This week Jonathan Chait reminded us of the origins of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party.
Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.
“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”
This is what sparked a love-fest for Putin’s tactics from Republicans immediately following his invasion of Ukraine. “That’s what you call a leader” said Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that Putin was playing chess while President Obama played marbles.
At the time, the Obama administration consistently suggested that Putin was engaging in 19th-20th century tactics in a 21st century world.
…Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world’s financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.
“What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating,” says a senior administration official, speaking on background. “But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world.”
President Obama addressed this directly during his speech in Brussels on March 26th.
Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves – the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding…
But those ideals have also been tested – and threatened – by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, and that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.
That speech – which was one of the most powerful of Obama’s presidency – was meant to unite the people of Europe (especially its young people) around this new form of 21st century power – even if it meant sacrifice from them. In this interconnected world, it is about the power of partnership as a tool to defeat the power of dominance.
Lately the Republicans have been a bit more hesitant to express their admiration of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps that’s because – when stacked up against 21st century tactics – the power dominance is a pretty poor alternative.