Vladimir Putin provides an eye-opener for his GOP fans in America
Ever since Donald Trump assumed the presidency with the support of Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader has enjoyed a confoundingly high favorability rating among the Republican base. According to an Economist/YouGov poll published last June, 18 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Putin. The same pollster found in January, as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, that 62 percent of Republicans regarded Putin as a stronger leader than President Biden.
Having grown up in the Republican Party, it boggles my mind that present-day Republicans could have anything but contempt for a stone-cold killer like Vladimir Putin. For decades following World War II, Republicans styled themselves as the bulwark against Soviet aggression. I was all in on that stance from an early age.
It started for me in the 1950s, when school kids had to practice hiding under their desks in case of a nuclear strike by the USSR. In 1956, at the age of 14, I despaired for the brave Hungarians who fought 17 divisions of Soviet troops with Molotov cocktails and small arms, until they were brutally crushed by massive, indiscriminate fire from Russian tanks and artillery. The Hungarian Revolution was encouraged by the U.S., but when the people rose up, we failed to lift a hand to help. About 200,000 Hungarians fled their country in the aftermath to avoid Soviet retribution.
I volunteered to fight worldwide communism in Vietnam in 1968, primarily to counter the Soviet Union’s professed designs for world domination. I can never forget that the USSR was responsible for the deaths of many of my fellow soldiers, thanks to the sophisticated Soviet missiles and other lethal hardware it furnished to communist forces.
My association with the GOP ended in the fall of 2002, when it became clear that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were determined to go to war in Iraq for no good reason. Since then, it has been depressing to watch the Republican Party’s embrace of autocrats such as Putin, which started in earnest with Donald Trump’s election. Trump has an unfathomable affection for Putin that seems to have swayed the minds of many Republicans.
Putin is a murderous dictator who wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union, which was dedicated to the death and destruction of the United States. He always has been. Within weeks of his appointment as Russian prime minister in September 1999, a series of bombings were carried out in Russia, killing hundreds. Strong evidence indicated the bombings were orchestrated by Putin to provide an excuse to launch a brutal war in Chechnya.
Putin’s forces used massive, indiscriminate artillery fire in Chechnya to terrorize the civilian population. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, and the capital city of Grozny was practically leveled.
Putin is using the same brute force tactics across Ukraine. The Ukrainians are putting up a valiant fight but, as the fighting goes on, Putin will unleash increasing savagery against the civilian population to force Ukrainian fighters to capitulate. Supplies of food, water, electricity and other necessities will be cut off to city dwellers, leaving them to starve and freeze. And the Russians are upping the terror with thermobaric and cluster munitions — horrendous weapons that should be universally banned. It will get worse — much, much worse.
Putin is perpetrating an historic war crime against the Ukrainian people, rivaled only by the more than 4 million Ukrainians starved to death in the early 1930s by the Soviet Union that Putin so adores. In light of Putin’s barbaric acts and his threats to unleash nuclear weapons, one wonders if Trump’s base will begin to find fault with his admiration of the Russian dictator. Nothing thus far has seemed to waken Trump supporters to the great dangers of coddling this megalomaniacal despot.
Russia expert Fiona Hill points out that fawning statements that Trump and rightwing personalities such as Tucker Carlson have made about Putin are helpful to the information component of Putin’s war against Ukraine. Will this type of lip service impede U.S. efforts to support Ukraine? It is too early to tell, but we do have information that Trump’s voters were about evenly split on the issue shortly before the start of the invasion. A poll taken in early February found that 42 percent of Trump voters opposed helping Ukraine, while 36 percent thought it important to help Ukraine and stop Russia.
Judging from the positive response of many GOP Senate and House members who were present to hear President Biden’s comments about Ukraine at the State of the Union address, there may be grounds for hope that Republican lawmakers are opening their eyes and coming out of their Trump-induced fondness for Putin and his autocratic government. Another hopeful sign is former Vice President Mike Pence’s pronouncement on March 4 that “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.” It took long enough for Pence to speak out. We can only hope that this is the start of a great awakening.
Regardless of GOP views going forward, it is essential that the U.S. do everything in its power to assist the Ukrainians in their life-or-death struggle with the Russian dictator. The fate of that beleaguered country and our NATO allies hangs in the balance.
Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill.
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