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putin“Do you realize now what you have done?”

So Vladimir Putin in his U.N. address summarized his indictment of a U.S. foreign policy that has produced a series of disasters in the Middle East that we did not need the Russian leader to describe for us.

Fourteen years after we invaded Afghanistan, Afghan troops are once again fighting Taliban forces for control of Kunduz. Only 10,000 U.S. troops still in that ravaged country prevent the Taliban’s triumphal return to power.

A dozen years after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, ISIS occupies its second city, Mosul, controls its largest province, Anbar, and holds Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, as Baghdad turns away from us—to Tehran.

The cost to Iraqis of their “liberation?” A hundred thousand dead, half a million widows and fatherless children, millions gone from the country and, still, unending war.

How has Libya fared since we “liberated” that land? A failed state, it is torn apart by a civil war between an Islamist “Libya Dawn” in Tripoli and a Tobruk regime backed by Egypt’s dictator.

Then there is Yemen. Since March, when Houthi rebels chased a Saudi sock puppet from power, Riyadh, backed by U.S. ordinance and intel, has been bombing that poorest of nations in the Arab world.

Five thousand are dead and 25,000 wounded since March. And as the 25 million Yemeni depend on imports for food, which have been largely cut off, what is happening is described by one U.N. official as a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years,” said the international head of the Red Cross on his return.

On Monday, the wedding party of a Houthi fighter was struck by air-launched missiles with 130 guests dead. Did we help to produce that?

What does Mr. Putin see as the ideological root of these disasters?

“After the end of the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world, and then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think they were strong and exceptional, they knew better.”

Then, adopting policies “based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity,” this “single center of domination,” the United States, began to export “so-called democratic” revolutions.

How did it all turn out? Says Mr. Putin:

“An aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions….Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.

Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.”

Is Mr. Putin wrong in his depiction of what happened to the Middle East after we plunged in? Or does his summary of what American interventions have wrought echo the warnings made against them for years by American dissenters?

Mr. Putin’s concept of “state sovereignty” is this: “We are all different, and we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the right one.”

The Soviet Union tried that way, said Mr. Putin, and failed. Now the Americans are trying the same thing, and they will reach the same end.

Unlike most U.N. speeches, Mr. Putin’s merits study. For he not only identifies the U.S. mindset that helped to produce the new world disorder, he identifies a primary cause of the emerging second Cold War.

To Mr. Putin, the West’s exploitation of its Cold War victory to move NATO onto Russia’s doorstep caused the visceral Russian recoil. The U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine that overthrew the elected pro-Russian government led straight to the violent reaction in the pro-Russian Donbas.

What Mr. Putin seems to be saying to us is this:

If America’s elites continue to assert their right to intervene in the internal affairs of nations, to make them conform to a U.S. ideal of what is a good society and legitimate government, then we are headed for endless conflict. And, one day, this will inevitably result in war, as more and more nations resist America’s moral imperialism.

v2infl-afpNations have a right to be themselves, Mr. Putin is saying.

They have the right to reflect in their institutions their own histories, beliefs, values and traditions, even if that results in what Americans regard as illiberal democracies or authoritarian capitalism or even Muslim theocracies.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Americans had no problem with this, when Americans accepted a diversity of regimes abroad. Indeed, a belief in nonintervention abroad was once the very cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Recently, Mr. Putin’s forces in Syria bombed the camps of U.S.-backed rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. Mr. Putin is sending a signal: Russia is willing to ride the escalator up to a collision with the United States to prevent us and our Sunni Arab and Turkish allies from dumping over Assad, which could bring ISIS to power in Damascus.

Perhaps it is time to climb down off our ideological high horse and start respecting the vital interests of other sovereign nations, even as we protect and defend our own.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from Pat Buchanan (October 2015). 

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12 replies to this post
  1. “Climb down off our ideological high horse”? “Start respecting the interests of other nations”?

    America still represents freedom, individual rights, and one having a voice in his future. These are ideals that are universal, and sought by all human beings. They are not some quirky cultural traditions, unique only to Americans. It was noble of an America of yesterday that made efforts to spread these ideals to others around the world, even if those efforts “conflicted” with the ideologies that oppress so many. Thugs like Putin, and others who use outdated ideologies to oppress their citizens deserve no respect from those of the free world. I’d hardly call what Putin spouts as “wisdom”.

