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March 14, 2014 1:42 PM Anti-Anti-Putinism

By Ed Kilgore

You’d think given the creeping post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan “realism” that has influenced most U.S. foreign policy discussions this side of the hardcore let’s-have-another-war neocons, those pushing back against a militant posture towards Russia’s Ukraine brinkmanship would have more compelling arguments than “Putin’s not so bad.” But as Jonathan Chait explains today, a lot of the voices raised in dissent over a potential confrontation with the Kremlin seem to rely to a considerable extent on what he calls “anti-anti-Putinism.” Indeed, in one prominent dissenter, Stephen F. Cohen of The Nation, Chait sees Soviet-era “anti-anti-communism” morphing seamlessly into an apologies for the new boss in Moscow (I am agnostic on this rather serious charge, not having read much of Cohen since his excellent biography of Bukharin way back in 1980).

More generally vulnerable to Chait’s argument are the American journalists associated with the heavily-compromised television network Russia Today:

Their motives appear to be a mix of careerism, naïveté, and utter incuriousity. The modal career arc of an American RT reporter appears to be an ambitious but not terrible bright 20-something aspiring journalist who, faced with the alternative of grim local-news reportage, leaps at the chance to make two or three times the pay while covering world affairs, sort of. It’s the sort of reward that dims one’s incentive to perform due diligence into just who is signing your paycheck, and why.

I’d mainly observe that anti-anti-Putinism, if that’s what it is, should not be countered with more of the same. It is entirely possible to have an unblinkered and negative view of the Putin regime without (a) arguing that it’s the Soviet regime come right back to life, relying on expansionist militarism as its life’s blood, or (b) that the U.S. can or must crush Putinism with more aggressive tactics than we actually displayed when the Soviets were aiming missiles at us. Chait doesn’t take either of these tacks, but I’m guessing others who share his contempt for Putin’s defenders are putting on the war paint as we speak.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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