Tuesday, 22 November 2016
To halt Putin we must solve our own existential quandary
As a commenter on this blog put it to me just recently, "Putin is a symbol of patriotic anti-liberalism (as in modern lefty-liberalism, not traditional liberalism). For modern liberals he must be defeated, so that their world view can continue to triumph. This isn’t a matter of principle based on Putin’s character deficiencies but merely another fight between modern liberalism and conservatism. That is why trying to introduce some rationality into the debate is bound to fall on deaf ears".
There is a lot of truth in that. Putin is a very much a self-styled anti-liberal and the attacks in recent years on LGBT rights are a strong signal to that effect. While it horrifies western liberals, majority-Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe are paying very close attention. There is a battle for the soul of eastern Europe in which the West is cack-handedly imposing social mores and that is why the West is losing.
The first step to sorting out a mess is to realise that you are making a mess and to stop doing those things that make it worse. John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, remarks that "if Trump decides to get the State Department out of the business of exporting our sexual mores to countries where they’re not wanted, that might cool things down with Moscow somewhat. However, the hard-wired strategic rivalry between the West and Russia will remain, no matter what pleasantries get exchanged between our leaders".
That is exactly as I see it. It is unlikely we are going to reconcile our differences with Russia but we can at least normalise relations and cool down the stalemate. That is the best we can hope to achieve and if it averts a new cold war then it would be a much needed foreign policy win. We are presently at a crossroads where things could go either way.
Schindler notes this week the Iskander-M missiles systems deployed to Kaliningrad, which Moscow has said was merely part of a military exercise, will be staying there permanently. Since those missiles can launch nuclear or conventional warheads as far as 300 miles with stunning accuracy, Russia now holds a powerful military advantage over NATO in the Baltic region.
"Predictably, the Kremlin maintains that moving state-of-the art missiles into Kaliningrad is a response to American ballistic missile defenses which have been deployed in Eastern Europe. As usual, Moscow depicts all its military moves, even ones which are destabilizing to regional security, as cosmically defensive, so great is the Western threat to Russia".
If I recall, the US missiles deployed to Eastern Europe were more at the behest of the US defence industry than at the request of Poland. Russia's pretext is not entirely without justification. But then this very much is a game of chess, where Putin is playing the long game establishing beachheads with a view to annexing former Soviet states. This has already succeeded in Ukraine and there is nothing we can do about it except to take up a firm position of deterrence.
But this is where our own culture war comes into play. Our own liberal establishment, which is imposing unwanted liberal impositions on the popular morality domestically as well as abroad, is losing moral authority. They are very much testing the tolerance of their populations to the limit while at the same time cultivating an authoritarian and illiberal regime where if one has a different opinion you make sure you keep it to yourself.
That in some way explains the spike in what we now call hate crimes in that Brexit and the election of Trump once again allows for open debate and the free expression of politically incorrect opinion. In the west we live under the conceit that we have changed attitudes when in fact all we have done is stifled free speech and buried all opposition to the liberal narrative. Hardly surprising then that we are seeing a backlash.
It is said that Russian propaganda in the West is responsible for turning populations against the establishment - but is in fact merely articulating attitudes that already exist that our state broadcaster will not even debate. So much so that popular politically incorrect BBC comedies from the 1970's have been all but erased and sent down the memory hole. Our own establishment is terrified by mere ideas.
As it happens most people are ok with homosexuality. Most people are tolerant and most people in the end would not wish to see persecution of gays, violent assaults or discrimination in the work place. Where social conservatives draw the line is the fact that gay marriage was effectively brought about by a diktat without debate and we have become so openly "liberal" that if you look at pictures of London Gay Pride marches, we are bordering on normalising sexual deviancy.
For the virtue signalling liberal youth its all jolly good fun and a chance to parade one's right-on credentials but it is in fact a collective gloat in that anyone who thinks it is over the top is no longer even entitled to a public opinion on the subject. Certainly not if they wish to keep their social standing in polite society.
