International Affairs

Let Russia Be Russia

October 25, 2016

Multiple Pages
Let Russia Be Russia

Over the past few months, alleged Russian hackers have revealed that the Clinton camp defrauded the Democratic primary, sold access to the executive branch to state sponsors of terrorism, transmitted classified information over unsecured channels, colluded with the DOJ to undermine a federal investigation, and actively funded groups whose express purpose is to pervert the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

If “alleged Russian hackers” is the most problematic part of that statement for you, you’re part of the problem.

Let’s be more specific: The woman who may well be the next POTUS is engaging in a campaign to manipulate her country’s democratic, legal, and religious institutions, and that apparently doesn’t bother you people so much as the fact that Russia engages in espionage. Which isn’t exactly a Book of Mormon-tier revelation. It’s no secret that countries spy on one another. And this should surprise the U.S. least of all, considering the NSA was caught tapping the German Chancellery as late as 2015. If that’s how the U.S. treats its closest allies, why should we be surprised to find Kremlin cyberspies snooping around Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which by all accounts is about as secure as Tom Cruise’s sexuality?

“Twenty-five years after the Cold War’s anticlimax, we still assume Russia and its leaders are capable of nothing but evil.”

Look, the usual caveats apply. Putin’s bad news, the Russian government leaves much to be desired, etc. But it should be obvious by now that if these hackers hailed from literally anywhere else in the world—Iran, China, French Polynesia, whatever—we’d hardly bat an eye. We wouldn’t be shocked that other countries don’t resist the temptation to flip through classified reports when the Secretary of State leaves them sitting on her windowsill like a fresh blueberry pie. Yet because it’s Russia, and Putin’s Russia specifically, Clinton thinks she can rally public support for shooting the messenger.

And she may well be right. This goes to the heart of our insane, enduring Russophobia. Twenty-five years after the Cold War’s anticlimax, we still assume Russia and its leaders are capable of nothing but evil. Clinton has repeatedly claimed that Trump’s enthusiasm for a Russo-American alliance against ISIS is tantamount to supporting Putin, going so far as to call her opponent a Kremlin “puppet” in the final debate. I remember, in the heady days of the Bush Administration, accusing antiwar Democrat friends of implicitly aiding al-Qaeda. They didn’t back down, and were ultimately vindicated: It turns out bin Laden found refuge with our ally [sic] Pakistan, and Saddam didn’t have nuclear weapons. Yet apparently this is another slice of cheese altogether. It’s one thing to be accused of sympathizing with terrorists—but sympathizing with Russia? Say it ain’t so, Donny!

Happily, this caricature of the menacing Russian is rapidly losing traction. A December 2014 Gallup poll found Putin to be the tenth-most-admired person in the United States, statistically tying with Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. And a survey conducted in May by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that Putin was more popular—or, rather, less unpopular—than both presidential nominees: 38 percent of respondents claimed to have a “very negative” view of the Russian president, vis-à-vis 41 percent for Clinton and 44 percent for Trump. Despite the best efforts of scaremongering elites like Hilldawg, the American people aren’t falling for that fur-hatted, vodka-sipping straw man anymore.

But it’s not just the American people who are warming up to old Vlad. Despite the best efforts of Western elites, those pro-Russian regimes we keep trying to overthrow actually draw huge support from the people they govern. This time last year, the respected French daily Le Figaro showed that 70 percent of Syrians supported Assad; another Gallup poll taken seven months earlier found that 84 percent of Crimeans favored the Russian annexation. Now, you and I might disagree with those opinions. We might not find the idea of living under Putin’s thumb exactly appealing. But, frankly, who cares what we think?

This is the real danger of our everlasting campaign to destroy Moscow’s hegemon: It’s really quite popular. Those living in the Russosphere are either happy with their lot, or don’t want to gamble with the alternatives. Which means that we’re directly contravening the popular will of the very people we seek to liberate. I know it’s confounding to our liberal sensibilities, but it’s true. The rest of the world doesn’t hate Putin as much as we do.

So we have two choices. On the one hand, we drop all this piffle about “democracy” and admit we just want to knock Russia down a peg. We admit that we know what’s best for Syrians and Crimeans better than they do, and install pro-Western regimes in their countries. This would invite conflict, not only with the people of Syria and Crimea but also with Russia itself. Which seems somewhat less than desirable, if only because it will be a gigantic boon to Putin’s self-image as champion of the downtrodden and foe of Western imperialism. Because, erm…it would be true.

On the other hand, we just mind our own business for once. We let those regional disputes play themselves out, as they have done for thousands of years without our meddling. Hell, we might even work out some lucrative trade relationships with Russia and her allies. Certainly we’d find a few indispensable partners in the War on Terror. And best of all, those relationships would be built on a mutual respect for national sovereignty, not regime change.

If there’s a half-sensible reason to keep baiting the Russian bear, I just don’t see it.

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