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Why Do Some Americans Dismiss Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and Praise Putin?

Russia Ukraine
Russian Army Tank Drilling. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has sparked a surprisingly robust conversation in the United States. While many (perhaps most) Americans sympathize with Ukraine as the underdog and the democratic nation, a notable minority has either dismissed the conflict as outside the interests of the US or actively expressed sympathy with Russia.

American politics has never stopped at the water’s edge. This is to say that when we think about United States foreign policy we must start from a point of view that takes values seriously, and because our values differ our perspectives on foreign policy also differ.

Indeed, arguments over values have characterized American foreign policy since the very beginning of the Republic.  Federalists and Republicans differed bitterly as to whether align the United States with France or Great Britain during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Internal political disputes colored American interpretations of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and many of the Indian Wars. Right-wing, anti-semitic Americans expressed support for Nazi Germany before America’s entry into World War II, and Black nationalist groups saw much to admire in Imperial Japan’s purportedly anti-colonial ambitions.

During the Cold War, it was often argued that ideological sympathy with Russia was essentially equivalent to treason. The McCarthy period concentrated initially on suspected Communists within the US government, but rapidly became a witch hunt for Soviet sympathizers with little or no connection to the government. Sending secrets to the Soviet Union out of ideological conviction is treason; admiring the socialist principles that the Soviet Union purported to represent may have revealed poor judgment, but is not necessarily indicative of disloyalty to America.

Moreover, the phenomenon went both ways, as conservative luminaries such as William Buckley, for example, repeatedly espoused an outsized level of respect and admiration for murderous right-wing dictators like Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet. The Vietnam War bitterly divided America, leading some anti-war activists to have more affection for the Hanoi government than they perhaps should, while giving conservatives cause to excuse wholesale atrocities against the Vietnamese people.

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that ideological and interest-based lenses affect how we think about international affairs. With respect to the war between Russia and Ukraine, American political groups on the right and on the far left have expressed a degree of affinity for Russia, if not outright support. A former President of the United States has expressed personal admiration for Vladimir Putin that is, under the most generous interpretation, unseemly. While leftist support for Russia has mostly been limited to the fringe, conservative support has not; admiration for conservative, patriarchal, anti-gay and illiberal regimes such as Hungary has in many cases naturally extended to Russia. This is perhaps unsurprising given Russia’s strong support for transnational right wing political networks, as well as Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Foreign policy is necessarily political, notwithstanding decades of effort in the Washington beltway to strain the politics out of policymaking. But this is where we should be absolutely clear: There is nothing unpatriotic about Steve Bannon’s appreciation for the Russian regime or President Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin; from a certain ideological perspective Putin is no less admirable than, say, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. These views should be treated as repugnant not because they represent a lack of patriotism (many Americans can be found praising some autocrat at one point or another) but rather because their substance is in and of itself repugnant.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a vile war criminal and autocrat, and anyone who praises him or sees value in his rule deserves to be judged for that sentiment. Preferring a murderer like Putin to a democratic leader like Justin Trudeau is more than enough to indicate someone’s lack of moral sense without the need to bring patriotism into the conversation.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley is a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020).

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Eric-ji

    February 26, 2022 at 2:04 pm

    Trump’s ‘praise’ of Putin is not along the lines of Putin is doing something right, but that Putin is a ‘genius’ because he knows he’ll most likely get away with it. Note that Trump also said Putin would never get away with it if Trump were president. While that last point is debatable, Trump’s statement underscores as falsehood the idea that Trump approves of what Putin is doing.

  2. David Chang

    February 26, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    Democracy party always lie, and Trump’s mockery on Putin just shows that Trump will fight back in the same way. Democracy party should worry about the risk of nuclear war between Russia and United States.

    God bless us.

  3. Joel Weymouth

    February 26, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Why don’t you ask this question? Why were intellectuals and media pundits silent when Stalin MURDERED 10 Million Kulaks in the 1930s? Why didn’t you care about Ukraine from 1945 to 1992? Why are we not amassing militaristic hysteria against China, which is not only committing genocide against Uighurs but also was complicit in helping Putin against Ukraine by informing them of the US intentions? Afraid you might have to pay $100 more for your big screen TV that is currently made by slave labor in Urumqi? You seem to cherry-pick your outrage as you allege the Conservatives do. It was reasonable to embrace Stalin against Hitler (that was after the Kulaks, so you can’t use that as an excuse for why you were silent). This was probably because we were more afraid of Hitler than Stalin because Hitler had the brain trust to create a nuclear weapon. The enemy of my enemy and such. We embraced right-wing dictators after World War 2, because THEN STALIN had the bomb (probably with the cooperation of American Liberals and Leftists- who have always been traitors to the US and desired a globalist nation), so it was reasonable for conservatives to embrace the lesser of 2 evils. The fact is you and your ilk cared nothing about Ukraine for 40 years, but now you care. I have a theory.

