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Syria and the Danger of Moral Imperialism

“Do you realize now what you have done?”

So Vladimir Putin in his U.N. address summarized his indictment of a U.S. foreign policy that has produced a series of disasters in the Middle East that we did not need the Russian leader to describe for us.

Fourteen years after we invaded Afghanistan, Afghan troops are once again fighting Taliban forces for control of Kunduz. Only 10,000 U.S. troops still in that ravaged country prevent the Taliban’s triumphal return to power.

A dozen years after George W. Bush invaded Iraq, ISIS occupies its second city, Mosul, controls its largest province, Anbar, and holds Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, as Baghdad turns away from us—to Tehran. The cost to Iraqis of their “liberation”? A hundred thousand dead, half a million widows and fatherless children, millions gone from the country and, still, unending war.


How has Libya fared since we “liberated” that land? A failed state, it is torn apart by a civil war between an Islamist “Libya Dawn” in Tripoli and a Tobruk regime backed by Egypt’s dictator.

Then there is Yemen. Since March, when Houthi rebels chased a Saudi sock puppet from power, Riyadh, backed by U.S. ordinance and intel, has been bombing that poorest of nations in the Arab world. Five thousand are dead and 25,000 wounded since March. And as the 25 million Yemeni depend on imports for food, which have been largely cut off, what is happening is described by one U.N. official as a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years,” said the international head of the Red Cross on his return. On Monday, the wedding party of a Houthi fighter was struck by air-launched missiles with 130 guests dead. Did we help to produce that?

What does Putin see as the ideological root of these disasters?

“After the end of the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world, and then those who found themselves at the top of the pyramid were tempted to think they were strong and exceptional, they knew better.”

Then, adopting policies “based on self-conceit and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity,” this “single center of domination,” the United States, began to export “so-called democratic” revolutions.

How did it all turn out? Says Putin:

An aggressive foreign interference has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions. … Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.

Is Putin wrong in his depiction of what happened to the Middle East after we plunged in? Or does his summary of what American interventions have wrought echo the warnings made against them for years by American dissenters?

Putin’s concept of “state sovereignty” is this: “We are all different, and we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the right one.” The Soviet Union tried that way, said Putin, and failed. Now the Americans are trying the same thing, and they will reach the same end.

Unlike most U.N. speeches, Putin’s merits study. For he not only identifies the U.S. mindset that helped to produce the new world disorder, he identifies a primary cause of the emerging second Cold War.

To Putin, the West’s exploitation of its Cold War victory to move NATO onto Russia’s doorstep caused the visceral Russian recoil. The U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine that overthrew the elected pro-Russian government led straight to the violent reaction in the pro-Russian Donbas.

What Putin seems to be saying to us is this:

If America’s elites continue to assert their right to intervene in the internal affairs of nations, to make them conform to a U.S. ideal of what is a good society and legitimate government, then we are headed for endless conflict. And, one day, this will inevitably result in war, as more and more nations resist America’s moral imperialism.

Nations have a right to be themselves, Putin is saying. They have the right to reflect in their institutions their own histories, beliefs, values and traditions, even if that results in what Americans regard as illiberal democracies or authoritarian capitalism or even Muslim theocracies.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Americans had no problem with this, when Americans accepted a diversity of regimes abroad. Indeed, a belief in nonintervention abroad was once the very cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Wednesday and Thursday, Putin’s forces in Syria bombed the camps of U.S.-backed rebels seeking to overthrow Assad. Putin is sending a signal: Russia is willing to ride the escalator up to a collision with the United States to prevent us and our Sunni Arab and Turkish allies from dumping over Assad, which could bring ISIS to power in Damascus.

Perhaps it is time to climb down off our ideological high horse and start respecting the vital interests of other sovereign nations, even as we protect and defend our own.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority. [1] Copyright 2015 Creators.com.

