic mismanagement; in any event, Fernández had nothing to counter it with but mockery. For her, plainly, anycriticism of anyaspect of chavismo is nothing but elitist treason, motivated by a longing for (as she put it) “the deliverance of Venezuela into the imperial [American] embrace.”
Or take “social-justice” activist Dan Kovalik, who has called Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution “the most benevolent revolution in history.” In a piece that ran at Huffington Post on February 20, 2014, Kovalik spun chavismo this way: it’s benefited “the very poor and those of darker skin tone,” so if the U.S. government and media smear Venezuela as a “basket case” and condemn its “alleged lack of democracy,” it’s because they’re racists who “openly side with the white, wealthy elite – such as Kenyon and Harvard trained right wing leader Leopoldo López.”
Kovalik’s mention of López was, alas, not well-timed: two days before Kovalik’s article appeared, López was put under arrest; he’s been behind bars ever since, and both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch consider him a political prisoner. (HRW described his detention as exemplary of “the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime.”)
As for the Venezuelan economy, Kovalik called “claims of ‘economic collapse’…quite exaggerated,” citing as evidence import and export figures that proved nothing. (The shortages went unmentioned.) And the country’s high level of violence? Kovalik attributed it – with a straight face – to opposition agitators, and even maintained that “the Venezuelan government has exercised great restraint” in its response to that violence.
Sheer fiction. Kovalik’s piece made one thing clear. For him, as for Fernández, any criticism of chavismo, however legitimate, should be recognized as part of a perfidious effort to “reverse” Venezuela’s “liberation” from U.S. domination – and, consequently, even the most deceitful response to such criticism is justifiable as a blow for the glorious revolution.
Oh, and by the way: in April, 2015, the Fusion website reported that some hotels in Venezuela were now asking foreign tourists to bring their own toilet paper and other basic supplies. “For over a year,” lamented one hotelier, “we haven’t had toilet paper, soap, any kind of milk, coffee or sugar. So we have to tell our guests to come prepared.” Another hotel owner admitted that in all good conscience, she couldn’t advise visitors from abroad to come to Venezuela: “As soon as they get off the plane they will encounter risks.”
We’ve met some of the corrupt characters who made up Hugo Chávez‘s inner circle – most of whom are today part of (or very close to) the government of Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.
A few months after Chávez’s 2013 death, the consequences of his and his cronies’ corruption were deftly described in the British Spectator by James Bloodworth. Under the headline “Venezuela: a shining example of how not to help the poor,” he summed up these leeches’ dubious achievement:
While Brazil is on the verge of global power status…15 years of “21st century socialism” has left Venezuela with one of the world’s “highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity,” according to former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim. The country is also a more dangerous place to live than Iraq….
The real shame is that Hugo Chávez is no longer around to witness the Venezuelan masses pay for his government’s idiocy.
Michael Moynihan, writing last year in the Daily Beast, had a few questions for Western chavistas. To begin with: how would they react if the U.S. president, say, arrested an opposition leader, or shut off the Internet in politically unreliable cities, or had demonstrators murdered, or jailed a judge who ruled against his intelligence operations? How long would Americans allow their president “to run up massive inflation?” Or:
How long would it be considered reasonable – and not the president’s responsibility – to preside over 23,000 murders in a country of just under 30 million people, a rate that would horrify the average resident of Baghdad? How long could supermarket shelves remain bare of basic staples like bread and milk before The Nation or The Guardian would gleefully decide that America was a failed, kleptocratic state? Or if Bush or Obama’s economic policies meant that toilet paper could no longer be found on the open market?
Every word, as they say, is true. And then some. Yet there’s been no shortage of “cheerleaders” (as Bloodworth put it) willing to set the facts aside and sing the praises of what Bloodworth (quite properly) calls Chávez’s “clownish revolution.”
Consider these excerpts from a piece that ran on CNN’s website, no less, after the caudillo’s death:
Hugo Chávez was beloved by millions around the world. He changed the course of a continent and led a collective awakening of a people once silenced, once exploited and ignored. Chávez was a grandiose visionary and a maker of dreams.
