Brian Birdnow

In the Human Events piece last week, Buchanan left no doubt concerning his position on the Crimean crisis and Vladimir Putin. “Vladimir Putin is a blood-and-soil, altar-and-throne ethnonationalist who sees himself as the protector of Mother Russia…” “He saw a Mother Russia that had been looted by crony capitalists, including Americans.” “He saw a United States that had deceived Russia with its pledge not to move NATO into Eastern Europe if the Red Army would move out, and then exploited Russia’s withdrawal to bring NATO on to her front porch.” Pat then takes a swipe at Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and the rest of the crowd at the Project For a New American Century by stating “Had the neoconservatives gotten their way, the Warsaw Pact nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and the ex-Soviet Republics would have been brought into a NATO alliance to contain and, if need be, fight Russia.” Pat then fires a shot at the entirety of American foreign policy since the late 80s by saying “We lost Russia, but got Rumania as an ally? What benefit have we derived from having Estonia and Latvia as NATO allies that justify losing Russia as the friend and partner that Ronald Reagan had made by the end of the Cold War?” He finishes with a flourish “America and Russia are on a collision course today over a matter that no Cold War president would have considered any of our business.” Since Pat has been urging a hands-off Eastern Europe policy for years this comment comes as no surprise.

When we take a closer look at these charges we see a less clear and more complex picture. PJB defends Putin for somehow standing against the looting of Russia by a corrupt oligarchy. Who stepped in and took over the state run industries in the wake of the Soviet collapse? Mostly investment groups with ties to the KGB, many of whom personally knew and worked with Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB colonel, himself. Putin has also acted as a latter day Herman Goering by seizing private Russian industries and helping himself to a hefty share of the profits upon their resale. Putin is hardly a Disraeli, working to shield his people from the excesses of unbridled Manchester liberalism, or a Theodore Roosevelt maneuvering to check the malefactors of great wealth.

The charge that we Americans double-crossed Russia by breaking a promise to refrain from expanding NATO in exchange for a pledge of Red Army good conduct is also open to interpretation. We moved to alleviate Eastern European nervousness concerning Russian intentions by incorporating those countries into a common defensive perimeter. The Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Rumanians did not buy paper guarantees of their freedom, and, if one considers the history of 1938-89, they had good reason to be concerned. Offering those countries positions within a common defensive shield should not concern Moscow, unless the Russians have an aggressive game plan for the future.

When Buchanan states that our butting into a Russian-Ukrainian argument is a breathtaking example of American neo-imperialism, he is restating his argument from the mid-1990, largely that the Russians have historically run Eastern Europe and that this area is no concern of ours. He is certainly correct in discerning that American public opinion is completely against intervention in the Crimea, or, for that matter, in the Baltic States, as PJB often counseled. Still, the Ukraine is a large land area that has publicly stated its friendship with the United States. There are many Ukrainians living in America, the Ukrainian Catholic Church has publicly announced that they fear this Russian power grab in Crimea is a pretext for further aggressive moves, and we cannot simply hope that this crisis will work itself out on its own, even if President Obama is more interested in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. March Madness, indeed!

In fact, a closer look at the Crimean crisis should cause the casual observer great anxiety. While Pat Buchanan sees no aggressive Russian moves against the USA since the collapse of communism the fact is that the CIA has noted a decided uptick in Russian espionage against America since 2000. We know that information leaker Edward Snowden is still in Russia, and likely to remain there. The Russians are once again negotiating to build military bases in former client states Cuba and Nicaragua. Russian naval fleets regularly cruise the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes within sight of the American coast. They are now involved in official talks bent on building a submarine base in Venezuela. The provocations rival the acts of Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s.

Pat Buchanan’s tendency to give Vladimir Putin a pass on these aggressive actions stems not from an urge to ask Americans to engage in true multiculturalism and to see the world from another nation’s perspective; rather this is born out of Buchanan’s oft-repeated conviction that Putin is a like-minded culture warrior. PJB has pointed out that Putin advocates a straight laced public morality that was also the fashion in the secular West until the 1970s. While many Americans agree with Putin on these cultural issues a few other facts bear remembering. Vladimir Putin, the Russian strongman, is an ex-secret police colonel. He is the heir apparent of a formerly openly atheist state. (Godless Communism, anyone?) Putin strongly laments the fall of that state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as the greatest tragedy of modern world history. One would think that Putin’s lament would warm Pat Buchanan’s heart. After all, a Russian defeat in the Cold War equaled American victory, did it not? Vladimir Putin is a proponent of the “Great Russia” philosophy, and, as such, he is dedicated to pursuing a foreign policy consistent since Peter The Great and moving steadily to Leonid Brezhnev. Simply put, that policy is expansion wherever possible and whenever possible. This should concern Pat Buchanan, and all other Americans.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.