It should hardly surprise anyone that Congressman Ryan Zinke seems drawn to egomaniacal, self-promoting autocrats, but even I, as one of Zinke’s harshest critics, was taken aback today when I read that he not only agrees with Donald Trump that Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama, but that he cited his invasions of a neighboring country as evidence to support his position. From the Washington Times today:
The former SEAL Team Six team leader cited Mr. Putin’s successes annexing Crimea, spreading Russian influence in Ukraine and planting the Russian flag at the North Pole, claiming sovereignty over a large portion of the Arctic Ocean.
I define effective leadership and success a bit differently than Congressman Zinke.
Putin has not been more “effective.” He’s been a tyrant. He’s ruled over Russia with no meaningful opposition, going so far as to murder some political opponents and imprison others for the crime of dissent. This Human Rights Watch report details a leader who has cracked down on free speech, permitted horrific abuses against the LGBTQ community, imposed a security law that makes the Patriot Act look like a defense of civil liberties, and turned Russian into an inward-looking imperial power that threatens its neighbors.
After praising Putin, Zinke offered the caveat that he doesn’t approve of Putin because “he’s a tyrant,” as if he doesn’t understand that Putin is able to do whatever he wants because he is a tyrant. He can pass whatever legislation he wants because there is no opposition party, and certainly no party more interested in destroying a President than working on meaningful legislation. President Obama, who has been a remarkably effective President, despite the kind of childish obstructionism that Congressman Zinke represents, has been able to pass an agenda through legal means, not brutal repression and fear.
And it’s troubling that a member of Congress, especially one who fancies himself a geopolitical expert, seems just so taken with authoritarian action.
But Zinke’s absurdity doesn’t end there, because he runs around claiming that President Obama is a tyrant. In January, he claimed that President Obama had a “tyrannical record, but it should still worry every American who values their rights and liberties – whether that be the right to free speech, free press, privacy, protection from illegal search and seizure, or any other enshrined in the Constitution. Barack Obama is the president, not the king.”
The idea that President Obama is a tyrant is laughable, but it’s especially ridiculous for the Congressman to claim, given that he’s endorsing the actions of a tyrant in Russia, praising his effective leadership.
And in the event you think this is an example of a partisan blogger taking Zinke out of context, it’s worth noting that this is hardly the first time he’s praised Putin. Who can forget his calling Putin “masterful” in 2013 or his lie that the Russian military was doing more to bring a peaceful end to the Syrian conflict?
Of course, it’s not just Putin. Just this summer, Zinke also praised another tyrant for his efficacy as a leader, when he praised Saddam Hussein’s lawless, authoritarian, murderous, torturing strategy to combat terrorism.
Congressman Zinke is already running ads about his service in the military, touting his work to protect American freedoms. Don’t those start to ring a bit hollow when he repeatedly defends authoritarians?
Is it now finally time for the Montana press to cover this? To deal with Zinke’s calls to invade other countries, his penchant for supporting tyrants, his endorsement of torture? I’m afraid I already know the answer.