Saturday, April 19, 2014

The demagogues show up when the democrats become weak

From The Wall Street Journal, 17 April, by Daniel Henninger:

...The temptation to admire a Putin for what looks like decisiveness reflects a tension between the performance limits of democratic systems and those governments that are no longer answerable to their populations.
It is easy to appear to be a decisive national leader if, like Putin, the head of state is able to tell those who disagree with him to shut up or get beaten up or imprisoned or killed. Ignoring the crude truths of political life in Moscow today, or Berlin and Rome back then, is another variant of the same temptation to admire a demagogue’s monomania.
Further evidence of Putin’s fantastic leadership skills is also found in the results of independent polls, which report that his illegal annexation of Crimea and threats against independent Ukraine have the overwhelming support of the Russian people. And that they also admire Putin, who is restoring “respect” for Russia.
The weight of public opinion in Russia is no accident. Putin’s decisive actions on behalf of his imperiled, Russian-speaking victims in Crimea, Ukraine and Moldova, and soon the Baltics, are being supplemented in Moscow by a sophisticated, Goebbels-like brainwashing operation.
Over the years, Putin has put virtually all media, especially television, under his effective control. What the Russian people read, hear and see is a non-stop river of anti-US and anti-European propaganda. People who have lived in Russia recently say there has never been anything like the virulence of this invective, not even during the Cold War years. No one in the free world should want to be party to such massive falsity.
Still, there is the reality: the demagogues show up when the democrats become weak. Since the end of World War II, the traditional political leader of the Western democracies has been the president of the US. Policy differences aside, US presidents from Truman through to George W. Bush have been willing to lead, period. Now comes Barack Obama.
The famous oxymoron “leading from behind” emerged from the White House foreign-policy shop during the Libyan crisis. This notion is sometimes attributed to Obama’s leadership idiosyncrasies. That’s wrong. It summarises the explicit, thought-out strategy of the Democratic Party’s current generation of foreign-policy intellectuals.
The US “leads” by stepping aside and letting others — the Europeans, the UN — organise major foreign-policy initiatives. The Obama administration assigned Europe the task of weaning Ukraine away from Russia and bringing it into the EU. The non-result was predictable: western Europe’s leadership didn’t do it because they can’t.
They are too militarily weak, and too economically selfish and politically disorganised, to lead as one. So no one leads. Now, instead of fashioning a substantive response to the threat Putin poses, the Western democracies are blaming each other for their failure to respond.
...no serious person actually admires a country that is run with thugs, a controlled media and opponents in prison...
...There are two systems of government available: some version of ours or some version of propagandised authoritarianism — Putin’s system. If you want to live in a country with one foot in both systems, move to Turkey. For the rest of us, the answer is: elect a democratic leader more appropriate to the times we live in.
The reality remains that only one country’s people elect a leader in no small part for the role he will play beyond its borders: the Americans. For a frustrated world grasping at desperate solutions, the 2016 US presidential campaign to succeed Barack Obama can’t start soon enough.
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