An honest man from a humble background ….Chávez dreamed of building a strong, sovereign nation, independent of foreign influence and dignified on the world scene. He dreamed of improving the lives of his people…
President Chávez made those dreams come true.
The author concludes by recalling a statement by Chávez to the effect that he was “just a soldier.” Her comment:
Yes, Chávez, you are a soldier, a glorious soldier of a dignified, proud and kind people. And you are a maker of dreams for millions around the world.
The piece – with its over-the-top, Pyongyang-style encomia for the Dear Leader, its mastery of the good old Stalinist cult-of-personality style – precisely exemplifies the kind of rhetoric about Chávez that his own regime promoted. No surprise, then, that its author, Eva Golinger, turned out to be a longtime professional chavista – a policy adviser to the Venezuelan government, editor of a newspaper published by the Venezuelan government, and a former head of the New York-based Venezuela Solidarity Committee.
But what is surprising – or should be – is the number of people who presumably aren’t on the government payroll but who, despite the disastrous repercussions of Chávez’s rule, have persisted in praising him. Among them are reliable Hollywood lefties Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore.
We’ve seen how Stone – a writer and director of considerable talent but staggeringly poor political judgment – made not one, not two, but three documentaries in praise of Fidel Castro; as it happens, he’s also directed two pictures about Chávez, South of the Border and My Friend Hugo, the latter of which was released last year on the first anniversary of the dictator’s demise. The New York Times reported that the problems with South of the Border
begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez’s rise. As “South of the Border” portrays it, Mr. Chávez’s main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was “a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe” named Irene Sáez, and thus “the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast” election.
But Mr. Chávez’s main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.
The Times’s Stephen Holden called South of the Border a “provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism”; EntertainmentWeekly called it “rose-colored agitprop.” Confronted with a series of discrepancies between the historical record and the film’s account of it, Stone’s co-writer, Tariq Ali, explained: “We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. [Our goal] was to have a sympathetic view of these governments.”
Yes, whether the facts warranted it or not.
Time film critic Richard Corliss’s review of South of the Border was headlined “Oliver Stone and Hugo Chávez: A Love Story.” Commenting that Stone “sees the geopolitical glass as all empty (the U.S. and its world-banking arm, the International Monetary Fund) or all full (Chávez and his comrade Presidentes in South America),” Corliss summed up the film as follows:
Every step of the way, Stone is by, and on, on the President’s side. He raises no tough issues, some of which are summarized in Amnesty International’s 2009 report on Venezuela: “Attacks on journalists were widespread. Human-rights defenders continued to suffer harassment. Prison conditions provoked hunger strikes in facilities across the country.” Referring to the 2006 election in which Chávez won a third term, Stone tells viewers that “90% of the media was opposed to him,” and yet he prevailed. “There is a lesson to be learned,” Stone says. Yes: support the man in power, or your newspaper, radio station or TV network may be in jeopardy.
The good news about South of the Border? It tanked in – guess where? – Venezuela. “Despite round-the-clock promotion on Venezuelan state television and government-subsidized screenings in the capital of Caracas,” Stone’s nauseatingly hagiographic pic “grossed only $18,601 on 20 screens in the 12 days after its June 4 debut.”
(By comparison, at around the same time, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It took in $2.1 million from Venezuela audiences.)
Not that this poor showing dampened Stone’s outsized cariño for Chávez. When His Holiness kicked off, Stone eulogized him as follows: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place….Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history.”
Vladimir Putin is a thug, a gangster, a demagogue, who has gained popular approval in Russia by encouraging his people’s most barbaric impulses and demonizing everything civilized. Yet he has his Western admirers.
We’ve examined lefty movie director Oliver Stone‘s unsavory enthusiasm for Putin, ditto that of conservative journalist Christopher Caldwell, who’s characterized Putin’s Western critics as “harsh” – a word he seemed loath, interestingly, to use in describing Putin’s own imprisonment, torture, and assassination of pro-democracy dissenters.
Now we’ll look at a few other right-wing Putin fans.
