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Tales from the Russian American Bund

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to create heartburn for reactionary populists. Jacob Heilbrunn reports from an emergency gathering of crypto-fascist luminaries:

It was notable that at the conference, speaker after speaker targeted the GOP hawks more often than they spoke about Ukraine itself. Indeed, Kyiv itself was essentially MIA — serving more as a proxy for a dispute about America nationhood than about the country’s own fate as it’s mercilessly pummeled by Putin. The basic argument, outlined in a manifesto titled “Away From the Abyss” appearing in the new Compact magazine, is that aiding Ukraine is tantamount to hurting Ukraine. In resisting deescalation, the U.S. and its allies, so the thinking goes, run the risk of encouraging hapless Ukrainians to battle to the last man, all in the hopes of pursuing a Western-led regime change policy toward Moscow that might well trigger a global cataclysm.

Remember when shills and useful idiots who peddled pro-Assad propaganda were actually ‘principled opponents of U.S. intervention’? Plus ça change.

When it came to the actual events in Russia and Ukraine, the panelists grappled with the issue more uneasily. Some castigated the media for demonizing anyone who had the audacity to suggest that America should not rush to war. Lee Smith, who writes for Real Clear Investigations and Tablet, defended conservative commentator Candace Owens, who, among other things, blamed America for the war in Ukraine. According to Smith, the true implication of the brouhaha stirred up by Owens’ remarks is that “Donald Trump supporters are disloyal. American voters, at least half the country, are disloyal.” This “rolls over” into Jan. 6, he added. “Anyone who didn’t vote for Biden” ends up being unfairly branded as “an insurrectionist or a domestic terrorist.”

And yet the overwhelming majority of Trump voters didn’t actually do an insurrection, while most Republicans have soured on Putin and Russia.

I expect that we’ll see more of this kind of bobbing and weaving, especially if coverage of Russian atrocities continues to grow. But not all reactionaries are willing to obfuscate their views on Putinism.

“Several of the panelists either avoided talking about Putin or largely elided the brutality of his attempted subjugation of an entire people. But more than a few appear to harbor a conciliatory view of Putin’s prowess that was first enunciated by Patrick J. Buchanan eight years ago in a column in the American Conservative. Buchanan asked, “Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative? In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?” The question was pretty much rhetorical. Buchanan’s argument was that America, not Russia, was the bad guy in the world. According to Buchanan, “President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire ‘the focus of evil in the modern world.’ President Putin is implying that Barack Obama’s America may deserve the title in the 21st century. Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.”

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