The Not-So Strange Death of Liberal Russophobia

Sunday’s edition of the New York Times had an interesting little piece by the newspaper’s token conservative op-ed writer Ross Douthat, entitled ‘The Strange Death of Liberal Russophobia’, a by-line echoing the title of George Dangerfield’s famous 1935 book The Strange Death of Liberal England. Douthat notes that between 2016 and 2020, when Donald Trump was president of the USA, among American liberals,

[Russian president Vladimir] Putin was a figure of extraordinary menace whose tentacles extended everywhere, from Brexit to the NRA. He had hacked American democracy, placed a Manchurian candidate in the White House, sowed the internet with misinformation, placed bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan, extended Russian power across the Middle East and threatened Eastern Europe with invasion or subversion. In this atmosphere ever rumor about Russian perfidy was pre-emptively believed, and the defense of liberal democracy required recognizing that we had been thrust into Cold War 2.0.

Douthat isn’t wrong about that. For a period of four years, Putin derangement syndrome, allied to an overarching Russophobia, became a centrepiece of the Democratic party’s identity. It was to be expected that once Joe Biden became president, US policy towards Russia would become even more hardline. But, Douthat notes, the opposite has happened:

Now comes Biden, making moves in Russia policy that are essentially conciliatory – freezing a military aid package to Ukraine, ending US sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Germany to Russia, a return of ambassadors – and setting a summit that can reasonably be regarded as a modest propaganda coup for Putin.

And yet, all this – which if Trump had done it, would have led to screams of betrayal and have been seen as proof that Trump was working on behalf of the Kremlin – has passed by with nary of a squeak of protest from the same American liberals who just a short while ago were portraying Moscow as the source of all evil.

What gives?

Douthat argues that it’s a sign of ‘the wisdom of the Biden administration in recognizing that certain Trump-era hysterias within its party can be safely put to sleep.’ According to Douthat, the Russophobic lunacy was the purview of one particular part of the Democratic party – what George Packer calls ‘Smart America’ (‘which is basically meritocratic elites’). This group ‘wanted to blame all its own failures on Russian disinformation’, but it isn’t Biden’s core constituency. He therefore feels free to ignore it and to pursue an essentially Realist policy towards the Russian Federation.

There maybe something to this theory. But I suggest another – the ‘strange’ death of liberal Russophobia isn’t so ‘strange’ at all. Its rise and fall indicates that it was always a tactic more than anything else. Russia-bashing was a method chosen by elements in the Democratic party as a means of undermining Trump and so winning back power. It wasn’t in my view a very good method, and I don’t think that Biden’s victory owed much if anything to it, but it was always a method not an end in itself. That doesn’t mean that ‘Smart America’ didn’t come to believe its own Russophobic propaganda – I get a strong sense that its members repeated its claims so often that in due course they became true believers. But from Biden’s point of view, once Trump was gone, the method had served its purpose. There is no longer any reason to make a central point of Democratic rhetoric.

And so, having outlived its usefulness, it has been discarded. Or at least, one hopes it has. I’m not convinced that it’s exactly suffered a ‘death’, as Douthat put it. It’s still there, with a strong hold on parts of the liberal establishment in the USA. But it seems that at least for now, Biden is prepared to largely ignore it. In that sense, when Douthat speaks of the ‘wisdom of the Biden administration’, one has to agree.

18 thoughts on “The Not-So Strange Death of Liberal Russophobia”

  1. Russia is a political football for much of the US establishment.

    That said, there remains a strong anti-Russian strain that’ll continue to have clout. CNN, MSNBC, PBS, NPR and the BBC continuously run extremely biased anti-Russian commentary.

    At the same time, it’s unreasonable for the US to be so biased against Russia.

    On a refreshing note:

    Frank Morano is positively different than most US mass media hosts on Russia related matters. Tucker Carlson was noticeably silent on last week’s summit. Following up on the topics discussed in the below exchange:

    Vladimir Pozner’s comments about media looking to be negative is incomplete. In comparative terms, Anglo-American mass media isn’t so negative towards Kiev regime Ukraine foibles, as well as mass media’s hypocritical approach to Alexey Navalny versus Julian Assange and a number of other issues.

    Trump’s comments about Nord Stream 2 ignore that the construction of that project wasn’t hindered at all during his presidency.

    Great comments on the cyber-hacking issue, how many (not all) Americans are subconsciously duped on issues they don’t follow in great detail, as in relying exclusively on their mass media.

    Some disagreement with Pozner on Russians losing their jobs if they criticize Putin. Multiple sources tell me that Moscow University and some other venues employ open critics of Putin. Some appropriate whataboutism on this matter – can Americans be employed in US government foreign policy and most mass media positions for expressing views like mine?

    Interesting 2003 exchange between Chuck Schumer and Putin rehashed at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not by “elements in the Democratic party”, but by the US establishment, methinks. Or call it ‘the deep state’, if you wish. But it’s definitely way more than just “elements in the Democratic party”. “17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military”, remember?

    And of course it will never be permanently discarded. It’s just like 1984: today Eurasia, tomorrow Eastasia, and then Eurasia again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military”, remember?

      there were never 17 agencies consenting, as far as I recall. And you know it?