First up: Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest. Just as Caldwell slammed Putin’s Western critics as “harsh,” Heilbrunn chided them for “pummeling” Putin – a thought-provoking choice of words, given that Putin literally has people pummeled (and worse). In response to a London Times article noting parallels between his actions and those of Joseph Stalin, Heilbrunn asked: “But is he really that bad?”
Yes, Heilbrunn recognized his obligation to accept a degree of criticism of Putin: “No one is under the illusion that Putin is a very nice man or that he isn’t in charge of a pretty nasty regime.” But he held out the illusion that Putin is “creating a stable foundation for a democratic state as emerged in Spain after the death of Francisco Franco.” Sheer fantasy.
Let’s move on to Rod Dreher, a sometime contributor to National Review and Weekly Standard, who wrote in August 2013 that while he “deplore[s] the anti-gay violence taking place in Russia today,” he “agree[s] with Pat Buchanan when he says that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is defending traditional Christian moral standards and actual Christians more than America is.” While the West has become “post-Christian,” argued Dreher, Putin’s Russia is “in important ways more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”
Four months later, Dreher returned to the topic, saying that while Putin, through “our Western eyes,” might look like “an authoritarian who hates gay people,” what really matters is that “Putin is playing a long game here, a game that is far more serious and consequential for the survival of his country than American culture warriors can see.”
Or check out Justin Raimondo, who, writing in January 2015, mocked concerns about the corruption of Putin’s regime – saying that the roads in Russia, for example, can’t possibly be any worse than the ones in his own neck of the woods in northern California – and rejected the idea that Putin was eroding political freedoms or that his elections were rigged. Raimondo denied that Russia is on its way to being a “failed state”: “Russia is nowhere near becoming anything like, say, Somalia, a classic failed state.”
Similarly, “Russia is very far from being a ‘dictatorship’”: Putin’s suppression of opposition parties and media isn’t all that much worse, Raimondo claimed, than the situation in the U.S. For Raimondo, Putin isn’t an aggressor but a victim – namely, of a “wave of Russophobia.” Besides, however bad Putin may be, he insisted, some of Russia’s other potential leaders are much worse, and if any of them gain power, it’ll be the West’s fault.
Then there’s surgeon, author, and presidential aspirant Ben Carson, who in February 2014 wrote that “there may be some validity” to Putin’s claim that the US and Europe had become godless. “While we Americans are giving a cold shoulder to our religious heritage,” Carson averred, “the Russians are warming to religion. The Russians seem to be gaining prestige and influence throughout the world as we are losing ours.”
Writing in the same month, William S. Lind, former director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism, celebrated Putin for helping Russia to “emerg[e] once more as the leading conservative power” Quoting Putin’s criticism of same-sex marriage, his statement that many Europeans are ashamed of their religious convictions, and his insistence on “the rights of the majority,” Lind asked: “Should we not cheer a Russian president who dares to defy “political correctness?”
While America, he concluded, “is becoming the leader of the international Left[,] Russia is reasserting her historic role as leader of the international Right.” He called on his fellow American conservatives to “welcome the resurgence of a conservative Russia.”
In March 2014, Billy Graham’s son and successor, Franklin Graham, praised Putin for cracking down on homosexuality, favorably contrasting his brutal suppression of gays to President Obama’s “shameful” support for the human rights of gay people. “Putin is right on these issues,” Graham asserted, saying that Putin had taken an admirable “stand to protect his nation’s children.”
Graham asked: “Isn’t it sad…that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”
Conservatives like these used to despise the Soviet Union. But they’ve made a role model out of Putin’s Russia, which is basically the Soviet Union with a makeover.
Still, none of them is quite as eloquent in his enthusiasm for Putin’s tyranny than Pat Buchanan, who once upon a time was perhaps the fiercest Cold War combatant of them all. We’ll move on to his perverse praise for Putin next time.
