Commentary Magazine


Neo-Con Derangement Syndrome and Putin

These are hard times for liberal foreign policy analysts and pundits. The collapse of American credibility abroad in the last year after President Obama’s Syria debacle has now been compounded by the spectacle in the Ukraine as Vladimir Putin confidently dares the West to do something about his theft of Crimea from the Ukraine while knowing full well that they have neither the inclination or the ability to make him pay for aggression. Liberals don’t want to look honestly at the weakness and indecision that routinely paralyzes this administration. Nor can they, as perhaps some liberals might have in the past when Russian aggressors flew the flag of socialism and anti-imperialism, start rationalizing Putin’s actions as defensible. So what do they do? Attack neo-conservatives, of course.

In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky attempts the near impossible by seeking to turn the facts on their head by claiming those conservatives who rightly warned about the need to pay closer attention to are actually admirers of the Russian authoritarian. Yes, I’m not kidding. The conceit of this piece is so preposterous that it is almost a waste of time to refute it since it claims that those who were and are right about Putin are his secret admirers if not doppelgangers. Coming from the same crowd that mocked Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney for talking about the geostrategic threat from Putin’s Russia, this is what psychologists call deflection. Like all behaviors aimed at blaming others for your own mistakes, it is as false as it is weak. But it tells us a lot about the mindset on the left as they view a dangerous world that can’t be tamed by the magic of Barack Obama’s personality or Hillary Clinton’s comic “reset” button. Having profited from attacks on neoconservatives who were blamed for America’s difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, now that these conflicts are off the front burner and the U.S. must deal with other challenges, all liberals have left is a strange form of neo-con derangement syndrome.

When conservatives contrast Obama’s weakness with Putin’s decisive action, they are not expressing admiration for the Russian dictator. What they are pointing out is that when faced with a ruthless opponent, the president’s Hamlet routine isn’t merely unimpressive; it’s a standing invitation to the bad guys to do their worst. And that is exactly what has happened in the Middle East as Iran has helped Bashar Assad hang on in Syria with a crucial assist from Russia despite President Obama’s occasional comments about him having to go and warnings that he will face retribution if he crosses a “red line” and uses chemical weapons on his own people. The foolish and probably futile pursuit of engagement, if not détente, with Iran over its nuclear program is illustrating the same principle. That’s also true of the prelude to what happened in the Ukraine as Putin decided that the U.S. is a paper tiger whose warnings can be flouted with impunity.

What conservatives want is a president who isn’t foolhardy but who is taken seriously when he issues warnings. Tomasky and liberals know Obama isn’t such a leader and they are uncomfortable about the growing evidence that life in an era where the U.S. thinks it is just another Western nation rather than the leader of the free world is a lot more dangerous than it needs to be.

Contrary to Tomasky, neoconservatives aren’t hyping the crisis in Ukraine to regain relevance. The liberal problem is that Obama’s failures are a reminder that his simplistic view of the world and obsessive belief in multilateral diplomacy is no substitute for American strength.

It’s true there’s no knowing what a President McCain or Romney would have done about Putin and no guarantee that they would have succeeded in thwarting his efforts to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But we do know they were thinking carefully about the potential for trouble with Moscow. That is obviously more than one can say about Obama when he dismissed Romney’s comments about Russia with a crack about the 1980’s.

What America needs isn’t another Putin but a tough president who believes in spreading freedom but is pragmatic enough to know when and how to stand up to dictators. While one can fault George W. Bush for his mistakes in Iraq and question whether McCain or Romney or any other conservative would have done better in this crisis, the one thing we do know is that Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry made egregious mistakes in their handling of Russia and that the people of Ukraine are paying the price for those blunders. Along with Putin, they are the ones who should be held accountable for their failures. Whatever blame necons get for Iraq, this is one debacle that is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Democrats and their liberal cheerleaders.

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