Opposing War With Russia Doesn’t Require Excusing Putin’s Aggression

As a long-time critic of American military interventionism, I’ve been dismayed by the lack of moral clarity expressed by some libertarians and conservatives regarding Russia’s inexcusable attack on Ukraine. It is not possible to support direct American military interventions with a nuclear-armed Russia or excuse its leader Vladimir Putin.

Unfortunately, they’ve often gone beyond the line. They have crossed the line. It’s one thing to argue that perhaps the United States shouldn’t have pushed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Russia’s borders and another to sound like those old Soviet commentators spewing unsophisticated agitprop.

For instance, former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts made this argument in the, er, libertarian “anti-war” “(T)he chance of a wider war would be far less if the Kremlin had committed all of the invasion forces and used whatever conventional weapons necessary regardless of civilian casualties to quickly end the war, while refusing to be delayed and distracted by negotiations and Western bleating.”

Roberts does not consider “any other conventional weapons needed” an antiwar idea. Neither does Roberts’ account of the Russian “demilitarization of Ukraine” a “demilitarization”. That description is so absurd it reminds me of the cheesiest efforts of Saddam Hussein’s propagandist, Baghdad Bob, who always claimed that Iraqi was rousting American armed forces. Although I am more worried about Western bleating than war crimes, what else do I know?

Pat Buchanan was a Republican presidential candidate who called Putin a Russian patriot and traditionalist. Buchanan also said that Putin is a “Russian nationalist, patriot and traditionalist” looking to keep Russia the powerful and revered power that it once was. Buchanan, a nationalist and traditionalist, is very proud of that. His columns have blamed the Russian invasion on the United States, and excused Putin’s seizing of Crimea: “Teddy Roosevelt stole Panama with similar remorse.”

It’s far too easy to find glowing descriptions of Putin on the nationalist right, and not just from Donald Trump. “Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R–N.C.) said recently. Remember that Ukraine’s government is extremely corrupt, incredibly evil, and has been pushing wake ideologies.”

You can understand why Putin is so fascinated by autocratic leaders with similar views as Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Viktor Orban. “See, this is the thing,” wrote American ConservativeRod Dreher (a pundit) last year. He has been on a pilgrimage through Hungary. “Putin, Orban, and all the illiberal leaders…are all completely clear and completely correct on the society-destroying nature of wokeness and postliberal leftism.” You know the story about trains.

Dreher has criticized the Russian invasion, but like other populist conservatives he doesn’t spend much time examining allegations that Putin’s government murders journalists, poisons political foes, and imprisons people who participate in peaceful protests. This far-right conservative likes that he is a nationalist and “patriot tough” guy, who won’t tolerate open immigration, fake media criticism or any other gay-related issues.

A lot of conservatives would be willing to sacrifice our nation’s market economy and constitutional protections in order to support post-liberal dictatorships. They are frustrated at our nation’s cultural tilt. Prominent conservative writer Sohrab Amari famously tweeted that he’s “at peace with a Chinese-led 21st century,” because “(l)ate-liberal America is too dumb and decadent to last as a superpower.”

Liberal democracy is perhaps too messy for them. However, what is the explanation for many libertarians’ opinions?

“(L)obbyists for the military-industrial-complex are already ‘explaining’ to a very receptive Capitol Hill audience why the Ukraine crisis justifies increasing the military budget to ‘counter the threats’ from Russia, China, and whoever else can serve as a convenient boogeyman,” wrote former congressman and libertarian icon Ron Paul, in a column remarkable for its level of free association.

Paul labeled Putin the “new coronavirus,” and seemed more worried that Big Tech companies were censoring people who “question the U.S. government’s claims regarding the Ukraine crisis” than he was about the Russian military’s attack on hospitals and apartments. This thinking can be difficult to understand, but it is rooted in my constant outrage at the government’s abuses.

There are plenty of zany right-leaning hot takes that take an even more unusual view, such as this idea from a “Forbidden Knowledge TV” column: “Vladimir Putin is good friends with Henry Kissinger, the ultimate New World Order Deep State toady here, in the United States; the Rockefeller poodle who made his living serving as a shill for the New World Order.” This explains everything.

This is no moral dilemma. Russia should not invade neighboring countries. It is best for the United States to avoid conflict and help Ukraine protect itself. Democracies can be better than dictatorships, despite their faults. The U.S. government does many awful things, but it isn’t actually to blame for everything. I can recall when libertarians as well as conservatives understood these points.

This column appeared in The Orange County Register for the first time.