Barack Obama’s re-election, while socially, culturally, and morally disastrous for the country, may prove the lesser of two evils when it comes to foreign policy, according to some pundits. Perhaps, but only because Obama’s primary focus is on irreversibly changing the character and ethnic composition of the United States.
Republicans, in the meantime, learn nothing and forget nothing. Following unconfirmed reports that President Obama had accepted Vladimir Putin’s invitation to visit Moscow early in 2013, Leon Aron—director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a Romney advisor—launched a lengthy diatribe in the pages of Foreign Policy arguing that the President should stay at home.
Aron’s points presented not only specifically Republican objections to the faltering “Reset” but also the laundry list of contrived objections to a cooperative relationship with Russia, the development of which should be among our top foreign-policy priorities. Similar objections are likely to be raised time and again at both ends of the political spectrum.
“In the past 12 months,” Aron says, “Putin’s foreign and domestic policies have been nothing but a brazen, in-your-face challenge to U.S. interests and values.” The claim that Russia’s president has no other business but to devise policies at home and abroad that are deliberately calculated to offend America and harm U.S. interests is absurd, at best, and dangerously paranoid, at worst. It brings to mind Romney’s remarkable statement that Russia is “without question our number one geopolitical foe.”
Vladimir Putin is conducting conventional, national-interest-based policies that the United States would be well advised to emulate. They can be perceived as threatening or insulting only by those Beltway insiders who remain intoxicated by the 1990’s brew of sole-superpower global hegemony.
Aron accused Russia of siding with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, “casting three vetoes in the U.N. Security Council to shield Damascus from international sanctions.” That Russia has blocked the resolutions that would have inexorably led to U.S. military involvement in Syria should be seen as a favor to the United States. Given the precedents of the Balkans, Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the beneficiaries of that involvement would likely have been the gaggle of jihadists led by the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood. Putin has likened such a course to opening the gates of Guantanamo and turning the inmates loose on the world.
Both Democrats and Republicans regard Russia’s use of her veto power in the Security Council as a hostile act if the resolution thus blocked had been supported by Washington. This is hypocritical. Since 1970, China has used her veto power only 8 times, while Russia (and before 1991 the Soviet Union) has done so 15 times. The United States, on the other hand, has used the veto 83 times, mostly in defense of friendly powers accused of humanitarian violations. Over half of those vetoes were used to protect Israel from criticism. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted last year that the Russians and Chinese had “neutered” the Security Council’s ability to defend basic human rights.
Aron mischaracterizes Russia’s refusal to condone the Syrian intervention as the end of her “already limited and caveat-ridden support for international efforts to contain a nuclear-bound Iran.” Aron’s real target seems to be Russia’s opposition to a suggestion that Iran’s nuclear potential should be headed off by military means, which is hardly the consensus even within the United States. Russia’s advocacy of a cautious policy on Iran—Russia’s neighbor—is almost indistinguishable from that of our closest European allies. It is hardly a mark of inveterate hostility toward the United States.
Aron charges that
Kremlin-sponsored goons have heckled and hounded Obama’s own ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, and Kremlin-controlled television networks have aired vile, Soviet-style propaganda “documentaries” accusing McFaul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and, [sic] the United States more broadly, of organizing and funding Russia’s anti-Putin, pro-democracy opposition.
The accusations are true. An enthusiastic supporter of the protest movement, McFaul received its most prominent leaders a day after presenting his credentials last January. He boasted to the New York Times a week later that he would make his “pro-democracy” mark in Moscow “in a very, very aggressive way.” Some months earlier, McFaul declared that “even while working closely with Putin on matters of mutual interest, Western leaders must recommit to the objective of creating the conditions for a democratic leader to emerge in the long term.” This was a regime-change agenda expressed with brutal bluntness. Imagine the reaction in the U.S. media if a similar statement were made by an incoming Russian ambassador in Washington.