    • wrong. Not all people do want ” freedom, individual rights, and one having a voice in his future”(even if they should), this liberalism exists in the american ethos but it is not so elsewhere.

      “outdated ideology”; what is this progressivist language?

      And even if other peoples did want these ideals, it is not the place of the U.S to impose them by force (which history has shown to end in nothing but hate and futile bloodshed) and craft their governments for them (which always fall to tyranny or anarchy).

      It is for a people to craft their own governance and culture. It is for them to seek Virtue on their own two feet. We cannot comprehend the complexities involved in another peoples culture, intervention is not our place. look what has happened when we have intervened.

      Prudence is the virtue of the conservative. Let us employ it now.

      don’t fight their wars for them

      pray for them.

      because God wins. Bombs don’t.

      • I am afraid we have become a nation too comfortable with our own freedoms. Freedom is all we have known, and we mistakenly believe that if others wanted it, they would simply “choose” it. This is naïve at best. Fortunately the beginnings of our freedoms occurred in the 1600’s when fighting tyranny was possible as the technology of the weapons Kings used to control their subjects were not all that advanced. Sufficient manpower could over come this. Today, it is virtually impossible to break free from tyranny once it has gripped a nation. With today’s technology, any whiff of revolt is quickly snuffed as we saw with Iran’s Orange Revolution, when Obama ignored the initiative.

        Freedom for any of todays oppressed will require the help of nations like the U.S. At one time it could have been considered the “mission” of the country to provide this. If this is no longer the case, and America no longer has a “mission”, then perhaps Obama is right. America really is no more “exceptional than Britain, or Greece, or Russia, or China, etc. etc.

    • “These are ideals that are universal, and sought by all human beings.”
      Clearly they aren’t, given the popular support for regimes that embrace the opposite. Your ideology is not only responsible for the destruction of the West, but the whole world.

      Remember the French Revolution? What you are trying to do is send that to every other nation or state on the globe.

      • It must be evident to all that people do want western freedoms. This is clearly the case now as we witness the flood of refugee’s who are now risking the lives of their families to flee to the freedoms, and security of the west. At what point has the flow ever been reversed? How much more evidence do we need. Western elites can debate the finer points of various cultures all they want, but these discussions are meaningless to those who must live day to day, with the misery, and lack of opportunity that these cultures inflict.

  2. Please engage in the following helpful 9-step exercise:

    1. Open a map

    2. Count the distance in kilometers between Damascus and Grozny and count the amount of super huge Islamic NATO countries which are not democracies by Western standards but certainly are civilized and ought not go belly up in between Damascus and Grozny.

    3. Consider what will happen in Chechnya – an Islamic republic within the Russian federation – if the Assad government in Damascus is toppled – even by “pro-democracy forces” who after a few months turn out to consist of 40 different political groups all at eachother’s throats who then end up being subsumed by ISIS. Consider the fact that when this happens – the largest Muslim NATO member will be stuck in between two Jihadist states.

    4. Now think of the consequences for Russia as a whole if ISIS takes over Damascus and begins to influence events in Chechenya.

    5. Now think whether or not the United States should support the Russian Federation or the Caucasus Emirate?

    6. P.S. : If you’re a European or just generally concerned about democracy and human rights: please answer the following question: Which political entity is more stable, progressive, civilized and has a long history of cultural and economic cooperation with the West:

    a) The Russian Federation

    b) The Salafist Jihadist Caucasus Emirate which will take over Chechnya if ISIS takes over Syria as it has taken over Iraq:

    7. Chose a partner – Salafist Jihadism or Russia.

    8. Bonus Question for Turks: See Point 7, 1 and 3.

    9. Super Bonus Question for The Department of Defense: Does it serve American national security interest for people in Chechnya who have sworn allegiance to ISIL, publically accepted by Abu Mohammed Al-Adnani to acquire all of Syria as an ally in their attempt to foment a jihadii uprising in the Russian Federation?

    Thank you Pat Buchanan for another splendid article. I am prouad to have worked in your Presidential campaign – you were right, Bush was very wrong.

