Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-Americanism

The Anti-Freedom Hypocrisy of Europe’s Far Right

After the 2012 election, as Hillary Clinton was winding down her time as secretary of state and looking to the future, she began toughening up her rhetoric. Having presided over the disastrous Russian “reset,” Putin’s Russia seemed a good place to start. So she told the media before a meeting with her Russian counterpart that Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union,” a customs union involving Russia’s near abroad, was “a move to re-Sovietize the region,” and she planned to “figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

The comment was surprisingly alarmist, as Clinton hadn’t officially left the State Department yet and appeared to be overcompensating for the weakness and naïveté that characterized Washington’s relationship with Russia on her watch. Yet as in so many instances, Russia’s recent behavior has made what looked alarmist at first glance much closer to the mark. And what if Clinton was actually underestimating the spread of Russian influence in Europe? That’s the upshot of the New York Times’s disheartening story on the rise of Putinist sympathizers across Europe’s political spectrum:

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After the 2012 election, as Hillary Clinton was winding down her time as secretary of state and looking to the future, she began toughening up her rhetoric. Having presided over the disastrous Russian “reset,” Putin’s Russia seemed a good place to start. So she told the media before a meeting with her Russian counterpart that Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union,” a customs union involving Russia’s near abroad, was “a move to re-Sovietize the region,” and she planned to “figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

The comment was surprisingly alarmist, as Clinton hadn’t officially left the State Department yet and appeared to be overcompensating for the weakness and naïveté that characterized Washington’s relationship with Russia on her watch. Yet as in so many instances, Russia’s recent behavior has made what looked alarmist at first glance much closer to the mark. And what if Clinton was actually underestimating the spread of Russian influence in Europe? That’s the upshot of the New York Times’s disheartening story on the rise of Putinist sympathizers across Europe’s political spectrum:

This convergence has pushed the far right into a curious alignment with the far left. In European Parliament votes this year on the lifting of tariffs and other steps to help Ukraine’s fragile new government, which Russia denounces as fascist but the European Union supports, legislators at both ends of the political spectrum banded together to oppose assisting Ukraine.

“Russia has become the hope of the world against new totalitarianism,” Mr. Chauprade, the National Front’s top European Parliament candidate for the Paris region, said in a speech to Russia’s Parliament in Moscow last year.

When Crimea held a referendum in March on whether the peninsula should secede from Ukraine and join Russia, Mr. Chauprade joined a team of election monitors organized by a pro-Russian outfit in Belgium, the Eurasian Observatory for Elections and Democracy. The team, which pronounced the referendum free and fair, also included members of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party; a Flemish nationalist group in Belgium; and the Jobbik politician in Hungary accused of spying for Russia.

Luc Michel, the Belgian head of the Eurasian Observatory, which receives some financial support from Russian companies but promotes itself as independent and apolitical, champions the establishment of a new “Eurasian” alliance, stretching from Vladivostok in Russia to Lisbon in Portugal and purged of American influence. The National Front, preoccupied with recovering sovereign powers surrendered to Brussels, has shown little enthusiasm for a new Eurasian bloc. But it, too, bristles at Europe’s failure to project itself as a global player independent from America, and looks to Russia for help.

A Eurasian union from Vladivostok to Lisbon is far, far more than even Putin could have hoped for. The story underlines a major reason Putin has been so effective at building support abroad: by shedding socialist ideology, Putin has been able to attract members of the far right without losing the support of European leftists who have retained a good dose of sympathy for Russia, believing that the West (through NATO especially) added insult to injury when the Soviet Union collapsed and proved somehow to be unworthy of its own victory. It was a consolation prize for the European left.

Another fascinating, if unoriginal, aspect to this is the role of anti-European Union populism. There are various reasons for this, but one of them is that the far right has put a new spin on the traditional leftist critique of American imperialism:

The European Union, said Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a member of the French Parliament and a niece of Marine Le Pen, is “the poodle of the United States.”

If only! (Though it wouldn’t be a “poodle,” but a far more majestic breed; some kind of retriever, perhaps.) This is where the uniting of the European far left and far right results in total incoherence. Does Le Pen really think Brussels is lacking in anti-Americanism? It isn’t. And that’s where this fight over Russia exposes the fault lines in Euro-Atlantic relations.