      Now what to make of it? Fake News discovered in 2016?


  3. It remains a hope. Speaking though as someone who is deeply sympathetic with the US Democratic Party another motive was that ever since the New Deal and especially McCarthy the idea that the Democrats were somehow ‘Red’, an idea that will for a long time be linked to Russia just as small ‘r’ republicanism will be linked to France thanks to the Revolution, haunted and dogged the Party. Many Party leaders saw a golden opportunity with Trump to shake that off for good. And it worked, but mostly because Trump and other Republicans effectively said that a foreign power assisting them or even hacking the elections was good as long as it helped them win – and more besides.


  4. thanks paul…. i don’t know that i share this fellows interpretation of it all.. in fact, indian punchlines article from june 17th in the last few paragraphs sums it up better in my view.. i quote –
    “Fundamentally, Biden inherits the legacy of the anti-Trump campaign of the Democratic Party (and Obama presidency), which created a contrived narrative of “Russia collusion” in 2016 to malign the former US president as a Manchurian candidate, and thereafter undermine his presidency.

    Biden is today stuck with that false narrative. He has no use for it as a roadmap to navigate the Russia policies but he can’t disown it, either. This contradiction can be resolved only if the US’ relations with Russia is treated as a foreign policy issue and not as a template of domestic
    politics. But Biden is too weak a president to charter such a profound course correction, his impeccable hawkish credentials notwithstanding. ”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Paul,

    As someone involved with military expertise and an observer of Russia and the UK, what are your thoughts on the latest development of a UK destroyer allegedly entering Russian (Crimean) waters? “Moscow says warning shots fired as UK claims ‘innocent passage’ of warship in the Black Sea
    MoD denies shots fired and bombs dropped in the path of HMS Defender.”

    Is this contesting strategy part of “Global Britain,” and where does it lead us?


    1. I’ve written something on this for RT. Should be published on Thursday. ‘Moral posturing’ in London taking the place of sound strategic planning – that is my conclusion.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Half a knot, half a knot,
    Half a knot onward,
    All into Russian territorial waters
    Sailed the six hundred.
    “Forward, the Stupid Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!” he said:
    Into Russian territorial waters
    sailed the six hundred.

    “Forward, the Stupid Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismay’d?
    Not tho’ the sailor knew
    Some idiots had blunder’d:
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die:
    Into Russian territorial waters
    Sailed the six hundred.

    Jets buzzing to the right of them,
    Jets buzzing to the left of them,
    Bombs dropping in front of them
    Volley’d and thunder’d;
    Storm’d at with shot and shell,
    Boldly they sailed and well,
    Into the jaws of Death,
    Into the mouth of Hell
    Sailed the six hundred.

    Flash’d all their sabres bare,
    Flash’d as they turn’d in air
    Shaking fists at jets up there,
    Challenging a nuclear power, while
    All the world wonder’d:
    Plunged in the battery-smoke
    Right thro’ the water they broke;
    Cossack and Russian
    Laughed till they had a stroke,
    Shatter’d and sunder’d.
    Then they turned and fled, but not
    Not the six hundred.

    When can their glory fade? (soon enough)
    O the wild party cruise they made!
    All the world wonder’d.
    Laugh at the cruise they made!
    Laugh the Light Brigade,
    Idiots six hundred!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We don’t want to fight,
      But by jingo if we do,
      We’ve got no men,
      Weve got no ships,
      We’ve got no money too!
      We’ve fought the Russian Bear before,
      And though we’re Britons true.
      Crimea will forever be Russia!


      1. Kipling’s ‘Last of the Light Brigade’:

        There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
        There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
        They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
        They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

        They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
        That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
        They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
        And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

        They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
        Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
        And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
        The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

        They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
        To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
        And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
        A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

        They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
        They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
        With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
        They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

        The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
        “You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
        An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
        For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call an’ tell.

        “No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
        A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
        We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
        You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”

        The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
        And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
        And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
        Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

        They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
        They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
        And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
        A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

        O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
        Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
        Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
        And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!


  7. Anti-Russian sentiment runs so deep, it is much more pronounced and inherent in empire-defense for hundreds of years than mere annual waves can counter. Russia – and the USSR as an intermittent replacement of Russia – is the first real alternative view to western empire that expresses rationality in a similar way to western philosophy. Its logic is extremely enticing and as such is a huge threat to the bent Anglo-American logic of empirical, bent norms and Hollywood good-boy plots. So Russia is so much more preferred as an propaganda enemy to China, is that it is so much more ‘familiar’ = it is white, it is expressing itself in logic that is scarily close and recognizable and personable. In my opinion, to have such a strong Eurasian agreement between China and Russia seals the fate of the American “moment”: it is over. Mearshimer warned 10 years ago that the US should friend Russia in order to ward off China – the US did exactly the opposite. We will continue to suffer anti-Russian propaganda more pronounced than anti-China; but it is all for naught. There are many more indications that the US and UK will suffer financial and economic calamities than will be experienced in China and Russia. During the pandemic, China emerged as the spine and stability of the world economy – this is the true and desired transition. Canada needs to realize – liberal or conservative governments unlikely will – that it needs to protect itself from American liabilities and hook up to Eurasian securities.


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