As I am preparing for a two-week long journey (no, not Ukraine again) I’ve been scrambling to come up with some big post that would tide everyone over until my return. It began with an article someone sent me from the horrid Russia Insider, wherein a supposedly left-leaning American Kremlin cheerleader tries to make the case that “Russia is actually ahead of the United States on many issues championed by the American Left.”
At first I thought it was utterly hilarious, largely because it was obvious the person has probably never spent any time in Russia, and I had planned to highlight some of the more amusing parts, but then I decided against it. I’m fully confident that my audience can read it and spot the problems without fail, particularly those who have first-hand knowledge of Russia. Most of it consists of typical whataboutery arguments so simplistic that they could serve as a primer on the subject. To the author’s credit, however, she actually admits her ignorance on some of the points she brings forth, such as the thing about state-run healthcare in Russia. Granted, that begs the question as to why she would attempt to inform her “liberal friends” on a topic she isn’t really more knowledgeable on, but I’ll leave that alone.
Shortly after seeing that, I saw this disturbing article about how far right-wing oligarch Konstantin Malofeev is creating a new Russian channel inspired by America’s Fox News. How inspired? Well they actually have one of Fox News’ founding producers, a man named Jack Hanick. This worked out perfectly because this article basically trumps the points in the Russia Insider article, reminding us yet again how the Kremlin’s propagandists will extend feelers towards the left when in fact the state is reactionary and right wing.
This just created another dilemma though. If I used the points in the second article to debunk those in the first, I realize that somewhere there are right-wing Russia supporters who could use the very same article to “prove” to right-wingers in the West that Russia is a bastion of morals and traditional values. Thinking of this brought me to a sort of realization that dealing with situations like this is like some kind of real-life Phillip K. Dick story, where the thing you use to debunk one thing is used as proof for another myth. Depressed by this realization and that article, I decided to scrap that idea as well.
Yet where a door closes, another one opens, and in this whole mess I noticed a very good lesson to share about “neocons,” the Kremlin media’s favorite bogeymen. You see, to hear Russia Insider or RT tell it, we should assume that hardcore neocons and “pro-Russia” ideologues are mortal enemies. Yet when we actually look at real, live, veteran neocons, that’s not what we see. The story of Jack Hanick in the FT article is a good example of this.
Hanick, apparently, was raised Catholic. Yet he and his wife are now supposedly willing to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Why? Read his own words:
“It was February and miserably snowing and every church was packed,” he says. “People were standing outside in the snow and listening on speakers. And I was thinking, you’d never see this in America.”
This experience happened on one of Hanick’s earlier trips to Russia. One wishes he had spent time exploring other aspects of Putin’s Russia. Perhaps he should have looked at the orphanages, the strip clubs and brothels, the mansions of the rich compared to the flats of Russians living outside the capital. And speaking of his specific experience at that church in February, I’m surprised he never saw this in America, a ridiculously religious country. Hell, I once went to a Christmas service at a Polish church in my city and it was basically the same thing- people crowding outside and listening on speakers. That Hanick would so readily discard his faith after such a mundane display that, according to Malofeev’s own candid admission, isn’t representative of Russian society, speaks volumes about which God he serves (HINT: It’s money).
To some it might seem surprising that someone behind the scenes of an actual neocon mouthpiece, Fox News, no less, would happily aid a pro-Putin oligarch build a network that peddles even more anti-American propaganda than the regular state-run channels. I see no reason to be shocked. On the contrary, it’s perfectly logical. For one thing, Fox News and Malofeev’s new network are basically the same thing- one convinces middle and working class Americans that all their woes are the fault of liberals, illegal immigrants, and Muslims, while the other convinces Russians that all their problems are the fault of the West and the Rothschilds. The results are roughly the same- the Fox audience goes out and votes for policies which objectively hurt them even more economically, while those behind Fox and its affiliated think tanks reap the profits. Russians on the other hand, will stay home and continue to tolerate the looting of their nation by parasitic capitalist exploiters like Malofeev while impotently shaking their fist at the Western bogeyman. The difference is but a matter of nuance.
There are other similarities as well. For all their flag-waving and grandstanding as “patriots,” Fox news conservatives hate America. Hell, they’ve been claiming that “liberals” ruined America decades ago. Obviously they have always been flexible as to whether or not America is already a ruined, degenerate cesspool or whether it was teetering on the edge of becoming so, but the bottom line is that you can’t reasonably claim to love a country when you spew hate and vitriol at at least half the population on a daily basis.
With this sort of mentality, and fat stacks of dirty oligarch money, it’s very easy for these super-patriots to turn traitor. This can be easy to forget in an era of Democratic control of the White House, when conservatives suddenly decided on 20 January 2009 that dissent is once again patriotic and “government” is bad. For those with a slightly better memory, the picture is very different.
To “disrespect the president during a time of war” was a grievous offense. Luckily, American conservatives weren’t really able to use the state security apparatus to do something about these “traitors.” Sure, the propaganda machine could go after you, and working under a conservative boss could be a serious problem for some people, but apart from a few cases that’s as much as they can do. I don’t think for a second, however, that many neocons during the Bush era certainly wish they could unleash the state on dissidents. I suspect that from afar, many neocons revile Russia because they see it as a rival to what they believe is a justified American-led hegemony, but when they see it from the inside they fall in love, especially if they can make money off of it. Things like market-based solutions and constitutional rights fly right out the window.
Of course the neocon admiration for Putin doesn’t stop at domestic policy. In one of Mark Adomanis’ recent articles, he points out how none other than Neocon of the Neocons Charles Krauthammer has been fawning over Putin’s supposed leadership in the Middle East. Still other neocons have been feigning outrage, as if they aren’t so admiring of Putin as they are angry at Obama’s alleged weakness. At times, however, it seems they can’t help but swoon for anyone who is willing to bomb Muslims.
This is quite appropriate, because these days the Kremlin has taken up the neocon mantle. Critics might claim their mission in the Middle East is fundamentally different from that of Bush in Iraq, but this is only a matter of details. Both Bush and Putin claimed to be fighting “terrorists” in simple, black and white terms. Both nations are biting off more than they can chew. America failed to achieve the neocons’ naive predictions in Iraq, and Russia will fail to achieve what it seeks in Syria, that is unless it increases its commitment to a point that would be far more harmful for Russia.
As for neocons in the US, both those who feign outrage over Obama’s weakness and those who show open admiration for Putin, they’re quite misguided, as Fareed Zakaria so eloquently explains. For those of us principled people that say a pox on both neocon houses, I say sit this one out. Last Saturday there was an anti-war protest in Moscow. While it involved slogans and banners opposing the war in Ukraine, this one was dedicated to the Syrian intervention. I’ve said so once before and I’ll say it again, I’m not getting involved in this. Yes, Assad is a butcher. There are plenty of butchers on all sides of that conflict. There is no happy end to this story. So let Putin pretend he’s George W. Bush and embark on his little adventure. Every round they send there is one that won’t end up in Ukraine. Since nobody, hawkish neocons included, has a real solution to this problem, why stop Putin from stumbling into the mess head first?
American society has suffered deep scars thanks to the ideas of neocon “patriots.” I have long suspected that Putin and his crew watched the Bush administration with envy and longed for the day when they would be able to strut around the world as he did, all the while being unaware of apathetic as to the consequences. Now they’ve decided to try their hand at the neocon game. Let them learn the hard way.
UPDATE: Here’s another recently published piece on the topic which also highlights the similarities between the Kremlin’s rulers and the American neocons. I love the style.