American military affairs expert William Lind argued on The American Conservative website yesterday that Vladmir Putin’s Russia, particularly in the realm of foreign policy, exemplifies conservatism and the United States should take heed.
One thing I will agree on is that America’s approach to foreign policy over the past 15 years cannot be described as true to American conservatism. However Lind goes further, boldly arguing that Putin’s lip service to hands-off foreign policy, outlined in Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times lecturing America on intervening in Syria, reveals “a conservative Russia.”
Although Lind is smart and well-credentialed, and Putin is correct in noting “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries” is not in “America’s long term interest,” we cannot mistake Putin’s opportunism for genuine conservative values. Putin chastised the United States for intervening, but his own government has been sending arms to Syria.
Lind continues, using Putin’s concern over European countries legalizing gay marriage and his “anti-gay-propaganda” law as more proof of the Russian leader’s integrity.
Yes, moral decline in America should concern our conservatives. But Putin is no model. For example, his political party has aired ads encouraging young people to vote by showing a couple having steamy sex in a voting booth:
Are the people who benefitted from that ad really exemplars of traditional family values? This is just one more example of a larger problem—Putin’s willingness to change the rules to fit his own agenda.
Even if Putin were in all ways a respected, trustworthy leader, we cannot separate that from his position as an authoritarian ruler. Even if we agree with many of the moral stances of the Russian Orthodox Church, nationalized religion does not coincide with our own First Amendment.
Lind hearkens back to the days of Russian tsars, who, as authoritarian rulers, were scorned by radicals across the globe. Putin may be conserving traditional Russian values, but Russian conservatism is not the same as American conservatism. To conserve American principles is to preserve our Constitution—including separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, and a respect for popular opinion. Russian conservatism rests in a traditional monarchy. The two are unequal.
That is not to say that Americans should hate Russia’s success based on what the country was during the Cold War. Let the past rest. But we should nonetheless be wary of Putin’s intentions. His choices are based on opportunism; as his track record has proven, as soon as it becomes more profitable for him to run skanky ads or throw Russia’s weight around, Putin goes all in.
We should not be so quick to bow to Putin, gloriously riding shirtless on his horse of moral and traditional excellence. Tsars didn’t make America great; our republic did.