It used to be that blaming America for crisis abroad was largely the province of liberals. That folk wisdom appears to be changing — just ask Ron Paul. In the days after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the former House member has been quick to attack the West and President Obama for pointing any fingers in the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Just days after the tragic crash of a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, Western politicians and media joined together to gain the maximum propaganda value from the disaster. It had to be Russia; it had to be Putin, they said,” Ron Paul wrote in an editorial Sunday. “President Obama held a press conference to claim — even before an investigation — that it was pro-Russian rebels in the region who were responsible. His ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, did the same at the U.N. Security Council — just one day after the crash!”
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Paul’s argument, which he first made in a Friday television appearance, was quickly picked up by the Kremlin-funded English language outlet Russia Today. And on Monday, the Permanent Mission of Russia to NATO, a group tasked with facilitating cooperation between Russia and NATO, tweeted out his column.
Ron Paul: Western politicians and media joined together to gain the maximum propaganda value from the disaster http://t.co/DjGLkpkbFE— Russians at NATO HQ (@natomission_ru) July 21, 2014
It’s easy to see why they liked the piece. Politically, it’s a much sounder line of argument for protecting Russia from blame than what’s being reported on Russian TV (much of which is funded by the Kremlin), where conspiracies theories abound. One report promotes the idea that the airliner was already full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam. Another claims the tragedy was somehow mysteriously the result of the Ukrainian military confusing MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane.
“Watching some of these Russian newscasts, one comes away with the impression of a desperate defense attorney scrounging for experts and angles, or a bad kid caught red-handed by the principal, trying to twist his way out of a situation in which he has no chance,” Russia expert Julia Ioffe wrote in The New Republic.
Not that any of the outlandish coverage is particularly useful to Putin. As David Remnick recently wrote, Putin has become something of a victim of his own propaganda machine. The wild exaggeration on nightly broadcasts has “become a problem for Putin, because this system cannot be wholly managed,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Putin adviser, told Remnick of the Russian media. “The news programs have ‘overheated’ public opinion and the collective political imagination.”
Never mind that Secretary of State John Kerry, in his blanket appearances on the Sunday talk shows, was careful not to directly blame Putin for the disaster, noting that “culpability is a judicial term.” Kerry did note an “enormous amount of evidence” suggesting that Russia provided the separatists in eastern Ukraine with the weapons used to shoot down the airliner last week. He did, however, assign the Kremlin some blame for fueling conflict in eastern Ukraine and arming separatists with military equipment.
But that didn’t dissuade Paul from attacking American officials for (supposedly) jumping to conclusions. After outlining everything that Western media outlets, in their “rush to repeat government propaganda” have ignored, Paul posited that “the real point is, it’s very difficult to get accurate information.”
“Is it so hard to simply demand a real investigation?” Paul asks. He also, in his Friday interview on NewsMax, drew parallels between the Russian-made missile system’s alleged connection to Thursday’s attack and the capture of US-made weapons by Islamist insurgents in Iraq, arguing where the missiles were originally manufactured is relatively meaningless.
“That may well be true, but guess what, ISIS has a lot of American weapons,” said Paul. “We sent weapons into Syria to help the rebels and al-Qaida ends up getting it — it doesn’t mean that our American government and Obama deliberately wanted ISIS to get American weapons.”
“So who gets the weapons is a big difference between how they got them and what happened and what the motivations were,” Paul added. “So even if it was a Russian weapon — that doesn’t mean a lot.”
Putin’s own talking points have been more subdued. In an address published online overnight, the Russian president called for an international investigation of the crash site, adding, “Russia will do everything possible to shift the current conflict in the east of Ukraine from today’s current military stage to the state of discussion at the negotiation table.”
With his cool, dispassionate rhetoric, Paul seems to be just about the best voice for Putin’s interests anywhere — and better, surely, than Kremlin TV. (Paul is a more respected source, in America anyway, and his defense of Putin isn’t grounded in conspiracy theories.) Still, he may have to compete with Allen West for the title of Putin’s new best friend.
This post has been updated.