In the last couple of postings, we’ve looked at a couple of Vladimir Putin’s American fans – Oliver Stone on the left and Christopher Caldwell on the right. In February, Luke O’Brien of Politico served up a substantial report on another Putin apologist, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
O’Brien provided a history Rohrabacher’s Russian ties. One day back in the 1990s, it seems, along with fellow California Congressman Ed Royce and a “professional adventurer and anticommunist activist” named Jack Wheeler, Rohrabacher actually hung out with Putin – who was then mayor of St. Petersburg – at a D.C. watering hole. After a few friendly drinks, Putin and Rohrabacher arm-wrestled. Putin won hands down. Rohrabacher was impressed that such a little guy had so much manly brawn. That, O’Brien says, was the day Rohrabacher “fell for Vladimir Putin.”
Royce now chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rohrabacher chairs its subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and emerging threats. “More than anyone in Congress,” states O’Brien, Rohrabacher
has become a reliable defender of the Russian point of view, whether it has to do with NATO expansion (“not thoughtful in creating a better relationship with our former enemy”), the inadvisability of economic sanctions (“instead of doing it that way, we should be making an all-out effort to create dialogue”) or the current hostilities in Ukraine, which Rohrabacher says were precipitated at least in part by Western meddling (“I don’t think we should blame all this on Russia”).
Rohrabacher, writes O’Brien, “seems to see in Putin, for all his faults, qualities similar to those of the man he once worked for—a leader who restored national pride after a period of defeat, humiliation and political tumult. Russia, to him, is a country reborn.”
Thanks to his powerful position as head of a major subcommittee, Rohrabacher has been able to provide a platform to other Putin admirers. One of them is Andranik Migranyan, head of a “Kremlin-aligned think tank.” Another is Anthony Salvia, a former State Department official who runs a “little-known nonprofit” called the American Institute in Ukraine and whose presentation to the subcommittee “papered over Russian aggression in Ukraine.” (He also omitted to inform his listeners that he’s a director of a group that lobbies for Rodina, a right-wing Russian political party.)
In April 2013, Rohrabacher could be seen consorting in a Marine hangar in California with Igor Pasternak, Kazakh-born CEO of Worldwide Aeros Corp., and Kazakh officials, including Ambassador Kairat Umarov, who were given “a behind-the-scenes look at the most innovative and revolutionary development in the aviation space, the Aeroscraft.”
Now, here’s where the whole Rohrabacher-Putin love story turns a tad surreal. Among Rohrabacher’s good buddies and top advisors on Russia, it turns out, is none other than Steven Seagal. Yes, that Steven Seagal – the non-Oscar-winning star of such masterpieces as Above the Law, Under Siege, and Fire Down Below. Apparently, Rohrabacher considers Seagal some kind of global-politics guru – so much so that, a couple of years ago, he “refused to hold a hearing on Russia for his subcommittee in part because Seagal was unavailable as a witness.” At one point Rohrabacher wanted to let Seagal arrange a meeting for him with Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet leader in the Chechen Republic. Rohrabacher was “raring to go” – but Foggy Bottom put the kibosh on his plans.
Like Rohrabacher, Putin himself reportedlyholds Seagal in “high regard” as an international wheeler-dealer – so much so that he sought to hire the actor “to lobby for the Russian arms industry in the United States.” The two men, by all accounts, are very chummy: Seagal has called Putin a personal friend, described him as a “brother,” and praised him as “one of the greatest living world leaders.” A defender of Putin’s invasion of Crimea (which he considered a “very reasonable” move), Seagal even appeared on the Kremlin-owned RT channel as – we kid you not – an “expert commentator on the standoff in Ukraine” (!). Seagal’s fellow acting heavyweight and Putin fan Gérard Depardieu turned in his French citizenship for a Russian passport; Seagal has said he’s thinking of making the same move.
We’ve seen how far-left filmmaker Oliver Stone admires Kremlin gangster Vladimir Putin for his “new authoritarianism” that, in his view, gave Russians their “pride back.” Stone is far from the only Western cultural or intellectual figure who has a soft spot for the former KGB thug, but he’s something of an exception to the rule: most of Putin’s fans in the West, as it happens, aren’t left-wingers like Stone who like Putin because he reminds them of Fidel Castro but social conservatives who like Putin because they see him as a hero of “traditional values.” Indeed, all he has to do is say the words “traditional values” and they start salivating.
