Trump, Berlusconi, and Roger Waters Meet on the Horseshoe
Extremists on the left and right both blame Ukraine for getting itself invaded
Above: if you look closely, you can juuuust see Roger Waters and Pramila Jayapal meeting Silvio Berlusconi, and Donald Trump. Just at the top there. Squint a little harder. You see it?
You’ve heard of “horseshoe theory,” right? I would get an “F” on a research paper for citing Wikipedia, but I like their definition just fine: “the horseshoe theory asserts that the extreme left and the extreme right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble each other, analogous to the way that the opposite ends of a horseshoe are close together.”
In the debate over support for Ukraine, we see the extreme right and the extreme left meeting each other on the horseshoe.
The Extreme Right of the Horseshoe: Trump, Berlusconi, and the Populists
Earlier this month, Newsweek reported that you-know-who blamed one Joseph R. Biden for Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine:
Former President Donald Trump blamed the United States for "almost forcing" Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
Trump's remarks came as Russia continued to stall in their struggling "special military operation," ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin more than seven months earlier on February 24, 2022. The ex-president has been critical of how President Joe Biden, who he may run against in the 2024 presidential election, has handled diplomatic relations with Russia. But critics accuse Trump of taking positions seen as favorable to Putin.
During an interview on Real America's Voice, a right-wing network favorable to Trump, the former president criticized the Biden administration. He argued that their "rhetoric" in the months leading up to the Ukraine invasion contributed to Putin's decision.
"They actually taunted him, if you really look at it. Our country, and our so-called leadership, taunted Putin. I said, you know, they're almost forcing him to go in with what they're saying. The rhetoric was so dumb."
At the end of this newsletter, in the portion for paid subscribers, I will have more to say about the idea that the West pushed Putin into this war. For now, I am going to assume that people smart enough to subscribe to this newsletter know better. It’s an extreme and even insane position, and repeating it is basically free propaganda for Vladimir Putin . . . not that Donald Trump would ever gleefully disseminate pro-Kremlin disinformation!
But it’s not just Trump saying things like this. Earlier this month, CPAC put up a decidedly pro-Putin tweet:
Vladimir Putin announces the annexation of 4 Ukrainian-occupied territories. Biden and the Dems continue to send Ukraine billions of taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, we are under attack at our southern border. When will Democrats put #AmericaFirst and end the gift-giving to Ukraine?
As described by Politico, the accompanying imagery was also pro-Putin:
The tweet also featured an image of a Russian flag and described the annexation as “official” in an accompanying image that listed the territories.
The reference to “Ukrainian-occupied territories” seemingly suggested that the Russians — rather than the Ukrainians — had the rightful claim to the areas Russia annexed.
They ended up deleting the tweet and replacing it with another calling Putin a “madman”—and, like a certain Congressional leftist we will discuss later—CPAC blamed it on “staff.” But once again, the views of the fringe right had been given a moment in the spotlight.
And it’s not just the U.S. where this is happening. Silvio Berlusconi, a former Italian prime minister and a part of the new right-wing coalition that recently took power in Italy, is a Putin fan. Putin sent Berlusconi 20 bottles of vodka and what Berlusconi called “a really sweet letter” to which Berlusconi replied with “20 bottles of Lambrusco and a similarly sweet letter.” (The gift of vodka violated sanctions on Russia.)
Hmmm. Exchanging love letters with a brutal and repressive dictator. Does that remind you of anyone?
But Berlusconi’s comments about the fault for the Ukraine war were what really opened some eyes:
“Do you know how the Russia affair came about? On this too, however, I beg you to please keep this in the strictest confidence. Promise?” Mr. Berlusconi can be heard saying on the tape. He then blamed Ukraine for violating the Minsk agreement over the Donbas territories, killing “I am told 5, 6, 7 thousand” people in the territories, leading to an appeal to Mr. Putin for protection.
“They say, ‘Vladimir, we don’t know what to do. Defend us.’ He is against any initiative, he resists, he is under heavy pressure from the entire Russia. So he decides to invent a special operation: the troops were supposed to enter Ukraine, reach Kyiv in a week, depose the incumbent government, Zelensky and so on, and install a government already chosen by the Ukrainian minority” composed of more sensible leaders, “and then leave the following week.”
Instead, in Mr. Berlusconi’s telling, Mr. Putin was caught off guard by a resistance fueled by weapons “from the West.” He added, “Zelensky in my opinion — never mind I can’t say anything,” at which point he was interrupted by cheers from his supporters. “Today unfortunately in the Western world there are no leaders, there are no leaders in Europe and in the United States of America. I don’t tell things. I know that there are no real leaders. Can I make you smile? The only real leader is me.”