Domestically, according to Aron, Putin’s “regime has been relentless in ratcheting up repression,” having “branded humanitarian and civil rights organizations as ‘foreign agents’ for accepting international funding; [and] introduced Internet censorship . . . ” The “humanitarian and civil rights organizations” to which Aron refers are various NGOs funded by U.S. tax dollars funneled through organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, and the National Democratic Institute, as well as myriad groups supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The Russian law regulating such activities was patterned on the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which regulates activities of the agents of foreign governments in the United States. Enacted in the 1930’s to require disclosure of Americans working on behalf of Nazi Germany, FARA would require full public disclosure of those same activities that the U.S. government funds in Russia. Indeed, the Federal Election Campaign Act flatly prohibits foreign involvement in U.S. elections, which Aron regards as legitimate and desirable when conducted in Russia by Washington’s protégés under the guise of promoting democracy.
Regarding internet censorship, Russia blacklists websites devoted to drug use, suicide, and pedophilia. The government was accused of using the law as a tool for censorship after two popular sites were banned. We may take Aron’s criticism seriously when he recommends a presidential boycott of our NATO ally Turkey—which bans access to thousands of sites—or Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which block access to all sites that engage in the criticism of those countries’ governments, not to mention those “deemed offensive to Islam.”
Aron further complains that
a few weeks ago, with barely any protest from the White House, the Kremlin expelled the U.S. Agency for Development from the country after 20 years of work and billions of dollars spent by U.S. taxpayers to promote democracy, civil society, and economic development in Russia.
With regard to the billions spent on “economic development” in Russia—one of the richest countries in the world in natural resources—it is absurd for the United States to continue doing so even if the claim is true. There are far better causes here at home, at a time when the federal deficit is fast approaching $17 trillion.
Last August, Aron asserts, “two members of the punk band, Pussy Riot, who sang at the altar of the Christ the Savior church . . . were sentenced to two years in prison for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.’” This is a deliberate misrepresentation. The women in question were not “singing at the altar” but blaspheming in a grotesque manner reminiscent of the bloodstained early days of the Bolshevik revolution. They were desecrating the very symbol of Russia’s resurrection from communist rule. The sordid activities of this group are available on YouTube to the morbidly curious. Their “performances” cannot even be obliquely described in a civilized publication. Had they performed their stunt at the National Cathedral in the United States, they would have been prosecuted, quite properly, for criminal trespassing. Had they done it in a mosque in Dearborn, they likely would have been sentenced to a long prison term under federal hate-crimes legislation. We can only guess what their destiny would have been had they “sung” at a mosque in such U.S. favorites as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
Aron correctly states that, “in the conduct of foreign policy, statesmen are forced to choose between their respective country’s values and their interests,” and he is also right in saying that
the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will end what has been Moscow’s main contribution to U.S. national security: its permission to transport troops and weapons across Russia through the so-called Northern Distribution Network.
It is puzzling, however, that he treats the conclusion of that mission, and the need for Russia’s assistance, as a throwaway—more than two years before the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces. By adopting his confrontational recommendations, the United States would jeopardize the lives and safety of American troops for all the wrong reasons, and with no suitable replacement for Russia’s voluntary assistance to the NATO effort.
We will never know whether a President Romney would have followed the advice of Leon Aron and other like-minded purveyors of the kind of foreign-policy advice that ruined the last Republican presidency. It should be noted that Mat Romney, the GOP candidate’s son, visited Moscow shortly before last November’s election, with what was reportedly a conciliatory message for President Putin. It is possible that, had he been elected, Romney would have acted as the chameleon his opponents had claimed he would. Aron’s article indicates the urgent need for a reassessment by the Republican Party of the foreign-policy strategies that still dominate its mainstream.
For the next four years we are stuck with Obama. There are enough vendors of bad advice within his own party—such as Susan Rice—to engineer foreign-policy disasters during his second term, notably over Syria and Iran. He need not outsource to people like Leon Aron and other pilots of the GOP foreign-policy shipwreck.