    1. Putin embraced Christianity, declared the Resurrection of Christ was the greatest event in Human History, and he proclaims Russia a Christian Country. Humanistic Secularists who dominate our foreign policy and our academia hat everything Christian.
    2. Putin has zero-tolerance for LGBTQ issues, which like it or not makes his military far more deadly than ours. He is not worried about the diversity of his military, but its lethality.
    3. Putin has withdrawn from the World Banking System. That in itself is unforgivable by the globalist neo-cons, war without end crowd whose children will never serve in these ADVENTURES.
    Conservatives strongly align with George Washington that we should stay out of world squabbles and merely interact with the rest of the world in trade. That of course would require a STRONG MILITARY, but not an aggressive military. Essentially, you leave us alone and we will leave YOU ALONE, live and let live paradigm. Think of it, if we would have stayed out of World War 1, no World War 2, and certainly no Cold War and none of this unpleasantness today.

    It is not a matter of siding with Putin. We are watching gangsters fight a street fight. Ukraine is not a democracy, so who cares who controls them?

  4. Commentar

    February 26, 2022 at 5:14 pm

    Every human with half a brain easily knows that Biden voted for war against Iraq in Oct 2002 which was based wholly on false premises and which caused over a million Iraqi casualties.

    Today, Biden has essentially made the same mistake he made in 2002.

    Biden, despite being 20 years older today, has learned nothing useful thinking military power is ‘uber alles’. Biden thought he could have Putin right under his armpit, refused to consider his reasonable requests and wanted to ride roughshod over a rival.

    Far from being cowed by biden, Putin has hurled a bolt of lightning at US & NATO and now let’s see how Biden the brilliant conqueror of trump ois going to deal with the mess (that Biden has brought forth). Kumbaya to Biden !

  5. Slack

    February 26, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    Biden, perhaps listening to ‘advisers’ and with half an eye on 2024, decided to put up a wholly Potemkin facade to make the world believe he’s Mike Tyson in the white house.

    Now, with Russia in eastern ukraine, Biden can’t step back now and let the world see through see his faked image.

    Biden now finds himself needing to make the next crucial decision – involve US in direct combat in ukraine or leave the white house.

    Thus Biden needs to privately consult the advice of Donald trump, before the entire world crashes around him.

  6. Jimmy John Doe

    February 26, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    Americans must not be too quick to judge other nations, they need to take a look in the mirror first.

    Today, under Biden, more people are dying from gun violence than from vehicle crashes.

    Today, there are more people living within the confines of US criminal justice regime (that is people in prison, temporarily out on bail, under probation, facing arrest warrant, restraining order, etc…) than there are people engaged in the agricultural sector. About 6-7 million versus 3 million.

    Biden is the first president in ‘modern times’ where cbp personnel were seen lashing people with whips stirring harsh memories of slave-era cruelty in ‘early’ US history.

  7. FRAZIER STALL

    February 26, 2022 at 6:43 pm

    People in America must wake up to the fact that NATO today is the 21st manifestation of 20th century’s Tripartite Pact.

    Formed at the birth of the cold war to defend europe, NATO morphed into a criminal organization, invading / attacking Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan and others, instituting genocidal wars, illegally imposing regime change, wrecking civilian infrastructure and aiding jihadist islamist militant groups.

    Today, US & NATO are directly complicit in helping HTS, a murderous jihadist outfit, to set up a de facto mini-state in north-west syria, in direct conflict with another state’s sovereignty.

    Then there’s the US military base at al Tanf which protects another jihadist group, al-Thawra, thus aiding it to run a refugee camp, yet another mini mini-state in southern syria.

    People in America must start asking some serious questions about worldly US-NATO ‘noble’ intentions. As they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  8. Commentar

    February 26, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    America, with the very able assistance of NATO, is unwittingly or wittingly forcing rival Russia into a coming thermonuclear struggle that will not benefit anyone.

    The uncompromising stand adopted by everyone means ukraine can only be solved using the military option or war.Perhaps this route has been laid long before 2018.

  9. Commentar

    February 26, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    NATO sec-gen Stoltenberg has insinuated that his organization could soon send a ‘nato rapid response force’ to assist eastern allies in view of the unfolding situation in Kyiv which could fall soon.

    This could very well mean Biden’s coming direct or active involvement in ukraine, either secretly (shadily) or openly. Mission creep, inevitable? Yeah… Interesting !

  10. Bankotsu

    February 27, 2022 at 12:36 am

    Don’t know about Americans, but I think that it’s fair to say majority of non West world all support Russia. I am Chinese and I pray for total victory for Russia. Majority of people in this world supports Russia.

  11. Alex

    February 27, 2022 at 9:32 am

    It’s just that most Americans are smart people, and not old politicians with a sore head who want to “play” war games again. But the enemy was chosen too hard for himself.

  12. Barbara

    March 27, 2022 at 8:55 am

    thanks to the media americans are the most naive people on earth.you can bet the usa found a way to goad russia into attacking ukraine and thereby setting up putin for removal.probably via some kind of false flag, black ops operation.you know, just like all the previous regime changes around the globe.

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