In the ongoing debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU, America’s position has been that it should stay in the EU because otherwise the union would be bereft of true Anglosphere voices. I have been clear that I find this argument unconvincing. What is likely is a kind of “reverse integration” in which British opinion would be submerged in a sea of Eurostatism and the free world would be compromised, not reinforced.

And here we have a perfect moment to test it. The Europeans are already skeptical of sanctions against Russia, undermining Western resolve. If there is pro-American sentiment of any real force in the EU, now would be a good time to hear it rally to the side of democracy and international law.

That last point also shows what is so counterproductive about the supposedly Euroskeptic right’s support for Putin. They may have legitimate grievances about the EU’s power grab and antidemocratic supranationalism. Indeed, they certainly do. But the Putinist model is the road to tyranny, not democracy. By throwing their support to an authoritarian thug, they are only proving just how hollow and dishonest are their claims to be standing up for freedom and democratic sovereignty.

They are hypocrites, and their hypocrisy only enables further bloodshed and the rolling back of freedom in Europe. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

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Conservatives Should Accept PSY’s Apology

PSY–the “Gangnam Style” rapper who performed a radical anti-American song in 2004–has now dragged President Obama into the controversy. The Atlantic reports that Obama is being criticized for shaking hands with the YouTube star after a charity concert last night:

After discovering on Friday that PSY had once spouted a lot of very not nice things about our troops, Americans may no no longer see him as the lovable horse-dancing star we thought we knew and loved — especially not American conservatives, and especially not after last night. Even though he’s apologized, PSY seems to have become (temporarily, at least) the kind of anti-American symbol that can only be killed with fire, and right-wing pundits especially want you to know that President Obama is still okay with him. The two met Sunday at the “Christmas in Washington” charity concert — two days after PSY had apologized for lyrics he rapped in 2004, which called for the killing of American servicemen. And according to the etiquette of the conservative chattering class, the president was not supposed to shake the pop singer’s hand. Of course, from the tone of the reaction, the right is actually kind of glad that he did, because it can accuse the president of more malicious intentions[.] 

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PSY–the “Gangnam Style” rapper who performed a radical anti-American song in 2004–has now dragged President Obama into the controversy. The Atlantic reports that Obama is being criticized for shaking hands with the YouTube star after a charity concert last night:

After discovering on Friday that PSY had once spouted a lot of very not nice things about our troops, Americans may no no longer see him as the lovable horse-dancing star we thought we knew and loved — especially not American conservatives, and especially not after last night. Even though he’s apologized, PSY seems to have become (temporarily, at least) the kind of anti-American symbol that can only be killed with fire, and right-wing pundits especially want you to know that President Obama is still okay with him. The two met Sunday at the “Christmas in Washington” charity concert — two days after PSY had apologized for lyrics he rapped in 2004, which called for the killing of American servicemen. And according to the etiquette of the conservative chattering class, the president was not supposed to shake the pop singer’s hand. Of course, from the tone of the reaction, the right is actually kind of glad that he did, because it can accuse the president of more malicious intentions[.] 

To recap: Eight years ago, PSY performed a song that talked about killing American troops and their families. Needless to say, the lyrics were vile. While PSY did not write the song — it was written by a South Korean band he was performing on stage with — he did sing it, and seemed to agree with it. 

This extreme anti-Americanism was common sadly among young people in South Korea at the time. But it was also unjustified and abhorrent, which PSY now seems to realize. After the video of his performance became public last week, he apologized and praised the U.S. troops for their service.

“I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world,” said PSY, in his apology. “I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent month…and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it’s important we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so.”

It was a decent apology, and certainly more sensible than some of the comments we’ve heard from PSY’s defenders on the left. Take Glenn Greenwald, for example, who argued that singing about harming U.S. soldiers is not “the slightest bit surprising or irrational.”

If some people don’t want to accept PSY’s apology, or think his sin was unforgivable, that’s up to them. But it seems pointless. Knee-jerk anti-Americanism often stems from ignorance. In some cases, espousers come to see the error of their ways. That’s apparently what happened here. It’s not like PSY is running for national office, or has a political opinion that carries any weight in the U.S. whatsoever. Why brand him for his misguided anti-American past forever? Why not just say good for him for seeing the light, and move on?

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