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22 Comments To "Syria and the Danger of Moral Imperialism"

#1 Comment By Clint On October 2, 2015 @ 7:09 am

Between Crimes and Syria, Putin is overextending and stepping into interventionist troubles.
Putin’s rash moves appear to demonstrate that he hasn’t learned much from Soviet and U.S. leaders’ interventionist follies in Afghanistan,Libya,Iraq,etc.

#2 Comment By Terrence On October 2, 2015 @ 7:14 am

Mr Buchanan has things a bit backwards. The foolishness of America’s activities in Afghanistan and Iraq has nothing to do with the legitimacy or wisdom of Putin’s interference in Ukraine, which vastly exceeds America’s in terms of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. America made some phone calls. Putin invaded and annexed a region, lied about it, lies about the nature of Ukraine’s opposition, and continues to deceive. There are more neo-fascists in Greek’s current government than Ukraine and yet Putin happily cozies up to them.

Putin is responsible for the disaster in Ukraine, not America. If a phone call justifies annexation and invasion, how much more so does 9/11 justify America’s invasion of Afghanistan?

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 2, 2015 @ 7:32 am

The incredible hubris of Bush the First after Iraq I, proclaiming “the greatest nation the world has ever seen” to thunderous applause before Congress, “a New Word Order,” (just before being deposed by the serial philanderer and aspirin factory bomber) has indeed led to Pat’s judgment: New World Disorder.

Instead of freedom and democracy, whatever indigenous stirrings there were, lie brutally crushed. But wasn’t that the aim, all along? Aren’t our policymaking elites discomfited with and contemptuous of democracy at home, having done their best to sunder their own accountability from the American people?

Wall Street and War Street rule, the economy of Main Street preemptively droned.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On October 2, 2015 @ 8:13 am

Why is Russia so concerned about the stability of Syria?

Geography holds a key to the answer:

• The distance between Sochi, Russia and Aleppo (Syria’s largest city) is the same as the distance between Boston and Richmond, VA.

• The distance between Grozny, the capital of the rebellious Russian Moslem republic of Chechnya, and Aleppo, Syria is less than the distance between New York and Chicago.

This map shows southern Russia and Syria:


#5 Comment By Brian On October 2, 2015 @ 9:10 am

Russia’s military is more than capable of handling the dual challenges of Ukraine and Syria. Both are limited-scale engagements, and we’ve seen that Putin has been rather immune to mission creep in Ukraine of the kind that the US has experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, I would expect his engagement in Syria to be similarly limited.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the US invaded and occupied two massive, populous countries. In Ukraine, Putin has provided weaponry, infrastructure support, and yes, probably a limited number of soldiers. But there are a large number of Ukrainians or foreigners that actually, truly are volunteers. Furthermore, the Donbass is but a sliver of land compared to Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, Putin’s actions in Syria have so far been limited to strategic airstrikes and a small number of troops on the ground in a single province. Syria is not and will not become Putin’s Iraq/Afghanistan.

#6 Comment By SteveM On October 2, 2015 @ 10:11 am

Great essay by Pat Buchanan. What would Washington do?

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another…

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all…

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated… The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest…The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification…

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils…

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government…

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible…

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing…

Every person who takes the oath of office when entering the federal government should be required to read Washington’s Farewell Address.

BTW, Rand Paul should have had that document in his back pocket and read excerpts as a lead in to every speech he gave. But he didn’t. Instead he tried to triangulate with a War Party philosophy that Washington would have stridently rejected. And now Americans are burdened with an arrogant Power Elite class that is destroying the country that Washington worked so diligently and wisely to create.

#7 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On October 2, 2015 @ 10:27 am

The Putin speech at the UN was one of the best speeches delivered there. It was very insightful, and should have been republished in its entirety here at TAC. Hate to say it, but Putin is largely right about his diagnosis and even a few of his treatments. Obama’s speech was the same bloviating crap he always says, and this time he even sounded a bit like Bush. I thought I could put Bush’s head on Obama’s body, and nothing would be amiss.

#8 Comment By SteveJ On October 2, 2015 @ 10:37 am

I don’t think you should conflate the failed policies of democracy promotion with the belief that an indefinite authoritarian government is ideal for anybody.

