Foreign Policy

Don't Oppose Russian Authoritarianism With More Authoritarianism

Supporting Ukraine in its battle against Russia doesn’t justify restrictions on speech and commerce.

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"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster," Friedrich Nietzsche famously warned. The German philosopher might have offered the same caution about tangling with thuggish regimes, given how quickly they rub off on their opponents. Just months after Russia attacked its neighbor, the efforts of the United States and other western nations to assist Ukraine's defense are themselves trending authoritarian, including dictates to the private sector and intolerance of dissenting views.

"Some of you have reported on the lies upon lies that are spread on these mouthpieces of the Kremlin," a Biden administration official told the press earlier this week while announcing new sanctions against Russia. "After today, no U.S. company can be in the business of funding or supporting the disinformation machine that masks the truth of Putin's barbaric invasion behind lies and deceit."

"Western companies were among the top advertisers on these stations last year — well above $300 million worth of advertising," the official clarified about restrictions on doing business with Russian TV outlets. "A lot of these advertisers have announced since the invasion that they're going to cut their business activity with these stations, but we want to make sure that decision endures and just send a broader signal that U.S. companies should not be in the business of funding Russian propaganda."

This move is troubling even for those of us most strongly sympathetic to Ukraine's efforts. The plight of a troubled yet functioning liberal democracy under assault from a brutal neighboring regime should involve the defense of freedom against those who would dictate terms to the unwilling. But sanctions have creeped from punishing the Russian state, to targeting the Russian people, to telling private firms and individuals in the United States that they can't do businesses with the customers of their choice.

"The United States will prohibit U.S. persons from providing accounting, trust and corporate formation, and management consulting services to any person in the Russian Federation," a separate White House fact sheet specifies.

So, admittedly not for the first time, the private sector is being used as a tool of foreign policy. Businesses are being ordered to close offices and sever ties with clients because they're subjects of rulers our rulers don't like, without regard for those customers' relation to that country's government or its invasion of a neighboring state.

The advertising restrictions are even worse because they target a point of view. Supporting the invasion of Ukraine is contemptible, but one of the great things about free societies is that they recognize the right of people to disagree with me, you, and the powers that be. That means people should be free to express terrible ideas, contemptible opinions, and support for bad causes.

And leave it to Europeans to take that extra step by explicitly banning public pro-Russian sentiment as part of an increasingly control-freakish battle against authoritarianism. Lithuania and several states in Germany have forbidden the display of symbols associated with Russia's war of aggression.

"Police in several states across Germany have opened investigations into public displays of support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine," Germany's Deutsche Welle reported last week. "More than 140 investigations have been launched, with most looking into the use of the 'Z' symbol that has been seen in several protests in Germany alongside Russian flags… Several German states have classified the use of the symbol as a mark of unlawful support for the invasion."

Displaying a "Z" can draw up to three years in prison in Lower Saxony and Bavaria.

Despite advertising restrictions, the First Amendment shields Americans from overt punishment for expressing ideas good, bad, or just upsetting to politicians. But officialdom is quick to forget about due process and civil liberties when a crusade beckons. Despite warnings that stealing property from so-called "oligarchs" just because they're Russian is a civil asset forfeiture nightmare, the federal government pushes ahead with its plans. Two weeks ago, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House urged the White House to "to seize and confiscate assets under the jurisdiction of the United States of foreign persons whose wealth is derived in part through corruption linked to or political support for the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin." The Biden administration promptly announced plans to do just that "on an expedited basis."

The seizure policy "is not law and is an appalling precedent" warned Bruce Fein, a constitutional attorney who served in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan. He added that targets of the planned expedited property grabs "receive neither notice nor an opportunity to respond, nor an opportunity to confront accusers, nor an independent or impartial decisionmaker — summary justice at its worst."

The accused oligarchs are Russians; sanctions including the latest round of bans on advertising, accounting services, and management consulting bring dubious restrictions home. And yes, the U.S. government has wielded Americans as pawns in foreign policy in the past, most notably in the long and self-defeating efforts against Cuba's communist regime. But consistent advocates of liberty rightly objected to those sanctions as illegitimate. In 2016, then-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) spoke with Reason's Nick Gillespie about the Obama administration's tentative efforts to loosen restrictions on contact with the Island prison-nation:

"These aren't sanctions on Cubans, these are sanctions on Americans. When others who I normally agree with—Marco Rubio and others—say these latest moves by the president are a concession to the Castros or to the regime, they're wrong. It's not a concession to allow your own population to travel. That's an expression of freedom." 

Restrictions on freedom are authoritarian, even if government officials try to justify them with hollow claims of being on the side of peace and liberty. Just as you've gained nothing if battling monsters turns you into a monster, you need to rethink just what you hope to win if fighting authoritarians pushes your own society towards authoritarianism. If we want support for Ukraine to equate to defense of freedom, we have to actually respect that value instead of becoming what our political leaders pretend to oppose.

