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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Red Flags Are Merely Uninspiring

The president pays a warm visit to Fidel Castro. His Kremlin pushes through the restoration of the Soviet anthem, and revives the red flag for use by the armed forces. Moscow is eager to sell arms to places like Libya and Syria, and has promised to send "advisers" to Angola to help "break the back" of Jonas Savimbi?s UNITA rebels.

Is it really as back-to-Brezhnev as it sounds?

Probably not.

The interest in Soviet-era client states like Cuba and Syria seems in part about trying to coax back billions in Cold War-era credits.

And while shaking hands with Castro may play poorly in Washington, Vladimir Putin is probably right in ridiculing the 40-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba. After all, it does not seem to be working: Castro is still there, and Canada has been snapping up years of good business while the U.S. harumphs.

The Angola "advisers," to take another example, were committed as part of a deal under which Angola is also to pay off about $4 billion in debts.

It?s a different matter that this deal has been structured as a murky oil-and-diamonds barter, and that it remains frighteningly vague about who these "advisers" are and what they will be doing.

It?s also not terribly smart for the Putin administration to keep hob-nobbing with the world?s least popular nations. Selling arms to Tehran or drinking tea with Kim Jong Il may have some small upside ? but the downside is that it makes the Kremlin look dangerously out of touch with the rest of the world.

The same goes for making such a priority out of restoring the Alexandrov music for the national anthem, and reviving the Soviet flag for the military.

Again, this is probably not as bad as it sounds. The Alexandrov music is more rousing and more popular than the Glinka music adopted under Boris Yeltsin. All it really needs is a new set of lyrics.

It is also true that Russia?s greatest military victories and sacrifices came under the red flag. So we can understand and respect the logic of reviving that flag for the army ? even as we find it disquieting to think of the military having such a politicized separate flag to pledge allegiance to.

So none of this is as bad as it sounds. But none of it is terribly inspiring either. We have a nation that looks almost exclusively to the president before acting ? and a president who spends a startling amount of his time abroad, while back home the nation concentrates on flags and songs.