Mr Trump, meet Mr Hitchens

Both gentlemen are Putin’s agents, witting or unwitting, I don’t particularly care which. That distinction is a matter for the courts to decide, either in this world or, more likely, the next.

“It’s the West what done it, m’lord”

Trump’s response to Russia’s latest bandit raid is more idiotic and hence, paradoxically, less emetic. He has never bothered to conceal his admiration for Putin personally and his modus operandi in general.

One detects in Trump an envious longing for the same kind of government: dictatorial, uncivilised, unaccountable, brutal, corrupt to the point of being mafioso, contemptuous of any legal restraints.

None of such preferences can be publicly stated in America, but Trump palpably acted in that spirit before, during and after his presidency. He and his acolytes proudly state that his detractors never managed to make an airtight legal case against him, but that’s nothing to be proud of.

Trump’s whole career, specifically his dealings with Russia, has been based on walking the thin line separating immorality from criminality. True, the latter couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The former, however, has been blatant throughout Trump’s life. Anyone seeking proof of that should read the small library of recent books on the subject, each lavishly illustrated with photos of Trump hobnobbing with known Russian gangsters.

As president, he did all he could for his friend and role model Vlad, fighting the sanctions imposed by Congress every step of the way, and never once voicing disapproval of Russia’s land grab in Georgia and the Ukraine.

Trump never minded voicing his admiration for Putin, although, when president, he made some effort not to be too obvious. There’s no longer any need for such reticence and Trump let it all hang out in yesterday’s interview.

“This is genius,” he said. “Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine – of Ukraine – Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.

“How smart is that?” Trump continued. “And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right.”

I hope his American readers and would-be voters made a mental note of Trump’s intentions should he return to the White House. He must be planning to send American armour to occupy the northern provinces of Mexico. Clearly, no moral or legal restraints need apply. For Trump, replacing morality and legality with brute force is a “wonderful” and “smart” manifestation of genius.

To his credit, Trump spoke from the heart, without letting such cardiophonic self-expression be sullied with subterfuge, spurious arguments and ignorant references to history. All these are amply present in Hitchens’s article on the same subject.

As a minor point, I wish he didn’t shove his credentials down our throats, repeating in practically every piece the mantra he has again intoned today: “I lived in Russia, I knew Russians as friends. I learned to distinguish between what was Russian and what was Communist.”

That would have been an easy distinction for him to draw: Hitchens himself was a communist or damn near until his late thirties, yet he never was a Russian. So the two things were clearly demarcated.

And he never lived in Russia. He spent about a year whipping around Moscow in his “red Volvo” and living in a cossetted enclave he himself describes as “my elite block of flats, which I shared illegally with dozens of hoary old Stalinists, KGB men and Kremlin loyalists.”

Living in Russia means (or certainly did at the time) being on the receiving end of her regime, feeling enslaved, bullied, starved of information and unprotected by any laws, having to go to inordinate lengths just to scrape the kind of living Englishmen only ever see in slums, sharing a single room with three generations of the same family and the bathroom with five families of strangers.

As to Hitchens’s Damascene insight into the difference between Russians and communists, that’s at best platitudinous and at worst wrong. Having spent 15 years in early 19th century Russia, Joseph de Maistre quipped: “Every people gets the kind of government it deserves.”

That adage doesn’t cover every eventuality, and it would be wrong to derive Bolshevism entirely from Russia’s history and national character (as Richard Pipes does in his books). Yet it would be fatuous to deny that some link exists.

But that’s a minor matter, able to cause only a wince, not full-blown nausea. The onset of emesis comes from Hitchens’s description of his elation at the “collapse of the Soviet Union”. People who both knew and understood Russia better (well, me) reacted differently. I shan’t bother repeating what I wrote a few days ago: but do cast a quick retrospective glance.

Hitchens wasn’t the only member of the large group Lenin ungratefully described as “useful idiots”. Joy and triumphalism were widespread among crepuscular Western ignoramuses, one of whom even declared “the end of history”.

They didn’t realise that Russian communism collapsed not in 1991, but in 1937, when Stalin had every deranged believer in that nonsense shot. Communist jargon was still preserved as the glossocratic yoke on hoi polloi, but Stalin was after recreating and expanding the Russian Empire, not exporting Marxism.

He was proved right in 1941, when Russians refused to die for Bolshevism, preferring instead to surrender to the Nazis in their millions. It took Stalin a couple of months to realise that, but realise it he did.

The Orthodox Church was taken off the mothballs, and Lenin was the only Marxist who lent his name to a military decoration. All the other awards named after people featured imperial heroes of the past: Nevsky, Suvorov, Kutuzov, Ushakov, Nakhimov, Khmelnytsky.

Hitchens can’t be blamed for having gone with the flow, or rather effluvia, of public enthusiasm. He can, however, be blamed for claiming that Putin’s banditry is all the West’s fault.

The first prong in Hitchens’s offensive on “the foolish, arrogant West” is based on its reluctance to spend trillions to drag Russia’s economy out of her self-inflicted ruins. Here he draws a foolhardy parallel between Germany, 1945, and Russia, 1991:

“Had not Marshall Plan aid revived and rebuilt a ruined Western Europe after World War Two? Had Britain and the other occupying powers not vowed to bring democracy, freedom and the rule of law to a prostrate Germany? Was this not a moment for an equally unique act of generosity and far sight?”

Yes, it was – for those with a weak grasp of history. Hitchens is blind to the fundamental difference between post-Nazi Germany and post-Soviet Russia.

The Nazi period of German history ended in the Nuremberg trial and all the subsequent trials of lesser monsters. Hundreds of them were executed, thousands went to prison.