Where I stand on this particular matter is neither here nor there, but in all honesty I am not wholly convinced that homosexuality and bisexuality is occurring genetically as is the established view, and the increased instances we see in the West are a product of an ever more confused culture and could in fact be a Darwinian population stress response in societies where house prices are high and the cost of raising children is prohibitive. There are any number of social factors which have not been properly explored because of a politically correct kosh hanging over academia.
I expect even now this post has raised some eyebrows because what I am saying here is not something presently inside the spectrum political acceptability, and to merely discuss it is a deviation and therefore bigotry. That is where we are at now, where even questioning an orthodoxy out of genuine enquiry is considered impolite and bigoted. As it happens I don't actually care either way but the point is that rather a lot of people do, and if we want a liberal society then we have to change minds through open debate rather than bury ideas.
The socially conservative among us are rightly concerned that we do not end up in the mess America is in where there are dozens of genders, and gender identity issues leading to all manner of psychological illnesses. We first need to know if we are seeing a genuine medical issue or socio-political psychological disorder - for want of better terminology (sounds a bit nazi!). The confusion we are now sowing in young people is leading to depression and suicide and when you look at Caitlyn Jenner, and the fawning cult built up around her, I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if provincial Poles and Ukrainians would rather go back into the Russian sphere than to become the degenerate mess that is now the USA.
Effectively, said with some mirth, we have become godless heathens in no position to be exporting our values. Furthermore the idea that we can export our so-called democratic values is also up for question in that we are increasingly electing either the intellectually subnormal or the criminally insane. The West is in a right old mess and our "democracy" is broken. Perhaps Turkey looking East is symptomatic?
In this, Putin is setting himself up as the defender of Christian values (whatever those are these days) where his authoritarianism is the equal and opposite of our own. Putin is pointing to the West and making a case that we have become so embroiled in our own navel-gazing that we have lost the capacity to adequately respond to existential threats such as Islamism where the inevitable consequence is the massacres in Paris. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn;t Melanie Phillips make that case?
Some observe that the propaganda efforts of Putin are now to sow just enough confusion that there is a tacit mandate for him to pretty much do as he pleases - and if that is the case then it seems to work. The fact Putin is murdering his way through his political opposition and jailing journalists doesn't seem to count for much these days.
It seems to me that the political elites of the West have become so far detached from their own citizenry that the values they export are those imposed on the us rather than judeo-christian values which are probably stronger than anyone still suspects. Through wealth and general slovenliness though we have abandoned faith and given way to a weak secularism that allows any old values to fill the vacuum. We have no answers.
Now at this point, if you're thinking this post is a load of rambling introspection, then you're absolutely right. (You may have another word for it). The purpose of this post is to explore how some of these issues interrelate. If the West wants to make a principled defence of liberty in the face of Russian illiberalism and aggression then Western leaders need to get back in touch with their peoples and we need a no holds barred debate about all of the politically correct assumptions we have been living under for the last three decades. Just how liberal are we really?
As much as Putin is able to exploit our military disarray he is able to exploit the West's own existential funk. This is why to my mind the weakening of the EU could not have come sooner. The Commission is no longer able to act as a rogue non-state actor and it is now only one voice among many now that Brexit has emboldened Poland, Romania and Hungary to speak up in their own names.
The decision as to whether we stand up to Putin in all things has to be one taken by common agreement rather than it being the geo-political DNA of a dysfunctional and dying supranational project. In this I believe there is common ground to be found with Russia that the European Commission could never find. There may be a way to pause the escalation and there may be a way forward where our allies do not have to choose between the dead hand of Russian authoritairnsm and the death spiral of the West.
It seems to me that we have few remaining chances to dissuade Russia from further destabilising Europe. To my mind that means cutting our losses where we have already failed but reinforcing our deterrent to ensure that state of hard-wired rivalry does not spiral into something that we will all live to regret. The election of Trump is a sign that America can meet Russia half way now that hyper-liberalism is dead. There may even be a way for UK to broker a new settlement. Whatever that looks like - it looks a lot better than war.