Follow the Leader

I'd recommend A.J. Rosmiller's remarks on Vladimir Putin. For my own two cents, I think it's always instructive to compare attitudes toward Putin's illiberalism to attitudes toward friendlier petro-states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, etc. It's totally understandable that the United States government would take a different attitude toward governments who try to challenge US international hegemony than the one it takes toward those governments who help re-enforce it.

But to a striking extent, the press just follows along on this path. Gulf states that are far less democratic than contemporary Russia are typically portrayed as "moderate" or "reforming" whereas Putin's Russia is painted as a dark totalitarian nightmare. Even though though most people acknowledge, when pressed, that Putin is a broadly popular leaders whereas the sundry Sheikhs of the Gulf are mostly detested by their subjects.

The result of the media's decision to adhere to a double-standard is to substantially obscure from the American public some salient facts about the role our country plays in the world. It's widely understood, for example, that insofar as Vladimir Putin backs unpopular undemocratic pro-Russian leaders in the "near abroad" this is likely to make Russia even less popular in Russia-skeptical elements of the population of those countries. The analog of this, that staunch American support for unpopular undemocratic pro-American leaders in the Gulf and in Egypt is a significant source of anti-American sentiment is, by contrast, completely absent from the national conversation.