US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Newt Gingrich, you're no Ronald Reagan (Politico)

Newt Gingrich thinks he's Ronald Reagan and 2012 is 1976, says Bill Schneider.

2. Syria: It's not just about freedom (Washington Post)

Imperial regimes can crack when they are driven out of their major foreign outposts, argues Charles Krauthammer.

3. Romney Isn't Concerned (New York Times)

If you're an American down on your luck, Mitt Romney has a message for you: He doesn't feel your pain, says Paul Krugman.

4. Government Cannot Create Sustainable Jobs (Wall Street Journal)

Useful jobs don't exist until producers discover them. Stimulating demand can at best return an economy to the pre-slump status quo, writes Arnold Kling.

5. An election that hinges on the smallest of errors? (Washington Post)

he granting of Secret Service protection following Mitt Romney's decisive Florida victory did not prevent him from immediately shooting himself in the foot, says Michael Gerson.

6. India's strategic importance to the US (Boston Globe)

If coping with a more powerful China will be the great challenge for the United States in the next half century, India may be the great opportunity, writes Nicholas Burns.

7. A matter of faith (Chicago Tribune)

HHS should provide a broader conscience exemption on contraceptive coverage, argues this editorial.

8. Stop harassing the Koch brothers (Politico)

President Barack Obama and his allies, including those in Congress, have shown what a nasty, personal and abusive reelection campaign we are about to experience, writes Mike Pompeo.

9. Phony college rankings (San Francisco Chronicle)

Claremont McKenna College - an elite liberal arts institution near Los Angeles - is admitting a campus official fudged the SAT scores of incoming freshmen to boost its place in advisory publications heavily used by would-be students and parents. No one should be shocked, says this editorial.

10. School nutrition: A kid's right to choose (Los Angeles Times)

As the federal government plans to improve nutrition in school lunchrooms, it's important to look at what works, and what doesn't, argues David R. Just and Brian Wansink.

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Leader: The age of Putinism

There is no leader who exerts a more malign influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign ­influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin. In Syria, Russia’s military intervention has significantly strengthened the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. Under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, Mr Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hospitals and schools. Syrian government forces and their foreign allies have moved closer to regaining control of the rebel-held, besieged eastern part of Aleppo, a city in ruins, after a period of intense fighting and aerial bombardment. In Europe, Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg, through the streets of which the great philosopher Immanuel Kant used to take his daily walk.

Across the West, however, Mr Putin is being feted. As Brendan Simms writes on page 30, the Russian president has “annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes”. Yet this has not deterred his Western sympathisers. In the US, Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian autocrat as a fellow ethnic nationalist and “strongman”. The president-elect’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence is an invitation to Russian expansionism in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Mr Trump is far from alone in his admiration for Mr Putin. In France, François Fillon, the socially conservative presidential candidate for the Républicains, favours the repeal of European sanctions against Russia (imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea) and a military alliance in Syria. In return, Mr Putin has praised his French ally as “a great professional” and a “very principled person”.

Perhaps the one certainty of the French election next spring is that Russia will benefit. Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader and Mr Fillon’s likely opponent in the final round, is another devotee of the Russian president. “Putin is looking after the interests of his own country and defending its identity,” she recently declared. Like Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen seems to aspire to create a world in which leaders are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of rebuke.

In Britain, Paul Nuttall, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, has said that Mr Putin is “generally getting it right” in Syria. Mr Nuttall’s predecessor Nigel Farage named the Russian leader as the politician he admired most.

Mr Putin, who aims to defeat the West by dividing it, could not have scripted more favourable publicity. But such lion­isation masks Russia’s profound weaknesses. The country’s economy has been in recession for two years, following the end of the commodities boom, the collapse in the oil price and the imposition of sanctions. Its corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state now accounts for 70 per cent of its GDP. Its population is ageing rapidly (partly the result of a low ­fertility rate) and is forecast to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, while life expectancy is now lower than it was in the late 1950s.

Yet this grim context makes Mr Putin an even more dangerous opponent. To maintain his internal standing (and he is popular in Russia), he must pursue external aggression. His rule depends on seeking foreign scapegoats to blame for domestic woes. Not since the Cold War has the threat to Russia’s eastern European neighbours been greater.

How best to respond to Putinism? The United Kingdom, as Europe’s leading military power (along with France), will be forced to devote greater resources to defence. Theresa May has rightly pledged to station more British troops in eastern Europe and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements, providing for a ceasefire in Ukraine, are implemented. The Prime Minister has also condemned Russia’s “sickening atrocities” in Syria. Germany, where Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor, will be another crucial counterweight to a pro-Russian France.

It is neither just nor wise for the West to appease Mr Putin, one of the icons of the illiberal world. The Russian president will exploit any weakness for his own ends. As Tony Blair said in his New Statesman interview last week, “The language that President Putin understands is strength.” Although Russia is economically weak, it aspires to be a great power. We live in the age of Putinism. Donald Trump’s victory has merely empowered this insidious doctrine.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage