I remember fondly the times when the small states of Eastern and Central Europe enjoyed a near universal support among the American right in their aspirations for independence and freedom, particularly against Russian imperialism. It’s not that Republicans – as the left tries to smear – are now cheering on Putin. In fact the sentiment of the grass-roots right seem to be overwhelmingly on the side of Ukraine against Russia. But there has been a noticeable trend among the right’s popular opinion-makers to take at best a stand-offish attitude to the conflict. Since Ukraine is supported in its fight by the Biden administration and the European Union, a certain contrariness has crept in among a small but significant section of the right. Below is a representative selection of the sentiments:
The list is far from exhaustive, and could above all include Tucker Carlson.
What we are seeing is I think a combination of three strands of thought, all very much interrelated:
1) the old school American isolationism, revived significantly under Trump, which posits that the United States should look after itself first and foremost and leave others to their conflicts and quarrels. Wars and foreign interventions are wrong, pointless, and don’t benefit an average American.
2) belief that any cause supported by the left is automatically suspect and the right should not be associated with it.
3) conviction that the media lies all the time and cannot be trusted as a source of unbiased information.
I can understand both the reluctance to be swept in a rush to war as well as scepticism towards dominant narratives being pushed by politicians and the media, but the world is not black and white. There is more complexity to it than stark, Manichean dualities of war and peace, left and right, conspiracy and truth.
It’s too easy to dismiss the war in Ukraine as “none of our business”. It is, after all, far away and in a place where the United States has no obvious national interest to protect. The left’s support for the Ukrainian cause gives one a pause: why does the generally anti-war left care so much and engages in such sabre-rattling? The involvement of transnational and multilateral bodies like the European Union and NATO, seen as captured by the left and beholden to their agenda, adds to suspicion. The bandwagoning by celebrities, business, media and others makes the pro-Ukraine stance look at best like a social contagion and at worst like an “approved” cause, akin to climate change, BLM or the COVID panic. And after the outrages of the past few years, how can we trust the media to tell us what is really happening? Clearly, there is an information war going on between Russia and Ukraine that shadows the armed conflict on the ground; wild stories, rumours, propaganda and memes are everywhere, so who knows what the truth is.
All that may be correct, at least to some extent arguable, but we are nevertheless left with this underlying reality: Putin, who openly and unashamedly dreams of recreating the Russian if not the Soviet empire (sans communism), has invaded and is trying to conquer and turn into a puppet state a country of 40 million plus people, who are mainly oriented towards the West and have no desire to return to Mother Russia. For all its many imperfections, Ukraine is freer than Russia and certainly more friendly towards its neighbours and the world. All the countries of the former Soviet empire and the Soviet Union, which for the past three decades have enjoyed independence or restored sovereignty as well as democracy and freedom (again, however imperfect) are watching the unfolding events with dread, knowing that many of them are also in Russia’s crosshair. Putin is a baddy who has committed the most significant act of military aggression in Europe since 1945. He might not be Hitler or Stalin, but he’s not a victim or a wronged party either.
This is the forest, everything else are the trees. The trees might be very much real and have to be borne in mind, but should not obscure the clear view of the situation, both in moral and in political terms. “Globalists”, “Hunter Biden did a lot of business in Ukraine” and “at least Putin is not woke” are all bad reasons for washing hands. Don’t hate your domestic ideological opponents so much as to stand proudly neutral against a clear wrong being committed elsewhere by reactionary autocracy.