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  1. The plight of a troubled yet functioning liberal democracy under assault from a brutal neighboring regime should involve the defense of freedom against those who would dictate terms to the unwilling.

    A liberal democracy where opposition parties have been banned and opposition politicians have been imprisoned and the media has been nationalized and told what to say? I guess the US is well on its way to becoming just such a liberal democracy. Soon we'll be as liberal a democracy as North Korea.

    1. A liberal democracy where opposition parties have been banned and opposition politicians have been imprisoned and the media has been nationalized and told what to say?

      That's par for the course in Liberal Democracies these days.

      1. Democracy dies in freedom!

  2. Displaying a "Z" can draw up to three years in prison in Lower Saxony and Bavaria.

    Ha, just like the movie by that title/letter! Only this time, it might not be long before they move on to "Y".

    1. Only this time, it might not be long before they move on to "Y".

      Welllllllll, they have already eliminated XY from our society

      1. Nobody needs 26, er, 23 kinds of letters!

      2. Fake news - XY comments here all the time.

  3. Don't Oppose Russian Authoritarianism With More Authoritarianism

    You are such a killjoy. What else do you expect Pelosi, Schumer, AOC, Biden’s handlers, et al to do while they sit in Congress (and get richer)?

    One could argue that octogenarian Pelosi is channelling Tomás de Torquemada

    “Tomás de Torquemada[a] OP (14 October 1420 – 16 September 1498), also anglicized as Thomas of Torquemada, was a Castilian Dominican friar and first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to homogenize religious practices with those of the Catholic Church in the late 15th century, otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition.”
    - Wiki

    1. Wow. I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition.

      1. Nobody does.

  4. So... is the author of this article so stupid he pushes Kremlin propaganda lines without getting paid by Putin for it? Or is he just another paid Kremlinbot?

    1. So what are you saying? Any questioning of any proposed government policy ostensibly intended to oppose Russia is Kremlin propaganda?

      1. Er, no. This article directly parrots the key points of the Kremlin propaganda in this area. Either the author is a useful idiot or he's getting paid by the Kremlin. Either way he is spreading Kremlin nonsense.

        Anyway, the article doesn't just oppose specific measures, it opposes all sanctions and international measures to punish Russia fir invading Ukraine. That is straight up support for Putin.

        1. You really lack imagination if you think those are the only reasons one could possibly oppose sanctions.
          It's quite possible to believe both that Russia is bad and the Ukraine conflict is not our problem and the US government should do what is best for Americans first rather than trying to fix the rest of the world.

          1. You keep talking in generalities. This specific example is either paid-for Russian propaganda, or the author is a useful idiot producing it without pay. You can tell by the way it parrots Kremlin points.

            "It's quite possible to believe both that Russia is bad and the Ukraine conflict is not our problem and the US government should do what is best for Americans first rather than trying to fix the rest of the world"

            Sure. And people who believe that are in Putin's camp. They believe the same things he does.

            1. Nope, not even a little. I would personally love to wipe out his whole regime. That said, the US does not need to be in a war with Russia. Especially with our current worthless democrat regime. Lead by a stupid man with mush for brains and puppeteered by incapable and incompetent Marxist fools. Afghanistan was proof of this.

              We are not up for this right now.

              1. Thanks for proving the point, Putinista. The only difference between him and you is that you're a traitor because you hate the USA, whereas he's an enemy.

                1. Thanks for proving yourself to be nothing more than a partisan hack, who is only here to paint political opposition to a war with Russia as treason. Did you have to jamb your head in the washer while it was on full spin cycle to come up with that bullshit. "Ukrainians are Nazis", "Military proliferation on the Russian border", and "We are a nuclear power" are examples of Russin propaganda. That bullshit that just fell out of that asshole you call a mouth, you manufactured out of whole cloth.

                2. "Putinista"
                  Truth is the first casualty of war.

        2. Sanctions don't hurt Putin. They hurt the people of Russia, the people of the EU, the people of the USA and the people of the rest of the world. That is the point of the sanctions, after all.

        3. You're missing the point. Americans are not subjects. We are citizens. However much I agree with sanctioning Russia, it is by definition arbitrary and authoritarian for the govt to do that with any discussion and where all disagreement is expressed as near treason (Putin bot).
          There are more than a few articles here that are quite toolish merely because of a realist or non-interventionist take. This ain't one of those

          1. OK, Putinstooge.

            1. "Putinstooge"

              Truth is the first casualty of war.

      2. The guy IS a Putin stooge. Trying to further a narrative that anyone who supports Ukraine must become authoritarian and well Nazi-like

  5. These aren't sanctions on Cubans, these are sanctions on Americans.

    Right, yes. It's a sanction on Americans who want to go to a "prison-nation" to be serviced by the forced labor of the innocents held in the prison. Genuinely consistent advocates of liberty do not look at the desire to exploit the slave labor of the wrongfully-imprisoned and say "That's an expression of freedom."