    • I’m not saying Bush’s invasion was without mistake, but it had wide support including Democrats like H. Clinton, Kerry, and Biden. It was also becoming apparent. that Hussein had no intention of honouring the ceasefire he had just signed, nor had the U.N. any intention of enforcing. What war in the history of Mankind, in your opinion, was fought without mistake? Achieving lasting peace is trial and error, there is no play book, and has been for every conflict in history. To state that Buchanan is “right”, and “Bush was wrong”, is no argument, and implies that leaving Saddam Hussein to brutalise his people, and threaten his neighbours, would have been the preferable choice. This of course is nonsense, and at best, shows that today’s political class, have no direction, or vision, other than that of garnering votes.

      At any rate, his invasion had a goal – to impose democracy- which by all accounts, was being realised. Iraq, when he left office, was relatively stable, and “democratic”. Barak Obama said this himself, and ISIL was “JV”. Unfortunately, the criticism, and “anti-war” rhetoric, much of it for no other reason than political gain, and amplified by the media, confused the American people who subsequently chose an “alternative” foreign policy, one that has undoubtedly made the situation much more worse. There is no end goal, and the killing, and violence has sky rocketed, and looks to continue, for the foreseeable future.

      WWII was 10 times the disaster that was Iraq, and deposing Hussein was just as worthwhile as deposing Hitler. After the war, subsequent administrations set aside political agenda’s, and made efforts to stabilise, and rebuild Germany and Japan. The dividends have paid off big time, and the citizens of those countries enjoy opportunities, and freedoms, that, had it not been for the sacrifices of Americans, may never have materialised. This is what I believe Bush was trying to replicate, but he misjudged the American people. We are no longer our “Grandparents Generation”. Bush made the investment, but Obama shorted the “stock”, long before any dividend payout, and the Iraqi’s are now left “holding the bag”.

  3. While I don’t agree with Mr. Buchanan on setting Mr. Putin as an example of conservative statesmanship, as he appears to do, I do agree with the likes of Claes Ryn in their critique of the idea of forcing the American liberal ideology upon other cultures. The self-righteous elites of this country always seek to force their “enlightened” ideology upon others whether by court decree, executive fiat, or the point of a gun. Considering the moral failure America has become this country has need of pulling the beam out of its own eye before seeking to pull the splinters out of the eyes of others, indeed, is in need of getting to its knees in repentance, and not in going about the world to right the wrongs of others. It should not be a wonder that a regime that intervenes “in the internal affairs of nations,” as Buchanan put it, should also intervene with the internal affairs of the people of the states when those have already made their wishes clear upon issues which are only for themselves to decide. We’re long down the road past the soft despotism of de Tocqueville, and this regime cannot be deemed a model worthy of export by any of the conservative temperament.

  4. A few questions for Mr. Buchanan:

    Is he convinced that Mr. Putin really is saying “Nations have a right to be themselves”?

    Is he confident that Mr. Putin is willing to apply that statement to the Baltic states, to Poland, and to the Czech Republic, especially given Russia’s history?

    If Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia believe that securing the right “to be themselves” includes joining NATO, why, then, is it something that would cause “the visceral Russian recoil”?

  5. Our moral “imperialism” is based upon the mistaken idea that every culture on this planet just needs to adopt our Constitution. Some societies are going to be run by despots, because they MUST in order to maintain some stability. Perhaps we could stop pretending that Russia, Egypt (we’re getting there), Tunisia, Libya, Syria, etc. need to share our outlook regarding freedom, democracy or liberty in regards to how they run their own countries. Perhaps we could partner up with other Westerners against the real threat, creeping islam.

  6. I don’t know how Mr. Buchanan would answer Mr. Gale’s question, but I should like to have a go:

    Poland, the Baltic States and the Chech Republic are all in NATO, and it was Russia which agreed to these countries joining NATO (under President Yeltsin), because the West and its’ new Eastern European allies assured Russia that NATO expansion would not threaten Russia. All of this happened peacefully thanks to good diplomacy and patience.

    The “visceral Russian recoil” is the result of American military action undertaken in Iraq with the support of many of its’ Eastern European NATO allies and the second stage of American and NATO activity in the form of color revolutions throughout countries that either border Russia or are of strategic significance to Russia. All of these actions – of the last 15 years – have convinced more and more Russians that NATO is encircling them.

