2. Putin is principled—so long as those principles enhance national power

In recent days, Putin has talked a lot about “democracy,” “freedom,” “self-determination” and “international law.” And conveniently for him, he insists that Russia’s annexation of Crimea scrupulously adheres to those principles while America’s behavior in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya violated them brazenly.

Sound familiar? In the United States, both hawks and doves like to claim that they’re promoting cherished principles like democracy and freedom. The difference is that doves are more willing to acknowledge that these principles can undermine American interests. For most hawks, by contrast, the fight for democratic ideals must serve American power. If it doesn’t, then what’s being spread isn’t really democracy at all.

That’s long been true in Latin America, where Cold War hawks justified coups against democratically elected presidents like Guatemala’s Jacobo Árbenz and Chile’s Salvador Allende on the grounds that no pro-Soviet leader could truly enjoy democratic legitimacy. More recently, when opponents of Venezuela’s democratically elected (albeit authoritarian) leader Hugo Chávez tried to oust him in a 2002 coup, the Bush administration blamed Chávez, not the plotters. In 2009, hawks generally applauded the coup that drove Honduras’ democratically elected, pro-Chávez president from power.