    1. There is more than one way to be consistent.

  6. Face it. Most humans, including Americans, have the ethics and cognitive capacities of chimps. And most leaders know this, and apply their own chimp skills to rise to the top of the tribe.

    This includes telling people what is true, often in contradiction to the objective reality in front of their eyes.

    The very best behavior among chimps, er, people occurs when they don't notice or care about what might be going on. What do you expect to happen when we give them CNN*?

    *Chimp News Network

    1. Face it. Most humans, including Americans, have the ethics and cognitive capacities of chimps. And most leaders know this, and apply their own chimp skills to rise to the top of the tribe.

      Yeah, just look in the mirror.

      Really, your trite cynicism is just tedious and dumb.

  7. "Some of you have reported on the lies upon lies that are spread on these mouthpieces of the Kremlin," a Biden administration official told the press earlier this week while announcing new sanctions against Russia. "After today, no U.S. company can be in the business of funding or supporting the disinformation machine that masks the truth of Putin's barbaric invasion behind lies and deceit."

    Well luckily we have a new department for disinformation, unfortunately, I'm told, they have no enforcement power. They just sit there with their hands between their knees and do disinformationey stuff.

    1. Have you read 1984? You think the USA should have a "Ministry of Truth"? Have you heard of the 1st Amendment? Free Speech? Without free speech, we are a tyrannically totalitarian, dystopian nightmare.

      Communist China is perhaps the place for you.

      1. Gotta work on your sarcasm/irony detector.

  8. I am going to have to pick the Russian "Authoritarianism" over the Nazi-loving sectors of Ukraine and their American enablers this time.

  9. People should be free to express support for Russia until they die early of liver failure, but this world is going to have to reckon with the propaganda machines of authoritarian entities in the age of the internet sooner or later. Start with FOX News. Straight into a sinkhole. You'll thank me later.

    1. How about start with FOX news AND the Entire MSM. They are all sociopathic lying propagandists.

      1. I'd prefer not to define "propaganda" into meaninglessness.

        It's pretty easy to spot, so there's no reason we can't eliminate it.

        1. We don't need to "eliminate" propaganda. Just don't read it.

          1. Easy to say but tgese days everything everywhere is propoganda funded by lobbyists. Even here you find hookers lobbies and heroin lobbies.

            Who pays for news these days? Lobbys and other special interests.

            Oh, and other news sources who reprint eachothers articles....

            Thats it. All anyone can do is try to triangulate piles of bullshit. No one can trust any of this crap.

          2. I literaly posted to an article today, "how the drug war kills more people than the drugs obiden gets for us."

        2. Translation: silence anyone who disagrees with democrats.

          1. It's not their speaking that's the problem, it's their power over my life. Keeping the stupid and the fascistic out of power is like job #1 of a civilized democracy. Sorry if that offends you in some way.

        3. One person's truth is another person's propaganda. In a free society, it is the responsibility of the individual to distinguish truth from falsehood without government interference. The best way to deal with propaganda is to answer it with truth and rational argumentation, unless the propaganda just so happens to be true.

          I suspect the urge to suppress Russian propaganda is the fear that some or much of it may actually be true, like violating the U.S. promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO east of Germany, like the west supporting an effective coup in Ukraine to remove duly-elected Russia-friendly Yanukovych in violation of the Ukraine constitution without trial before the Ukraine Supreme Court.

          There's a reason why many in the west fear Russian "disinformation" - because at least some of it is true. By the way, I do not support Russia invading Ukraine. Likely, this war could have been avoided if NATO had not expanded.

          1. Thw war also could have been avoided if Ukraine had kept its share of the Soviet nukes.

          2. "One person's truth is another person's propaganda."

            Truth is relative, but morality, that's absolute. Am I right?

            Of course all propaganda contains elements of truth (notice we've immediately changed our mind about how truth is relative). The more truth the better. But nothing you've said justifies a violent invasion of Ukraine. It's just smoke and mirrors, and that's what makes it propaganda.

  10. Russia is a Democracy, unlike Ukraine, which had its democratically elected president deposed in a violent, USA funded coup, in 2014.

    1. Is it though? I suspect their elections are less legitimate than ours in 2020.

      1. Just how in the actual junky pederast faggot cult could that be possible?

        https://wgno.com/news/pentagon-denies-telling-soldiers-to-ignore-child-abuse/

    2. "Russia is a Democracy, unlike Ukraine,"

      You.
      Are.
      Full.
      Of.
      Shit.
      And likely a lame Russki hacker.
      Fuck off and die.

  11. Everthing is a poison, it's simply a matter of dosage.

    1. Which addresses what, lefty shit?

  12. Don't Oppose Russian Authoritarianism With More Authoritarianism

    Why not? You wanted a return to political norms, you got it.

  13. It's 1917 here all over again. We sure have (not) come a long way in 105 years.
    Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel (I just made that up now).

  14. I personally couldnt pretend to give a fk about the ukrain. Not when we have a sitting serial war criminal in the wh.

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