Never mind that Putin’s “traditional values” are pre-democratic and pre-modern; never mind that they’re part and parcel of all the worst chapters of both Tsarist and Soviet history – the pogroms, the Gulag. Putin’s disdain for gay rights and other such Western phenomena – a disdain shared and applauded by the likes of Pat Buchanan – is nothing new; contempt for Western “decadence” was a staple of Soviet propaganda from 1918 to 1989. What Putin is encouraging with his “traditional values” rhetoric is the perpetuation, and even revival, of a self-destructive, pathological culture whose hallmarks are maudlin self-pity, dictator-worship, a love of cruelty and physical brutality, rampant alcoholism, and the often violent oppression of Jews and other minorities.
But you’d never know that to read apologists like Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, who in September 2011, while not quite admitting that he himself celebrated Putin, was eager to provide reasons why others might do so: “he saved the country from servility”; he “[f]lout[ed] western norms”; he has “address[ed] real problems.” Caldwell dismissed Western critics of Putin, such as Le Monde, as “harsh” and “condescending.” And he suggested that if Putin is less than a saint, well, it’s largely the fault of NATO, whose “moralistic adventure in Kosovo humiliated Russia and its Serbian allies unnecessarily.”
As for Putin’s offenses, they were relegated by Caldwell to the “yes, but” category: yes, “the west can deplore” Putin’s imprisonment of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, his invasion of Georgia, and his assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, “but it cannot ignore the reality of Russian sentiment.”
In his 2011 piece, Caldwell seemed hesitant to praise Putin too overtly; this hesitancy pretty much disappeared in an article he published this February, in which he scorned Obama, Hollande, and Cameron for their “ostentatious” boycott of the Sochi Olympics while praising the “level-headed” decisions of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and Turkey’s Islamist despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend the games. Caldwell dismissed attention paid to “alleged corruption around Olympic construction” as “obsessive,” calling it “a local story.” Besides, he argued, haven’t other Olympic games also been corrupt? He offered a good deal of this sort of argumentation: yes, Putin has introduced undemocratic laws, but haven’t other governments done the same?
Caldwell was more critical of the gutsy anti-Putin protesters of Pussy Riot, whom he criticized for interrupting worship at a church, than he was of the punishment Putin meted out to them. He expressed less concern about Putin’s assault on Russian freedom, as exemplified by his brutal crackdown on gays, than about rulings by U.S. judges in favor of same-sex marriage. He even trivialized Putin’s persecution, torture, and ten-year imprisonment of billionaire businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, calling it a cause “beloved of western elites.”
In short, a disgraceful performance by a guy who’s often viewed as a relatively moderate conservative and whose work appears in places like The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly.
But, as we’ll see, Caldwell is far from alone on the right.
Oliver Stone, as we’ve observed, has long been an outspoken fan of Fidel Castro. But it turns out that he’s a broad-minded kind of guy. He doesn’t just love far-left tyrants.
Last September, during a visit to Moscow, where he was making a documentary about Edward Snowden, he gave an interview to a Russian government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, in which he declared that Vladimir Putin – who is generally counted as a bully of the right, not the left – also enjoys his esteem.
The editors of Rossiyskaya Gazeta made no effort to conceal their delight at Stone’s praise for their überboss – and at Stone’s virulent comments on America. Calling the interview “extraordinary,” they announced that they “agree wholeheartedly with most of what he says.”
Certainly, Stone didn’t breathe a single word that a Putin puppet might want to protest. The U.S., he charged, “is on…the path of war and aggression….world domination is the goal.” He faulted the Western powers for not shuttering NATO after the Cold War: “It was a defensive alliance to protect Western Europe; it has since become an offensive alliance.” He called NATO’s admission of 13 former Soviet states “a nightmare” for Russia, and supported what he described as Putin’s protection of his country’s “core geopolitical interests.”
