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The other week, Leon Aron, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Russia expert, had a piece in The Weekly Standard (8/10/15) on Vladimir Putin and his current strategy. Following is a sobering excerpt.
With right and wrong derided as subjective value judgments, entire concepts seem to disappear – concepts civilization has relied on for millennia. “Just” wars and “aggression” are all but gone from the vocabularies of the elite Western media. Only “conflicts” remain – with the obvious corollary that both sides are equally at fault. So wishing for the “victory” of one side is not done in polite society. By contrast, “peace,” no matter how short-lived, fraudulent, or beneficial to the aggressor, is to be sought at any cost.
This creates an enormous disadvantage for the postmodern West: It wants peace; the other side wants victory.
There is what might be called a belief imbalance in the East-West struggle to control the narrative of past and contemporary events: As Yeats put it famously, one side lacks “all conviction,” while the other is full of “passionate intensity.” For while Putin’s propaganda flourishes amid the fragmentation and provisionality of postmodern thought, the Kremlin admits no relativity to the credo that guides its leader in his historic mission.
Putin gives every indication of believing passionately that Russia has never been wrong, only wronged. The end of the Cold War, as he sees it, is Russia’s equivalent of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles for Germany: the source of endless humiliation and misery. Following his favorite philosopher, Ivan Ilyn, Putin knows that the nefarious West plots against Russia, jealous of her incorruptible and saintly soul as well as her size, riches, and most of all exceptionalism, a God-given destiny and historic mission as the Third Rome, the light among nations. He believes that Russia’s very sovereignty is in danger, and Ukraine, in Putin’s words, is “NATO’s foreign legion.” With his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, he believes that he, Putin, is “the defender of Russians where they live,” and with his deputy chief of staff, Vyacheslav Volodin, he proclaims that “there is no Russia without Putin.”
True, we are not in Cold War II. We don’t face a centrally directed global network of states and movements guided by a coherent millenarian ideology. But we ought not deceive ourselves regarding the time and effort it might take to prevail in our current confrontation with an ideologically inflamed, even messianic, highly personalistic autocracy that seeks to correct alleged historic “wrongs” and expand its “sphere of influence,” if necessary by invasion and annexation, and armed with 1,582 strategic nuclear warheads.
After all, the elites who fought Cold War I believed in the superiority of their political, economic, and cultural systems. They believed in liberty, human rights, and democracy as the foundation of human dignity, and they affirmed it with a depth of conviction that might appear out of place today. More important, the millions of voters who lent these leaders their support – over decades, freely and democratically – believed in these things as well.
In the end, the West is likely to prevail in the new confrontation with Putin’s Russia, whatever label history attaches to it, because eventually dignity and truth tend to prevail over dishonor and lies. This is what happened to the Soviet Union when its people withdrew their support from the regime.
But we ought to be aware of the considerable handicaps with which we enter the battle.
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