Streetwise Professor

November 24, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears–Sure! Journalists and Oppositionists–Not So Much

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:06 pm

Vladimir Putin is throwing the full weight of the Russian state behind efforts to save diminishing tiger populations.  Among the measures are tougher punishments for those who kill the endangered animals, or traffic in their body parts.

Meanwhile, it remains open season on journalists and oppositionists.  Medvedev makes noises about addressing this problem, but the real authorities that matter don’t even go through the motions of going through the motions to capture, let alone punish, those who kill, batter, or intimidate those with the termerity to criticize the state, key politicians, or their pilot fish (e.g., Nashi).

Glad to see the priorities are all in order.

In the US too.  The Obama administration’s response to the litany of human rights abuses in Russia is, well, pretty much nothing.  Administration policy is “engagement uber alles”:

In his interview with The Times, Mr. Nemtsov said Mr. Obama is wrong to engage Mr. Surkov through the commission on civil society.

But the White House has said that it is important to engage someone close to Mr. Putin’s inner circle on democracy and civil rights issues.

“I think his criticisms are legitimate,” a senior White House official said. “There are other political people in Russia, who have said to us categorically, ‘Do not dissolve this. If you engage with this guy, it gives us a direct shot at the guy who matters.'”

This official said that “we think it’s better to engage than not to engage.”

We see daily the wonderful results of various US engagement initiatives, such as in Iran.  Or North Korea: Yeah, that’s paying dividends.  (Can you say: “Incoming!”?  I knew you could.)

I remember when progressives who are now Obama’s main constituency went ballistic at Reagan administration policy of engaging South Africa during the apartheid era.  I ask in all seriousness: why was engagement a monstrosity then, but the best–and in the eyes of this administration apparently, only–way to deal with governments and regimes with serious human rights problems?   Each state is different, of course, meaning that differences in policy may well be warranted.  But it would be nice to know what factors are critical in determining whether engagement is the best policy alternative so that the policies can be appraised.  Why is engagement good sometimes and an anathema others?  For it seems that at present, “engagement” is merely a monotonous mantra rooted in dreamy wishes of comity and fears of confrontation, rather than a sober evaluation of the pros and cons of the policy vis a vis alternatives.

And speaking of dreamy wishes, here’s your proof:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin.

How’s that Putin marginalization thing working out?  Sheesh.  If this is the basis for our Russia policy, we are well and truly delusional.

Speaking of ballistic, part of the administration’s reason for treading lightly with Russia on human rights matters is strategic arms limitation.  Obama has invested heavily in the new START treaty, and is doubling down by demanding approval of the treaty during the lame duck session (another Obama political gamble that is likely to end disastrously).  There are many problems with this strategic weapons-centric approach.  One of particular note, and of particular irony, is that it is essentially an artifact of a Cold War mindset in which the superpower nuclear balance was all that really mattered.  That world is well and truly gone, as the emergence of China, and the development of nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran clearly demonstrate.  In this environment of tremendous strategic flux, locking the US into restrictions rooted in bipolar Cold War thinking is extremely unwise.  Obama asserts that the new START is a lynchpin in a broader anti-proliferation effort: that by leading by example, the US and Russia will encourage others to temper their strivings for nuclear weapons.

As if.  This is just another dreamy inversion of reality, from the experts on the subject.

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19 Comments »

  1. 1. Speaking of persecuted journalists, I wonder what our democratist Professor would make of this?

    2. Because South Africa was an apartheid state based on exploit… oh, damn, I forgot, it’s never repression when white English-speaking people do it.

    3. New START was one of the easiest and least risky deals the US could offer Russia. The Republicans torpedo it? No doubt, then, that Russia will withdraw one or two of its concessions in return.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 24, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

  2. There are too many people and not enough tigers.

    Comment by So? — November 24, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  3. Because South Africa was an apartheid state based on exploit… oh, damn, I forgot, it’s never repression when white English-speaking people do it.

    Only in South Africa they spoke Afrikaans. Hurray for Soviet education!

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 25, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  4. Actually that would be hurray for British education, but as usual Newman is quibbling, because doubtless he knows that RSA’s lingua franca, the language spoken by its elites, is indeed English.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 25, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  5. Speaking of journalists. Commenting on another assault that left a Russian journalist in coma (http://www.france24.com/en/20101106-russian-reporter-left-coma-after-beating-outside-home-oleg-kashin-kommersant-moscow), a Nazshi komissar Irina Pleshcheyeva, who is also heading something called “Center for Development of Youth Media” opined that journalists simply should not provide reasons to be murdered: http://www.theotherrussia.org/2010/11/10/nashi-tells-journalists-to-stop-asking-to-be-murdered/ . Tigers are in a better position as long as they don’t speak.