How a nation state actually forms, and how a people go from dictatorship to Constitutional Republic is a discussion that has been sorely lacking in all of this. And there has been a demonstration of ignorance, particularly from the left, as to the differences between a democracy and a Constitutional Republic.

I’m all for acknowledging that Constitutional Republics will have some cultural differences, But there is a universal “value” that comes from such a system — limited government.

You can’t have that in dictatorships or democracies.

#9 Comment By Fred Bowman On October 2, 2015 @ 10:41 am

Hate to say this but the United States would probably be better off working with Putin’s Russia in regards to dealing with the Middle East. Of course, Israel and the House of Saud won’t be happy, but then again they haven’t done one thing to help the situation in the Middle East. Of course the neo-conservatives and the liberal hawks will have a “hissy fit” if any administration would even think about going down that road.

#10 Comment By CJ On October 2, 2015 @ 11:37 am

“Syria is not and will not become Putin’s Iraq/Afghanistan.”

That depends on how far they’re willing to go to prop up Assad. Airstrikes alone aren’t going to beat the rebels or ISIS, and Assad’s army was depleted before Putin sent his forces in. In order to preserve what Assad has (not to mention rolling back the rebels and/or ISIS), they’re going to need boots on the ground. At that point, Russia becomes a foreign power supporting a dictator who oppresses the Sunni majority. They’ll face an implacable insurgency that could easily drain them.

#11 Comment By Max Skinner On October 2, 2015 @ 11:55 am

Dislike of Assad is one of the reasons there is a civil war in Syria. Putin is making a mistake if he thinks that Russia helping Assad regain power is going to bring peace to the region. He’ll end up in a quagmire trying to keep Assad in power.

#12 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 2, 2015 @ 6:02 pm

Fred Bowman: I’m not so sure Israel objects to Russian presence and activity. Israel is increasingly ethnic Russian, has been so since the 70s. And Israel is very focused on self-preservation, and is not too delicate about it. Above all, they do prefer that others expend their own blood and treasure. They probably see Russia as useful here.

#13 Comment By Ken Hoop On October 2, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

Assad had majority Sunni support until the CIA exacerbated dissension unto anarchy. Terrence calls “foolishness” a policy in which phony intel was fixed around a determination and decision to out Hussein in the interests of Israel and oiligarchy.
Terrence then pivots off the sugarcoating to equate intervention on the other side of the globe with Russia retaking a slice of what was its territory off and on since the veritable founding of Russia. Then finishes by ignoring the revenge causes of the 9-11-2001 attacks, namely the imperialism Terrence obviously supports in main measure.

#14 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 2, 2015 @ 7:45 pm

“At that point, Russia becomes a foreign power supporting a dictator who oppresses the Sunni majority. They’ll face an implacable insurgency that could easily drain them.”

Really? implacable? One wonders where this implacabel support wil be coming from. It has been tiresome for more than thrity years listening to the oppression advances. No kidding, there are goverments that are not democracies. Even democracies have their fare share of history oppressing people. Given the fluidity of the term. But in this case, Pres Assad, has generally been considered a moderate, tolerating all comers, unless they engaged in attempts to overthrow his government. The history of ruling classes and family dynasties is not new or unique.

But since Syria poses no threat to the US, it is curious that beyond advocacy why we should be engaged in removing him by force. I am interested in what you think the benfits are in doing so.

At least you acknowledge that there are rebel forces attempting to take control. Just which one of these rebel forces will serve US interests, once you discover what they are. One of the stupefying articles on this site Spring or Fall of last year was the evidence that indicated that the various grups are playing the US to get what they want regardless of the US interests. There is no unified moderate rebel force. If they took power they would goven under some form of Muslim rules,

Pres Gadaffi, Pres. Hussein, Pres Assaad, had developed some semblence of tolerating difference, they discovered it was to their advantage to do so. Attempting to install some other group just means, starting fro, scratch. But before that we will have to sit by and watch as these groups enage in warfare with each other.

Case in point: Libya.

