It’s not just Vladimir Putin Republicans suddenly love. Now it’s his agents, too.
Julian Assange has become the new darling of the right over the past several months. This week, thanks to Assange’s statements that WikiLeaks did not come from Russia, the ardor has grown to full-scale Love Story proportions: hurting Hillary Clinton means never having to say you’re sorry for getting Americans and American allies killed. Assange, lest we forget, bragged about the fact that WikiLeaks could be responsible for the deaths of Americans and American allies abroad. He’s an alleged rapist and a longtime ally of Vladimir Putin; in 2011, Putin gave Assange a visa, and in 2012, Assange worked to cover up a payment from Syria to Russia. Back then, Fox News’ Sean Hannity dubbed Assange a quasi-terrorist and asked why the government couldn’t stop him; today, he flies to the Ecuadorian embassy in London to interview Assange, then says, “I believe everything he says.”
What changed? Assange attacked Clinton.
It’s not a true surprise that so many Republicans are suddenly coming around to Julian Assange. They’ve already come around to Trump on free trade and Putin. Sarah Palin, who once used to warn that “indecision and moral equivalence” from the United States would encourage Putin to invade Ukraine, and called Assange “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” whom Americans should pursue “with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders,” now apologizes to Assange, stating that he “Expos[es] the truth re: the Left having been oh-so-guilty of atrocious actions and attitudes of which they’ve falsely accused others.”
And Tucker Carlson, who used to lament American passivity in the face of Putin’s aggression, now asks Russian dissident Garry Kasparov “Why is in my interest to send my 19-year-old son to defend the Baltics?” This question, of course, is the same question that people asked about France, Poland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and every other American military intervention of the last century. It’s not a bad question. But the answer in this case is obvious: we are parties to NATO, the Baltic states are members, and we have an obligation to defend our international allies in the face of Russian aggression. As Kasparov says, “Neville Chamberlain also talked about British youths protecting countries they couldn’t find on a map…America became great because it defended its values in the first place.” Carlson laughed openly at that proposition. Kasparov added that the United States benefitted from defending its values in terms of the economy, to which Carlson, making his now-trademarked Dubious Face™, stated that China also benefitted from the free markets “without imposing its values on the rest of the world” – a factually dubious suggestion at best, given China’s moves in the South China Sea.
These questions are typically asked when those doing the asking are lukewarm on those pursuing the military expansionism. Isolationism with regard to Putin rests on the proposition that Putin is a decent force in the world, not an indecent one. That’s fundamentally untrue. Putin is one of the worst people on the planet, a murderer and a thug, an expansionist with dreams of curtailing American influence and expanding the Russian sphere of control.
But all that’s okay, now, because at least he helped take down Hillary Clinton.
Or at least that’s the excuse. Perhaps there’s something more going on. Perhaps what we’re truly seeing is a return to Lindbergh-esque American Firstism, the pre-World War II isolationism that dominated the Republican Party. That ended in tears with Pearl Harbor, and World War II ended America’s attempts to shrink back behind her oceans, leading to an American century. Renewed quasi-isolationism in the aftermath of the Cold War, this time from the left, led to 9/11 and a renewed American muscular interventionism.
Now, we’re going to try isolationism again. Not realism – isolationism. Because the choice Carlson and Palin and Hannity offer is a false one. Assange can be a criminal and Putin can be awful and there can still be arguments over the level of pressure America ought to exert. But the full-scale embrace of Putin and his allies should be disquieting to any American who still gives a good damn about the notion of a powerful America expanding the borders of freedom rather than surrendering them to authoritarian dictators.