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I really can’t figure what this Economist editorial reeks more of: Hypocrisy, mendacity, or pure delusion?

That is as it should be, for since his decision last autumn to return to the Kremlin, Mr Putin has been stridently negative and anti-Western, most recently over Syria (see article)

Being anti-Western is “negative”, even for daring to oppose Western-backed Islamist crazies who will back-stab their handlers as soon as they’re able to.

But the reset was based in part on two misplaced hopes: that Dmitry Medvedev, who had been lent the presidency for one term by Mr Putin in 2008, would genuinely take charge of the country, and that some in his government had sound liberalising, pro-Western instincts.

Note how “liberalizing” and “pro-Western” are conflated, because one can’t possibly liberalize without kowtowing to Western interests too. Furthermore, bear in mind the unspoken assumption that normal relations (“the reset”) are only to be rewarded for said kowtowing to the West. The concept of equality and reciprocity is alien to the minds of Western chauvinists.

Those hopes were dashed by Mr Putin’s swatting aside of Mr Medvedev last September to allow his own return to the Kremlin, the rigging of elections, his crackdown on Moscow’s protesters and his new Nyet posture.

Elections in which Putin still got a certain majority, however hard The Economist tries to misrepresent otherwise, and “crackdowns” that are literally baby play compared to the violence meted out to Occupy protesters throughout the Western world (something like 50 journalists arrested to date and counting; preemptive arrests of republican demonstrators in the UK), and for adopting fines and regulations on protests that are actually fairly mild compared to most advanced democracies. Then again, in Economist world of pandering to Anglo-Saxon elites, the Occupy protesters are subhuman scum (because they are anti-elite, ergo “anti-Western”) whereas the liberal Russian protesters should be immune to all prosecution even when filmed throwing cobblestones at the police.

Really, “his Nyet posture” is the critical thing here. Like the mafia, the West won’t take no for an answer.

And why not dangle in front of the bauble-loving Mr Putin the prospect of Russian membership of the OECD rich-country club?

Well in principle, entrance to the OECD is supposed to happen based on objective criteria, most or all of which Russia now fulfills I believe now that it has joined the WTO. The Economist is essentially urging these organizations to politicize themselves, which in turn reflects their own delusion. It might have worked a generation ago but today pulling such stunts will only discredit these Western-dominated institutions all the faster given the rising influence of the BRIC’s and other non-crazy countries that aren’t self-entitled to absurdity.

Western ambassadors should not hesitate to talk to opposition protesters in Moscow just because the Kremlin objects.

I don’t think “hesitation” has been exactly a problem with McFaul. If Western countries insist on following The Economist’s advice, the correct response would be symmetrical: Have Russian ambassadors meet up with Occupy leaders, pirate groups, Muslim rights activists, etc and channel a few million dollars their way to “improve” democracy and civil rights in the West. What sauce is good for the goose is good for the gander after all.

In foreign policy, too, the West should stand firm. Russia cannot be allowed to veto America’s missile-defence plans in Europe. Nor should Mr Putin’s continued blocking of UN Security Council resolutions authorising intervention in Syria be treated as an insurmountable bar to action, any more than it was in Kosovo in 1999. G20 leaders should do their utmost to embarrass Mr Putin over his backing for Mr Assad.

Again, more than anything, it’s delusion that shines through here. (Ample hypocrisy too, however, encapsulated in just one word: Bahrain). But really delusion wins out. The Economist just like various Republican nutjobs like Romney genuinely think that the world works to the following schematic:

Step 1: Aggressively confront Russia.
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Russia comes to support US interests. Profit!

More than anything this really demonstrates far better than I could ever describe myself how The Economist is most definitely NOT a publication you want to read for facts, insights, etc.; instead, it is a barometer of Western elite opinion, or literary soul food for Western chauvinists.

If Western leaders actually insist on going through with The Economist’s recommendations, as opposed to just dreaming about them, their own global influence will dissipate all the faster.

Mr Putin respects toughness, not weakness.

What exactly is wrong with that? It is quite clear that in the past 500 years, being tough (or standing up for oneself) has worked out far better than being weak (which invites bullying and derision in addition to being inherently pitiable). That is because the West itself only ever respects strength, despite its moralistic platitudes to the contrary; something that naive fools like Gorbachev have always ended up finding to their own cost – well, their country’s cost, anyway.

This matters when it comes to his government’s more egregious behaviour, such as the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once boss of the Yukos oil company, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for William Browder, a foreign investor, or the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former security official.

Predictably, the standard party line is repeated verbatim, as per the best traditions of Pravda, conveniently leaving out the facts that the ECHR itself disagree s that Khodorkovsky is a political prisoner or the mounting pile of evidence that Lugovoi or the FSB had nothing to do with the Litvinenko hit. Or that there are about 500 Magnitsky-like deaths in custody in the US and likewise in Russia every year, the major difference here being that he is a high-profile case who has been propagandized by William Browder, an oligarch money highly hostile to Putin.

