Is ‘Ill News’ Always an ‘Ill Guest’?

By Timothy Furnish Published on February 28, 2023

“Ill news is an ill guest.” So Gríma Wormtongue, poisoner of King Théoden, slandered Gandalf when he arrived in Rohan. In like fashion, the Western media stigmatizes anything Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says. If they even report on it at all. But when the American President vows open-ended support for Ukraine in its military struggle with Russia, it would make sense to know just why our enemy is fighting. And, for that matter, why we are doing so by proxy. Before we wind up in a direct confrontation with the world’s largest nuclear power.

I touched on this topic several weeks ago. Now allow me to delve deeper into Putin’s relevant public addresses over the last year. There are two that bear scrutiny.

Putin’s February 2023 Speech: Western Arrogance

Last week (February 21) the Russian President spoke to the Federal Assembly in Moscow. Analyses of that speech have focused on his comments about the invasion of Ukraine. (Such as this one, which concludes that “say whatever you want about Putin, he’s not irrational.”) But there are deeper geopolitical, philosophical and even religious elements. Putin points out that “no other country has so many military bases around the world as the United States.” And that the West strives “to impose neoliberal and essentially totalitarian values.” Its ultimate goal? “Russia’s strategic defeat,” which is an “existential threat to our country.”

He goes on. The West “attack[s] our culture, [and] the Russian Orthodox Church.” Indeed, “look what they are doing to their own people…. The destruction of the family, of cultural and national identity, perversion and abuse of children, including pedophilia, all of which are declared normal. They are forcing their priests to bless same-sex marriages.” Most recently, “the Anglican church is planning…to explore the idea of a gender-neutral god. What is there to say? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Putin’s October 2022 Speech: Western Decadence

Russia’s leader went into even more detail in a speech to the Valdai Discussion Club, October 28, 2022. (Explicated brilliantly here.) There Putin waxed prescriptive, as well as descriptive. “The West claims that it is its culture and worldview that should be universal.” Remember Alexander Solzhenitsyn? He described the West as having “blindness of superiority.” The U.S. and Europe are no longer guided by classical liberalism, “understood as the freedom of every person…to say what you want, to do what you want.” “Now they have reached the point of absurdity, when any alternative point of view is declared subversive propaganda.” He decried reverse discrimination, cancel culture, transgenderism, and wokeness in general. Putin also quoted Dostoevsky. “Cicero’s tongue is cut off, Copernicus’ eyes are gouged out, Shakespeare is stoned.” Not even the Soviet agitprop department of the Communist Party did anything so heinous.

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The West is split. There’s an “aggressive, cosmopolitan, neo-colonial West.” And “the West of traditional, primarily Christian, values.” The former is “not able to single-handedly manage humanity, but is desperately trying to do so.” In fact, “the Western domination of international affairs, which began several centuries ago and…was almost absolute in the 20th century, is giving way to a much more diverse system.” A multipolar one. Western-imposed globalization has not destroyed nationalism. For “only sovereign states can effectively respond to the challenges of our times.”

Putin: Russia’s Global Role

Russia, in Putin’s view, leads the international resistance to Western hegemony. Not just political and military, but cultural. If the West wants to impose absurd values on its own citizens, Russia will not object. However, “in shaping our approaches, we will be guided by a healthy conservatism” and “time-tested tradition.” He concludes by stating that Russians have “herd immunity to extremism.” Why? Because they were exposed to it under the USSR.

Breaking Down Putin’s Claims

At the risk of being labeled a Russian stooge, let me break down Putin’s major allegations. It’s simply a fact that the U.S. has far more military bases outside its own territory than any other nation. Some 750. Three times as many, in fact, as all other countries combined. Russia, by contrast, has three dozen. China has five. (Here’s a good map thereof.) True, no American policy maker has used the term “strategic defeat” of Russia. But last year former U.S. Forces-Europe Commander, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, predicted imminent Russian disintegration. Foreign Policy maven and former Condoleezza Rice protégé Eliot Cohen wrote that “this conflict will end with the overthrow of Vladimir Putin.” Then Joe Biden said the same thing.

What about attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church? Well, in Kyiv last week the American President met with the leader of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. This body was recently created to rival the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the traditional — and Russia-oriented — official church there. Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, did the same five years ago. From Moscow’s perspective, it certainly looks like bipartisan U.S. interference in Eastern Orthodox church affairs. Plus, Washington’s semi-official mouthpiece, NPR, did a shameless hit piece on Orthodox Christianity in America as a bastion of far-right Putin shills.

Does Putin overstate the war on traditional, Christian morals in America and the West? Well, out-of-wedlock births are the norm — indeed, the majority — in most of the West now. In the U.S. the figure is 40%. Where is gay marriage legal? Entirely in Western countries, South Africa being the sole exception. The Biden Administration openly promotes not just LGBTQ ideology, but transgenderism. “Cancel culture” is aimed not just at conservatives and Christians, but at those, like J.K. Rowling, who simply point out there are two biological sexes. Surely no one wants to normalize pedophilia? Take a look at this. The process has been going on for at least 15 years. And yes, the Anglicans are considering neutering God.

Putin Isn’t the Only One Who Thinks Like This

I wrote a year ago that Putin may be a “swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator.” But that doesn’t always make him wrong. Read the brilliant Arta Moeini, in particular his 2022 “America: the Last Ideological Empire.” (Originally behind a paywall, here. Readable for free here.) The U.S. may still be majority Christian. But the government pushes pure, woke secularism. Indeed, our government persecutes Christians who oppose that. Thus, the American Deep State no longer supports classical, Enlightenment liberalism. No, Washington is full-bore woke socially liberal.

Moeini nails it. Just like Putin. “Liberalism, it seems, can’t live without aggressive universalism — the insistence that the whole world must operate according to ‘norms’ perfected in the West.” This stifling globalism hates nationalism — whether in Putin’s Russia or Trump’s red states. Indeed, the Left has tried for years to link the two. And guess what? They can be. But not via the lie of “Russia collusion.” Rather, both represent, per Moeini, “the return of particularity,” “locality, community, and civilization” over against “still more globalism and homogeneity.”

So Putin’s “ill news” is only an “ill guest” to those who hate nationalism and traditional Christianity. Putin may not be Gandalf. But he’s not Sauron, either. And in any event, perhaps we should heed the message more than the messenger. Especially when that message is so accurate. And damning.


Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.

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