    Comment by Ivan — November 25, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  6. Trouble is that journalists in Russia have a terrible reputation of the “second oldest profession” because in the 90s many were employed as mouthpieces of various “bizness” people. They are not getting any more popular by issuing calls for the equivalent of “hate crime” legislation. There are too many assholes privileged by the law as it is.

    I’ve not read the Nashi link, but I’m willing to believe the worst about them. That organization is a good sponge for ambitious morons.

    Comment by So? — November 25, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

  7. Having learned from experience that the word of USG is worthless, the Russian government have ensured that the USG have no effective leverage on them. And the Russian trouncing of loony Saak’s army showed the limits of USGs power. Sane Euro governments are busy building relations with Russia.

    Thus, the USG have little choice but to engage the Russian government.

    Deal with it.

    Comment by rkka — November 25, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

  8. > Deal with it.

    I agree. The midterm elections were a fine example of how to deal with a government that has no clue. Not that it gave any clue to the surviving part of it. Or did it?

    Comment by Ivan — November 26, 2010 @ 1:04 am

  9. Ho hum; another neoconservative with a man-crush on the Ghost of Reagan.

    Curious that Doug Bandow, Cato Institute Fellow – certainly not a touchy-feely liberal by any stretch of the imagination – and former personal assistant to Ronald Reagan closes his review of Sung Chull Kim and David C. Kang’s “Engagement with North Korea; A Viable Alternative” with this passage:

    “‘Engagement with North Korea’ reminds us why diplomacy is the preferred strategy in dealing with Pyongyang. However, the contributors offer no guarantees about the likely success of such an approach. Unfortunately, the problem of North Korea is not likely to be resolved any time soon.”

    Diplomacy is the preferred strategy. In dealing with North Korea. From a former Reagan adviser. Of course, you could just ignore advice and drop a nuke on them just to teach them a lesson, like Saint Ronnie always wanted to do. That’ll help your other outreach initiatives around the world immensely; my, yes. Everybody loves the smell of ionized engagement in the morning.

    If you hurry, you just have time to grab your tricorn hat, swallowtail jacket and your musket before the Glenn Beck Tea Party parade turns the corner out of sight.

    Comment by Mark — November 26, 2010 @ 1:04 am

  10. > That organization is a good sponge for ambitious morons.

    And the worst of them get promoted straight to the Russian government. What could this tell us about that government?

    Comment by Ivan — November 26, 2010 @ 1:09 am

  11. Actually that would be hurray for British education, but as usual Newman is quibbling, because doubtless he knows that RSA’s lingua franca, the language spoken by its elites, is indeed English.

    Not in the apartheid era it wasn’t. Yes, they all could speak English, but their primary language was Afrikaans.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 26, 2010 @ 2:25 am

  12. “> Deal with it.

    I agree. The midterm elections were a fine example of how to deal with a government that has no clue. Not that it gave any clue to the surviving part of it. Or did it?”

    It okay. Like I said, the GoR are well-prepared for whatever the Republicans will do to US-Russian relations.

    Comment by rkka — November 26, 2010 @ 6:00 am

  13. > GoR are well-prepared for whatever the Republicans will do to US-Russian relations

    Maybe. Or maybe they will use the tactics of letting their country collapse, just like they did the previous time they were prepared.

    Comment by Ivan — November 26, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  14. The USSR didn’t have a current account surplus, or half a terabuck in the bank.

    They also know what happens if the USG gets leverage on Russia. Both Putin and Medvedev are wiser than Gorby or Yeltsin.

    Comment by rkka — November 26, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

  15. As if it were not savage enough as it was: Russia now officially supports “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” of gay people:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thor-halvorssen/united-nations-its-okay-t_b_787024.html

    Comment by Ivan — November 27, 2010 @ 11:56 am

  16. As if Ivan, a conservative fanatic, even cares.

    No doubt what he’s really angry about is Russia’s blocking the imperialism of Western universalism through the UN.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — November 27, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

  17. S.O., don’t be so boringly Soviet. Russia has signed its name under “Savage”, thank you very much. No amount of whataboutism will change that.

    Comment by Ivan — November 28, 2010 @ 3:22 am

  18. .. Still, I wish Russia hadn’t voted like that.

    And yet, one asinine vote doesn’t mean Russia is a savage country. I’m sure it’s not hard to look up something America did that civilised countries don’t do. Hint hint.

    Comment by Andrew #2 — November 29, 2010 @ 12:19 am

  19. And then the Russian bleeding-heart liberals wonder why they are not popular. Trumpeting the interests of micro-minorities (gays) and nano-minorities (jailed billionaires) is not how you win public support. Defending the rights of a guy whose small store was stolen by the local gangsters/bureaucrats, or the woman whose child was run over by some Russian Kennedy, would be much more useful.

    Comment by So? — November 29, 2010 @ 1:19 am

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