Here in the U.S., there is some tension on the right over Ukraine funding—a tension that Nick “Allahpundit” Catoggio discussed in a piece called The Coming GOP Civil War Over Ukraine Funding. And to think: he wrote that piece before Kevin McCarthy came out and issued a warning that there would no longer be a “blank check” for Ukraine after Republicans take power. (Really? There has been a “blank check”? That would probably come as a surprise to the Ukrainians begging for us to provide air defense.) The populists on the right are definitely taking a rather pro-Putin view of the whole Ukraine situation, which is why McCarthy felt compelled to issue his little “blank check” statement, which certainly had the effect of emboldening Putin and encouraging him to keep fighting in the hope that the spigot of Western aid will be shut off next year. But CPAC got pushback and so did McCarthy. It’s not a mainstream Republican position to oppose Ukraine aid. It’s something happening off on the extreme right end of the horseshoe.
And then we have the extreme left end.
The Extreme Left of the Horseshoe: Roger Waters and the Jayapal Caucus
Not too long ago, I attended a Roger Waters concert. Please understand that if you disapprove, I understand your disapproval perfectly. I generally try to separate politics from art. I figure that if I can admire Wagner’s music despite his anti-Semitism, surely I can admire Waters’s music despite his anti-Semitism . . . and his puerile ridiculous Chomskyite foreign policy views . . . and his almost comically crazed-leftist nonsense.
But it admittedly becomes more difficult when, like Waters, the artist is hellbent on merging his political views with his art.
Waters’s penchant for putting his politics in your face was on display at the beginning of the concert, as an announcer said (I’m paraphrasing here but this is pretty close to verbatim): if you’re the type of person who thinks: sure, I’m a Pink Floyd fan, but I hate Roger Waters’s politics . . . well, then, you can fuck off to the bar. That pretty much describes me, but a friend had warned me that this message was coming, and I had seen one or two Waters concerts before and had experienced his silly politics. Let him do his little ranting, I thought. After all, I could still enjoy his spine-tingling performance of “Sheep” or enjoy watching him strut around in a Nazi-style uniform as he declaimed the fascist phrases of “In the Flesh.” That stuff was truly entertaining, I am here to tell you.
So I rolled my eyes as Waters displayed images accompanied by blood-red text claiming that this person or that person had been given the “death penalty” for the “offense'“ of “being black” or “being Palestinian” or what have you. There goes Roger being Roger! We were also treated to spooky images of each U.S. president going back to Reagan, with each labeled as a “war criminal” for various imagined or exaggerated offenses. Silly Roger! I’m telling you: his politics make AOC look balanced and statesmanlike. I leaned over and said to my wife: “I bet he would never call Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal,’ although he is the most obvious war criminal in the world today.”
My opinion was only strengthened later in the concert, when we all got a little insight (but just a little) into how Waters views the whole Ukrainian issue. Waters referenced the Ukraine war in introducing the song “Two Suns in the Sunset,” an effective portrait of one person’s experience of humanity’s last moments as the nuclear holocaust ensues. Waters mentioned the Ukraine war and the possibility that it could turn into just such a nuclear holocaust, and I found his phrasing curious. He sort of gingerly said something about the war like: “The reasons for it are complicated.” Which, I don’t think they particularly are, really. And I instantly said to Mrs. P.: “I bet this jackass blames Biden for Putin invading Ukraine and is just scared to say so.”
Keep in mind: I had not (yet) read anything about Waters’s previous comments about Ukraine. I simply watched his silly opinions being pushed in the audience’s face, and thought: Yeah, that seems like an opinion that this chucklehead would have.
After the concert, I got curious. I looked up the details of his tour and saw that he had had a concert canceled in Poland, and wondered if it might have anything to do with him shooting his mouth off about Ukraine.
Always trust content from Patterico. My instincts were *chef’s kiss* spot on in this instance. Next thing I knew, I was looking at an open letter that Waters had written to Zelensky’s wife. Here is an excerpt so you can appreciate the extent of Waters’s sarcasm as he blames Ukraine for having had its sovereignty violently breached by a ruthless fascist:
My heart bleeds for you and all the Ukrainian and Russian families, devastated by the terrible war in Ukraine. I’m in Kansas City, USA. I have just read a piece on BBC.com apparently taken from an interview you have already recorded for a program called ‘Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg’ which is to be broadcast on the BBC today, September 4th. BBC.com quotes you as saying that “If support for Ukraine is strong, the crisis will be shorter.” Hmmm? I guess that might depend on what you mean by “support for Ukraine”? If by “support for Ukraine” you mean the West continuing to supply arms to the Kiev government’s armies, I fear you may be tragically mistaken. Throwing fuel, in the form of armaments, into a fire fight, has never worked to shorten a war in the past, and it won’t work now, particularly because, in this case, most of the fuel is (a) being thrown into the fire from Washington DC, which is at a relatively safe distance from the conflagration, and (b) because the ‘fuel throwers’ have already declared an interest in the war going on for as long as possible. I fear that we, and by we I mean people like you and me who actually want peace in Ukraine, who don’t want the outcome to be that you have to fight to the last Ukrainian life, and possibly even, if the worst comes to the worst, to the last human life. If we, instead, wish to achieve a different outcome we may have to seek a different route and that route may lie in your husband’s previously stated good intentions.