Germany then embarked on a massive de-Nazification campaign, repudiating and repenting her Nazi past. What followed was an economic miracle, only partially produced by Marshall aid. Adenauer and Erhardt eschewed socialism and put faith in free markets and stable currency. Since then Germany has been free and prosperous, if not exactly saintly.

Nothing like that happened in Russia. The Communist Party wasn’t banned and membership in it remained legal (in Germany NSDAP membership was seen as ipso facto criminal). The KGB wasn’t disbanded, it merely changed its name. And all the post-1991 governments have been full of communists and KGB officers organically fused with organised crime.

Now imagine that no Nuremberg trial had taken place in Germany after the war. Neither the NSDAP nor the SS had been disbanded and outlawed. And heading the German government were not Adenauer and Erhardt, but Goering and Bormann.

How willing would the Americans have been to underwrite the rebirth of such a Germany? Not very, would be my guess. So there goes the first prong of Hitchens’s offensive, routed by a simple exercise of reason and knowledge of history (things he calls “anti-Russian hysteria”).

His second prong is repeating Putin’s mendacious propaganda about “the continued expansion of Nato eastwards across Europe. This was by then a more or less openly anti-Russian alliance (who else is it directed against?).”

Since we’ve already established that Hitchens isn’t Russian, one has to assume he doesn’t suffer from the traditional Russian paranoia about their country being encircled by bloodthirsty enemies yearning to do her in. He suffers from other things though, such as a cavalier approach to facts.

The process he refers to wasn’t so much “expansion of Nato eastwards”, but expansion of Russia’s former colonies westwards, towards liberty and civilisation. God knows they had suffered enough at the hands of Russians (not just Soviets) to be suspicious of Russia’s instant conversion to virtue.

Since they understood Russia considerably better than our ex-communist, they naturally sought lasting protection from her imperial designs. Those, they suspected, were only dormant, not nonexistent. And they have been proved right.

So yes, Nato is indeed an anti-Russian alliance, but in what way is it threatening to Russia? Here Hitchens has always repeated the Putin line about the existential menace those handfuls of soldiers present to his country.

This is, putting it mildly, disingenuous. The only things Nato has ever threatened in its past, present or future shape is Russia’s aggressive designs on her former colonies. For, unlike Hitchens, Putin doesn’t even pretend to have welcomed the demise of the Soviet Union. He describes it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

That century saw two world wars and the rise of two satanic, carnivorous regimes. As a result, more people died violent deaths in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries of recorded history combined. And yet it’s the collapse of the Soviet Union that Putin sees as an incomparable catastrophe, one he dearly wishes to reverse.

His actions prove that. But his words, especially those uttered about the Ukraine, are uncannily similar to Hitchens’s. To give Hitchens his due, he has agitated against the Ukraine’s independence for years, with laudable consistency.

This is what I wrote in 2014, after another blow Hitchens had struck for Putin’s cause: “No doubt, when the Ukraine is first raped and then murdered, Peter will dance on her grave, his arm tenderly embracing Col. Putin’s waist.”

They should invite Trump to make it a threesome. Harrowing thought, that. Enough to turn me off my food.

6 thoughts on “Mr Trump, meet Mr Hitchens”

  1. Mr. Boot: To be charitable to Trump, it seems that he was speaking on Putin’s cleverness knowing that Europe has spent next to nothing on their defense against Russia and that Putin has Germany over a barrel through its dependence on Russia’s natural gas.

    That President Biden greenlighted the Nordstream 2 pipeline to Germany last July over Ukraine’s protestations boggles my mind. We have amatuers in DC.

  2. “And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force…”

    “The best international law is the strongest army.” – – G. Patton.

  3. He did go on to say, Trump, that Putin’s invasion would never have happened in his watch. Never, never, etc… Some defiance?
    As for Trump’s envious desire for dictatorial powers, etc. Wouldn’t this have shown during the coronavirus era, when he instead refused to impose any high handed emergency powers, and may have even lost the election because of that?
    This apart, Trump’s admiration of Putin is disgusting– though many people have called Hitler an oratory genius while still loathing the man– and the American right’s generally uncritical attitude to Putin is beyond hypocritical. Ideological? Malicious? Certainly they can’t be ignorant of his Lenin, Stalin statues in Moscow…. Uktrainian airline, poisoned/murdered political opposition.

    1. I don’t think he meant he would have resisted Putin with stern resolve. He probably thinks he would have struck some kind of deal with his friend Vlad. Trump’s approach to life in general and foreign relations in particular is strictly transactional — you rub my back, I’ll rub yours. He has faith in his power to negotiate his way out of any trouble.

      And I didn’t say he wanted to become a dictator — only that he envied Putin’s absence of accountability. Trump was aware of the limits of presidential power in the US, or rather was made so aware after a few unsuccessful attempts to face up to Congress, specifically on the issue of sanctions on Russia.

  4. On the comparison of the fall of Nazism in Germany and communism in the USSR, I think it falls on
    the lasting perceptions of each regime. Germany is seen as evil first, second, and third and socialist maybe eighth. The USSR is seen as socialist first, second, and third. And stupid (too harsh? misguided?) people somehow conflate socialism with compassion and sharing. Why they don’t just look at its history with their own eyes, I do not know. But Germany is seen as evil for her part in the war and in exterminating so many lives. The Soviets are seen (by many) as crusaders for the working man, who through some unintentional bad consequences had some folks die on their watch. So unfortunate that.

    I do not understand it. I cannot explain it. But now many of those same people may get a firsthand glimpse of that evil up close. I hope and pray none of us do.

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