#15 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 2, 2015 @ 7:47 pm

None of which would be an issue if we had left Pres, hussein right where he was.

excuse my whine.

#16 Comment By Justin Passin On October 2, 2015 @ 11:04 pm

For those of you who are still committed to the American elite’s death march, I would urge you to contemplate the words of Oliver Cromwell: ” I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” Because in this case, you most certainly are.

American foreign policy has been a fifty year long war policy with a veneer of democratic rectitude, Wilsonian internationalism, and a shocking lack of understanding of other peoples and cultures. Buchanan provides a litany of recent failures, but others include the costly foolishness that was the Vietnam intervention, and arming the Afghan rebels back in the 1980’s, which bit us good and hard later.

As one reader observed, Syria is in Putin’s back yard. He has every reason to seek a stable regime which is not wedded to Muslim mania. In this our interests coincide remarkably well. We have failed, and failed badly. Let Putin lead. We should offer assistance with the humility which we have earned for ourselves.

#17 Comment By Chris Atwood On October 2, 2015 @ 11:13 pm

“Of course, Israel and the House of Saud won’t be happy, but then again they haven’t done one thing to help the situation in the Middle East.”

Sorry to bust your anti-neo-con bubble, but Israel has EXCELLENT relations with Russia–the first head of state Bibi visited after his reelection was Putin.

#18 Comment By JohnG On October 3, 2015 @ 12:02 am

Generally a good speech but Putin is wrong if he is banking on an outright victory for Assad.

The problem in that country is sectarian and the Assad regime cannot pacify the majority Sunnis in the long run. However, if Putin’s intention is to prevent the Sunnis from overrunning the country and committing atrocities and ethnic cleansing, I am all for that. However, I think that helping Assad to the point where his troops overrun the Sunni parts, even if they are held by ISIS, would be a horrible idea too, as this would again result in atrocities and ethnic cleansing.

The best hope is some type of negotiated settlement between the three sides (Kurds, Sunnis, and all others – let’s call them Assadians), or some kind of stalemate in the war. All other scenarios lead to untold massacres and millions of refugees flooding Europe and probably hundreds of thousands coming to North America.

PS I agree with Putin that nations should have the right to be different but, let’s face it, many present day nations are artificial colonial creations (Iraq and Syria included) and will likely collapse from within anyway. Let’s hope the US, EU, AND/OR Russia will stop propping one side against the other and find some commonly acceptable principles for how these situations can be diffused, with everyone getting something and giving up something, and without the kind of horrendous conflicts that we see now.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 3, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

I have been trying to figure out a response to those here that desire continued unneccessary and wholly unhelpful interventions such as supporting rebels for the purposes of maintaining a deliatory “impacable insurgency” for the purposes of detering or restoring some manner of wounded pride because we have been out manuvered by the Russians.

Here’s what I came up with — it’s time to reinstate the draft. As noted by these interventionists “boots on the ground”.

Tally hooooa!!

#20 Comment By georgina davenport On October 3, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

I think Putin is being hypocritical but he is nevertheless not wrong. But Buchanan, tell it to your camp of conservative hawks who are all chastising Obama for not doing enough. If these hawks have their way, there will already be full court press of American ground troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, fighting ISIS, Taliban and Assad.

#21 Comment By timmuggs On October 5, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

Excellent article by Pat Buchanan, thank you. And thanks to SteveM for Washington’s Farewell Address.

Looks to me like Putin shares the wisdom in Washington’s words, but not a single candidate in either party agrees. Why do I have to come to amconmag.com to find this sort of intelligence?

Congrats to TAC’s founders and funders, of which I am one in my small way.

#22 Comment By Gargantua NJ On October 10, 2015 @ 11:22 pm

“Sorry to bust your anti-neo-con bubble, but Israel has EXCELLENT relations with Russia–the first head of state Bibi visited after his reelection was Putin.”

A plurality of Israelis come from Russia. One might even say that the Israelis have a “special relationship” with Russia. The two of them must think it’s pretty funny that the stupid Americans insist on paying their motel bills.