    As the old joke goes: “Russia threatens NATO! We must built up our armies! Look how close Russians put their country to NATO!”

    It is the violent nature of the tumults that NATO policy has pursued – often far far beyond NATO’s borders and far far beyond anything remotely similar to defensive strategy on the part of NATO – that has Russians worried.

    The issue is not the right of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to join NATO – no one, including Russia, questions this right – it is fiat accompli – it is a fact, NATO is NATO – NATO borders are NATO borders.

    Russia does, however, question whether further NATO expansion by means of western sponsored coups are legitamite.

    Please read Contract 2015 – this was the blueprint laid out by the West back in 2010/2011 for intergrating Russia into NATO.

    It’s 2015 – where is that blueprint?

    Who was kidding who?

    Anyone in Russia who took contract 2015 seriously must be hiding their head in the sand now. We have short memories.

    If we had just stuck to contract 2015 and pursued normal relations with Russia – you might even have Ukraine in NATO – along with Russia – maybe it would no longer be NATO – maybe it would be PATO (Pacific-Atlantic Treaty Organization)?

    And then rather than the Russians worry about us, or us worry about the Russians, it would be ISIS that would be worried about all of us.

    So if you would like to continue helping crazy people who like to chop off heads take over the Middle East – be my guest – huff and puff that Russia is evil because Estonia says so. Estonia is a wonderful place, a solid ally – and its’ soveriegnty is guaranteed against any potential Russian foolishness by NATO – but that does not mean that we should therefore assume that Estonia is right about how to fight ISIS.

    (Also – maybe Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – especially Lithuania) – would like to think about living up to their commitents to Democracy?

    In Lithuania – Polish people and Polish schools are heavily discriminated – along with Russians. Russians and Poles in Lithuania have come together to protest this discrimination which is in violation of European Union standards.

    In all three of the Baltic States – tens of thousands of Russians live as stateless people – without passports, without human rights, without the right to vote – all because they are ethnically Russian.

    And this is democracy? How is this fair? How is this “human rights”?

    These are real, complex problems that need time and hard work to solve.

    This is one area where Mr. Trump seems to see things more clearly than the rest of the field.

  7. Mr. George W,

    First, I did not write that Mr. Buchanan “is” right, I wrote he “was” right , referring to his presidential campaign in 2000. Mr. Buchanan had then outlined a foreign policy for post-cold war America which he outlined in his excellent book “A Republic , not an Empire.” Had Americans heeded Mr. Buchanan and given more credit to his ideas, the country would not be in the current mess. I encourage everyone to read “A Republic , not an Empire” and compare what Mr. Buchanan wrote about to the United States as they are today.

    Second, your point about World War II only strengthens Mr. Buchanan’s argument because there would not have been a victory over fascism without the Soviet Union which fought and defeated 80% of the German army during the Great Patriotic War from 1941 – 1945. If you really want to draw lessons from World War II at the level of tactical warfare, having Russia as an ally against ISIS only helps America . Obstruction against Russia in favor of “pro-democracy rebels” in Syria is the height of folly. Russia is a historic American partner, despite all of the often tragic conflicts between the West and Russia, Russia is more predictable and more of a serious partner than some Syrian revolutionaries.

    What gives us any assurance that allowing the rebels to topple Presisent Assad will lead to liberal democracy in Syria? Hasn’t recent practical experience taught us that toppling imperfect regimes in the Middle East only drives perfect chaos? Perhaps it is wiser to foster eventual political liberalization by setting a good example at home and using dialogue and diplomacy while also recognizing that other nations may have different political forms through which universal justice is expressed?

    The United States should work to build a grand coalition of Russia/Turkey/America/Syria/Iran and Israel to stop ISIS and restore law and order to the middle east. And if Israel won’t go along, then the US should forge ahead with the coalition anyways.

    Mr. Putin has Iraq, Iran and Syria with him. Moderate imperfect yet relatively stable regimes rightly want to restore law and order .

    At this stage , good and evil are identified in the following way:

    Good: A country with stable borders that you can fly into and visit without risk of being kidnapped and beheaded .

    Bad: A country engulfed in blood death and flames

    Democracy , gay rights , Women’s equality – all of that is a ridiculous mirage and if we judge international partners by such pathetic standards we will continue to lose.

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