In cases like these it is right to try to identify the individuals involved so as to deny them visas and freeze their assets, as a congressional legislative amendment related to the Magnitsky case proposes.

Their country and their right, but then it is incumbent on Russia as a self-respecting country to reciprocate in kind: Identify Western human rights abusers (e.g. those who run Guantanamo), and deny them entry to Russia and attempt to extend the sanctions abroad. As indeed has happened.

Mr Putin cultivates the image of a popular and admired strongman, but the wave of protests since he announced his return to the Kremlin has exposed his weakness and loss of support. His power base is beginning to erode.

More delusion.

Economic engagement with the West, combined with firm criticism of his democratic and human-rights abuses at home and abroad, are the best response.

Not to mention an inescapable sense of schizophrenia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
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In the years since 9/11, the US has built a mosaic of national security powers that undermine its claim to be the “land of the free.” According to this useful summary by Jonathan Turley, these include: Assassination of its own citizens; warrantless searches; use of secret evidence and secret courts; the rise of an unaccountable surveillance state (more on that by Glenn Greenwald). This is in addition to hosting the world’s largest prison population (both in relative and absolute numbers), which includes what for all intents and purposes can be considered a transnational Gulag as part of its efforts in the endless-by-definition “war on terror.” At least for many Muslims and minorities, the US has already not been a liberal democracy for a long time.

But at what point can a country be considered to have definitively retreated from liberal democracy? After all, though much of the above are common to authoritarian states, they are sometimes present in liberal democracies too; and besides, the US does have some mitigating features (e.g. strong freedom of speech provisions that are relatively free from PC and libel laws, unlike in the UK and much of Europe).

The argument can be made that the US ceased being a liberal democracy on December 31, 2011 – the day the NDAA 2012 was signed into law by Obama. This legalizes the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military on the mere suspicion that the suspect is “associated with” terrorism or committed “belligerent acts” against the US or its allies. Bearing in mind the incredibly broad and flexible definition of what “terrorism” actually means, this could potentially encompass any number of anti-elite groups: Anonymous, Wikileaks, Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, etc.

AK Edit: Regrettably, all the old polls have gone.

Even if we are to (very generously) assume that this law will only be conscientiously wielded against genuine terrorists, there is room for doubt that indefinite detention is compatible with liberal democracy. After all, no other countries commonly considered to be liberal democracies – so far as I’m aware – have indefinite detention powers as sweeping as those contained in the NDAA. Even many countries considered to be illiberal democracies (or outright dictatorships), such as Russia, don’t have anything like it. And, of course, this assumption of good intentions is pollyannaish, given that the government has given no cause for trust whatsoever in this matter (what with the FBI setting up terrorist plots, the numerous cases of wrongful detention at Guantanamo, etc).

Of course, this is not to say that in a few years the US will come to resemble a tinpot dictatorship. Some historical perspective is necessary. Indefinite detention and imprisonment without trial aren’t unprecedented: See the 1950 McCarran Act, introduced at the height of the red scare, didn’t exactly lead to authoritarianism (though the US at the time was a great deal more illiberal that many care to admit). Furthermore, it’s also important to note that the NDAA legislation merely codifies powers that the executive has both claimed (through the AUMF) and exercised for the past decade, and besides it is only building on past efforts such as the flopped Enemy Belligerent Act of 2010; so one can argue that the change is not so abrupt as to constitute a crossing-the-Rubicon type of event.

Perhaps. Then again, there are caveats to that viewpoint too. The 1950′s-60′s were a period of fast growth and prosperity, so there was no real base for authoritarian regression. The prospects for the next decade don’t look anywhere near as good; in fact, they are downright dismal, and may well see some combination of high inflation and default. And democracy tends to wane in days of depression. Faced with challenges from the far left and the far right, the elites may find it necessary to consolidate a profoundly different social order, a post-constitutional Third Republic of sorts: One that is fiscally and socially conservative, and more authoritarian than the current one. To do this they will need to enlist the support of the billionaires; as far as this is concerned, the Wall Street bailouts, Citizens United and corporate citizenship, SOPA/PIPA, etc. may well be only harbingers of what is yet to come.

But this is all speculation. In the here and now, the fact of the matter is that the US now has national security laws on its books far more draconian than those of any other country considered to be a liberal democracy; indeed, I doubt you would find anything similar even in countries whose democracies are often criticized, such as Russia, Venezuela, or now Hungary. These laws apply to “terrorists”, a grouping every bit as ephemeral and ill-defined as “counter-revolutionaries” under Article 58 of the Stalinist lawcode. I have no choice but to lower the US from a “semi-liberal democracy” to an “illiberal democracy” in this year’s edition of the Karlin Freedom Index.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.