In Stone’s view, America is brutally aggressive and warlike; Russia isn’t. While the U.S. “is invasive and pushing constantly the limits of patience of Russia,” the notion of Putin’s Russia as aggressive is a media lie. Americans are naive: we “never experienced war….And as a result we don’t respect war and what it means. We go and bring harm to others….We will not understand war until it happens to us….history’s karma will come around and punish the American people.” By contrast, “Russians have such a terrible experience” of war and thus respect it. After all, the Soviets “saved the world from Hitler” – a favor for which Americans have always been insufficiently grateful. (“American bankers and the rich,” he griped, “have always hated Russia, hated communism.”)
Stone lauded Putin for having introduced a “new authoritarianism” that “gave Russians [a] sense of certainty, consistency and pride back.” He said: “I certainly admire Putin as a strong man.” Asked about another strongman, Joseph Stalin, Stone offered the observation that Uncle Joe had “a fantastic and grand personality.”
Otherwise he said nothing, either positive or negative, about the murderer of fifty million people.
Last time around, we pondered the late author Gabriel García Márquez‘s friendship with Fidel Castro, for whom he informed on fellow writers who were insufficiently loyal to the great caudillo. This despicable conduct, however, didn’t prevent García Márquezfrom being celebrated in the recent Academy Awards ceremony’s “In Memoriam” segment alongside movie stars and film directors.
Let’s look at a couple more high-voltage international figures who have sucked up to Castro.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg – the most successful and most honored of living movie directors – visited Havana for a film festival in his honor and dined with Castro long into the night, an encounter that he described as “the eight most important hours of my life.” Spielberg’s only critical remark on the occasion was not about Fidel’s tyranny but about America’s Cuban policy. Among those who were outraged by Spielberg’s enthusiasm for his meeting with the dictator was actor Robert Duvall, who, in a reference to Spielberg’s support for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said he’s like to ask him: “Would you consider building a little annex on the Holocaust museum, or at least across the street, to honor the dead Cubans that Castro killed?”
Nicolás Calzada, an NYU film student who confessed to an ardent admiration for Spielberg, was also upset by the director’s chumminess with Fidel. In a passionate open letter to Spielberg, Calzada wrote: “I expected you on this trip to be the eloquent enemy of tyranny that you have always been, but instead you insulted the memory of the people you have portrayed and those of all the Cuban people who have died at the hands of Fidel Castro,” whom Calzada described as “a tyrant whose 43-year rule has seen many of the same atrocities so powerfully depicted in your Schindler’s List.” Calzada asked : “Did you know that a mere two days before your visit, Oscar Elías Biscet finished serving his three-year prison sentence for hanging a Cuban flag upside down in protest of his government?”
Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova actually wrote a whole book entitled Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, in which he cited praise for the dictator by celebrities ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre to Naomi Campbell, from Jesse Jackson to Gina Lollobrigida, from Norman Mailer to Chevy Chase. A visit to Havana, complete with a courtesy call on Castro, has long been de rigueur for a certain type of American celebrity – such as Robert Redford, who went scuba-diving with Fidel in 1988 and hung with him again in 2004.
But even in the company of knee-jerk leftists like Redford, director Oliver Stone is a standout. He’s called Fidel “one of the Earth’s wisest people.” In 2003, he made a documentary about Castro, Comandante, that, according to one observer, Damien Cave of the Washington Monthly, “should have been titled From Cuba With Love.” Asks Cave: “Who but the director of Salvador, a preachy indictment of U.S. policy in Central America, would take Castro at his word when he says ‘we have never practiced torture,’ a statement that Human Rights Watch contradicts pretty much annually?”Comandante and two later Stone documentaries, Looking For Fidel (2004) and Castro in Winter (2009), are pure hagiography.
“Castro is isolated in the hemisphere,” Stone said in 2006, “and for those reasons I admire him because he’s a fighter. He stood alone, and in a sense he’s Don Quixote, the last revolutionary, tilting at this windmill of keeping the island in a state of, I suppose, egalitarianism, where everyone would get the break, everyone gets the education, and everyone gets good water.”
Except, of course, for opponents of his autocracy, who get arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. If not executed.