[Here Waters offers a Putinesque spin on Zelensky’s platform. You can go read it yourself if you want; I don’t care to repeat it here.—P]
One can only assume that your husband’s electoral policies didn’t sit well with certain political factions in Kiev and that those factions persuaded your husband to diametrically change course ignoring the peoples mandate. Sadly, your old man agreed to those totalitarian, anti-democratic dismissals of the will of the Ukrainian people, and the forces of extreme nationalism that had lurked, malevolent, in the shadows, have, since then, ruled the Ukraine. They have, also since then, crossed any number of red lines that had been set out quite clearly over a number of years by your neighbors the Russian Federation and in consequence they, the extreme nationalists, have set your country on the path to this disastrous war.
Apparently Waters’s blaming Ukraine for getting itself invaded and being subject to genocide did not sit well with the people of Poland, and his concerts in Krakow were canceled.
In a recent podcast with noted idiot Joe Rogan, Waters initially portrays himself as nothing more than a guy with no axe to grind who is seeking peace. “The only thing that they can do is start to talk to one another.” That sounds lovely in the abstract. In reality, it ignores the fact that Putin is wholly responsible for this invasion and that he is committed to genocide against the Ukrainian people—something that becomes more and more obvious with each passing day, as he shells apartment blocks and runs kamikaze drones into key components of the Ukrainian civilian energy infrastructure. If you have any doubt how bloodthirsty the Russian goons are as they droolingly fantasize about committing genocide on the Ukrainians, take a moment and watch these grinning degenerates salivate as they discuss the possibility of Ukrainian civilians suffering:
These people are, quite simply, animals. But you won’t the primary lyricist for Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album writing any songs about them!
Waters initially tells Rogan he won’t get into what America has done to contribute to the start of the war . . . but then, apparently, Waters remembered that his interviewer is a clueless muttonhead who would never challenge him. So Waters says “we have to be honest about what the United States has done” and then proceeds to lie about what the United States has done. Rogan echoes him by referencing his recent conversation with Putin’s girlfriend Tulsi Gabbard. Please, spare us.
At 39:25 in the Rogan podcast, Waters reads his open letter to Putin which contains gems like this:
First, would you like to see an end to this war? If you were to reply and say, “Yes please,” that would immediately make things a lot easier. If you were to come out and say, “Also the Russian Federation has no further territorial interest beyond the security of the Russian-speaking populations of the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk,” that would help too.
The fact that they are Russian-speaking does not mean that they support being ruled by Russia, and no phony referendum where soldiers go door to door and stand over the voter with a machine gun while the voter “votes” proves anything.
Your invasion of Ukraine took me completely by surprise, it was a heinous war of aggression, provoked or not.
It didn’t take the rational part of the world by surprise. We all saw it coming. All we had to do was believe our intelligence services. (Unlike Donald Trump, I favor our intelligence services over Russia’s.) But notice the key phrase “provoked or not”—which is Waters’s way of saying Putin was provoked. The two open letters together are purely pro-Putin apologetics, blaming the war primarily on Biden and on Ukraine, and only secondarily on Putin for (supposedly) “allowing” himself to have been “provoked.”
But if you truly want to revel in Waters’s ignorance, I suggest you fast-forward to around 43:00 in the Rogan podcast, where Waters quotes Putin saying he will negotiate, but that (this is Waters’s quote paraphrasing Putin) “the will of the people in the Donetsk, Lubansk [sic], Keershun [sic], and whatever the one is whose name I can’t remember, is inviolate. That is not up for discussion.” Then Waters and Rogan shake their heads sadly at the awfulness (in their view) of Zelensky’s response, which is to say he will not negotiate with Russia until Putin is gone. How awful! they both agree.
Sigh. So: let’s talk about “the will of the people” in the provinces so mangled by Waters in that statement. The only one he got right, by the way, was Donetsk. When he says Lubansk, he means Luhansk. When he says “Keershun,” he is referring to Kherson, which most people pronounce “Her-SAHN” or perhaps “Kher-SAHN” but which nobody pronounces as “Keershun” except idiots like Waters. Finally, the province whose name Waters can’t remember is Zaporizhzhia. They have a nuclear power plant there.
As an aside: it is right to pick on Waters for his mangling of the pronunciation of Ukraine oblasts (provinces)? Yes: but only because Waters is setting himself up as a sort of “expert” on the topic, who has actually gotten the attention of Zelensky’s wife and hopes to get the attention of Putin himself.
