…by Jonas E. Alexis
Paul Gottfried is a prolific writer and a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. He has been very critical of the Neoconservative movement and has come up with a new term called Paleoconservative, which seeks to go back to the old conservative ideas.
Gottfried has recently declared that Vladimir Putin’s “aggressive behavior in Ukraine and Syria suggests the need for us in the West to be wary of his expansionist ambitions.” I find this statement really bizarre and unpersuasive.
First of all, why would Putin choose Syria to advance his “expansionist ambitions”? What is really there? Gold? Perhaps oil? Can Syria be called a “treasure island”? Couldn’t Putin choose a better place in the Middle East? Putin would have to be really stupid to choose make such a move. Gottfried does not elaborate on his statement, therefore it is really hard to assess.
Gottfried also fails to explain the fact Putin’s move in Syria is essentially a reaction to perpetual wars in the Middle East. He has witnessed how the Neoconservative ideology has literally destroyed countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. He has also observed how Washington, which is overwhelmingly guided by Neoconservative expansionism, was eyeing on Syria. Gottfried had to skip all of Putin’s speeches in order for him to make such an incoherent statement.
Gottfried also missed the point on Ukraine. It would help Gottfried understand Putin’s position better if he cares to watch the Oliver Stone’s “Putin Interviews.” Putin has explained his point over and over, and even John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago came to the conclusion that “the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault.” Mearsheimer argued:
“The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine—beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004—were critical elements, too.
“Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion.
“For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president—which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’—was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.
“Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a 0awed view of international politics.”
Mearsheimer put forth other rational and historical arguments which cannot be easily dismissed. Gottfried had to interact with Mearsheimer before he wrote his recent article.
Finally, Gottfried skipped the essentially crucial element that the vast majority of Ukrainians are Russians and that Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to join Russia. Even the Wall Street Journal, of all places, reported quite rightly that “More than 96% of Crimean voters cast their ballots to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, in a referendum that raises the stakes in the most acute East-West confrontation since the Cold War.” If that is not part of democracy, what is?
Gottfried does not discuss these issues in his article at all. As I have argued in the past, to say that Russia invaded Crimea is tantamount to saying that the United States invaded California or Texas. Gotffried ends his article by quoting Neocon James Kirchik approvingly, saying:
“Putin has become a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism. That turns out to be the big battle of our times. As our last election shows, that’s true even here.”
I agree with that statement. But if Kirchik really believes this, then he would drop his Neoconservative enterprise once and for all.
 Paul Gottfried, Revisions and Dissents (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2017); Fascism: The Career of a Concept (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2016); Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005).
 For an assessment of some of Gottfried’s views, see E. Michael Jones, “Close Encounters,” Culture Wars, September 2009.
 Paul Gottfried, “If Loving Putin Is ‘Right,’ I Want to Be Wrong,” American Conservative, July 17, 2017.
 John J. Mearsheimer, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014.
 Charles McPhedran and Anna Arutunyan, “Crimea votes to join Russia; Ukrainians prepare for war,” USA Today, March 16, 2014; “Crimea referendum: Voters ‘back Russia union,’” BBC, March 16, 2016; Anton Troianovski and Paul Sonne, “Ukraine Region Votes to Join Russia,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2014; Bill Chappell and L. Carol Ritchie, “Crimea Overwhelmingly Supports Split From Ukraine To Join Russia,” National Public Radio, March 16, 2014; “95.7% of Crimeans in referendum voted to join Russia – preliminary results,” Russia Today, March 16, 2014.
 Anton Troianovski and Paul Sonne, “Ukraine Region Votes to Join Russia,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2014.
 Gottfried, “If Loving Putin Is ‘Right,’ I Want to Be Wrong,” American Conservative, July 17, 2017.