In a way, Waters’s mispronunciation reminds me of something I noticed while preparing my recent post about Adam Davidson appearing on the Fifth Column podcast. At one point (35:33 if you want to hear it) Davidson and Kmele Foster get off on a tangent about Austrian economics. Keep in mind: Davidson purports to be an expert on economics. I’d even go so far as to say that he is something of an expert, at least on some topics. But anyway, Davidson says the following about the Austrians, and I quote: “If you’re a Menger, Meez guy, that’s different from being a Hayek guy . . . Meez kind of loses me a little bit, if I’m honest.”
Bonus points for knowing Menger! But, um, Adam? It’s “Mises.” Ludwig von Mises. Not “Meez.” Nobody pronounces it “Meez.” Literally nobody—at least nobody who knows what they’re talking about. It’s not an alternate pronunciation. It’s just a mistake. Now, how big a deal is that? Well, it doesn’t make you an idiot, per se . . . but it does cause me to question whether “Meez” “loses” Davidson because of the low quality of “Meez’s” ideas . . . or because Davidson has only the most superficial understanding of Mises’s actual beliefs. When it comes to that question, I’m going to crawl way out on a limb and say I don’t think Davidson has read Human Action . . . and I’m going to base that largely on the fact that Davidson doesn’t have the remotest idea what Mises’s name actually is or how to pronounce it.
Similarly, if I tell you I’m a professional philosopher who does philosophy podcasts for National Public Radio, and I enjoy reading Enlightenment-era English language philosophers who discussed liberalism, but I prefer Locke to J.S. “Miller” because that J.S. “Miller” guy (whose name I butcher twice in a row) just “loses” me . . . you’re going to have questions about whether I really read On Liberty.
(I’m currently re-reading On Liberty. by the way, and it’s brilliant.)
So all of this is a way to say Roger Waters doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Honestly, this is not the place to convince you that Putin is the one in the wrong in the Ukraine war. If you’re not convinced of that by now, you’re lost, and I am not going to change your mind with a newsletter. But since we’re talking about it, and just so you don’t think I can’t back up what I’m saying: in a few moments, in the portion for paid subscribers, I’ll direct you to (and discuss at length) some resources where you can read and listen to people who do know what they’re talking about.
So that’s Roger Waters, who represents the extreme left. But he’s just an ignorant rock-and-roller. Surely actual politicians on the left don’t agree with him? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the fringier Democrats in Congress recently came out with a letter (since retracted, with Pramila Jayapal incredibly blaming “staff” for its release) pushing a cease-fire and “negotiations” in Ukraine. My co-blogger JVW wrote about the letter and the retraction at my blog, here. Some people I respect, such as Dom Nicholls at The Telegraph, urged that the letter is not so bad. I understand where Nicholls is coming from. In what Allahpundit calls “plenty of ‘to be sure’ verbiage in the text,” the letter calls the war “Russia’s war of aggression” and supports Biden’s policy of arming Ukraine. But the letter also urges Biden “to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.” This might strike many as reasonable. After all, if the war is ever to end, won’t there have to be some talks? But in the end, I disagree with Nicholls and others who think the letter is not that bad. I think it’s hot garbage. Now is not the time to talk peace. First of all, that’s up to Ukraine, and they don’t want to talk cease-fire now, because they know it’s what Putin wants: to retreat while keeping the territories he illegally annexed (already a non-starter) so he can lick his wounds and regroup their forces. Ukraine is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions and it has decided to keep fighting. I think it is in our interest to help them.
But the letter, and its retraction, together make it clear that the fight is not between left and right so much as it is (as with so many issues these days) between extremists on both sides meeting on the horseshoe, on one hand, and moderates on both sides, on the other. The extremists on the left released the letter. The moderates on the left forced them to retract it. Just like the CPAC tweet, issued by extremists and retracted by (comparative) moderates under pressure from actual moderates.
Yes, Putin Is the Baddie
It should be obvious to you that the moderates are in the right. But I promised you above, I am going to spend some time refuting the usual arguments I hear in favor of Putin, as a public service. If you’re interested in Putin’s case, and the actual facts demonstrating that his case is a web of lies, there is a world of resources out there for you. One good starting point is this February piece in the New York Times, analyzing Putin’s speech and providing the context showing that it is a pack of lies.
Another resource that I highly recommend is Yale professor Timothy Snyder’s recent podcast with Sam Harris. Snyder is an expert on the history of the area, and is an incredibly clear thinker who instantly sees the fallacies of any pro-Putin argument and refutes it with facts and clear logic. Harris spent much of the podcast throwing many of these arguments at him, and it was incredibly edifying to listen to his responses. I can’t substitute for listening to him, but I’ll summarize some of his points here.
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