My new RealClearPolitics.com column examines Obama’s upcoming trip and the debate between “realists” and “idealists” on Russia.
(And my other column today, in The Wall Street Journal, asks if Mr. Putin is going to Georgia. Again.)
The Obama visit should be interesting. Evidently, Obama is spending a lot of one-on-one time with Medvedev (who declares on his video blog today that “Today, we are united by the values of our civilization, the values of respect for human life and human rights and freedoms” — does he say this stuff with a straight face?) and a lot of time with “unofficial” activists. On Tuesday, he breakfasts with Putin. Obama’s remarks today suggest that his “narrative” for the Moscow trip is that he and Medvedev together will be leading their countries forward to cooperation and partnership, while Putin, who “still has a lot of sway” and keeps “one foot in the old ways of doing business”, needs to understand that the time of the old ways has passed. Sounds like Obama’s message to Putin is, more or less, “Move out of the way, buddy, time’s up.”
Chances are, Putin is not going to like this, particularly in conjunction with the fact that Obama goes straight from breakfast with Putin to a day of meetings with representatives of unofficial Russia. In EJ.ru, Alexander Golts writes that his conversations with “certain people who are involved in the [U.S.-Russian] negotiations in one way or another” have left with the impression that they are confident that Obama’s visit will be productive, but also extremely tense and nervous that something will go wrong. And that “something” has a name. According to Golts,
At one point, an impressively high-level diplomat blurted out, “What if Putin finally loses it completely and screws everything up?”
I go back and forth on how real or meaningful the rumored Putin-Medvedev rift really is, and to what extent Medvedev is really emerging as his own man (or a reformer). We may learn a lot next week.
A group of American pundits which includes people as different as William Kristol and Leon Wieseltier is appealing to Barack Obama to make democracy and human rights a priority on his Moscow visit. Grani.ru reports (in Russian) that, according to Obama’s top Russia advisor, Michael McFaul, about half of the President’s time on his Moscow trip will be devoted to interaction with “unofficial” persons. Specifically, nearly all of Day 2 of his three-day visit will be spent in meetings with activists, members of the business community, and youth groups (hopefully not Nashi!). And Gazeta.ru reports that on the first day of the visit, July 6, Obama will attend a “Civic Summit” of non-governmental organizations including Memorial, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House. (Dmitry Medvedev is also expected to attend, though this is not officially confirmed.) So far, this sounds like good news.
Meanwhile, a resolution urging the Russian government to dismiss the new charges against imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev — a case that reeks of politics and outrageous injustice — has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va), co-chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. A similar bipartisan resolution was submitted in the Senate earlier.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who was in Moscow this week as head of a visiting Congressional delegation, was asked about this on Ekho Moskvy radio (where he appeared with his Russian counterpart, Konstantin Kosachev).
I am the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and I have never heard of this resolution. There is a tremendous difference between resolutions submitted by members of Congress and the laws Congress actually passes. I would not focus on the isolated proposals of isolated members of Congress. We should focus on what constitutes U.S. policy, what legislators enact, not the statements of some politicians.
Not only does Berman not support his colleagues’ human rights initiative; he goes out of his way to dismiss it as an insignificant and isolated political move. Nice work, Congressman.
By the way, here is the full text of the resolution’s concluding part.
My article on Russia and the “realists,” partly a rejoinder to Anatol Lieven’s broadside against pro-Western Russian liberals in opposition to the current regime, appears in The Weekly Standard online.
The target of Lieven’s vitriolic screed, published in The National Interest online, is this Washington Post op-ed by four leading liberal Russian policy analysts — Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center (Russia’s leading independent polling firm), Igor Klyamkin of the Liberal Mission Foundation, Georgy Satarov of the Indem Foundation, and Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Actually, Lieven’s piece is not so much a screed as a smear. He outrageously distorts Shevtsova’s record with out-of-context quotes to suggest that she is callously oblivious to the welfare of common Russians and devoutly supportive of U.S. policy. In another passage I did not have the space to address in my article, he writes that “‘democracy’ as it was practiced under the Yeltsin administration [was] praised by some of the authors, and adds:
Georgy Satarov was, in fact, a top official in Yeltin’s political machine with direct responsibility for some of the undemocratic practices of that administration.
Satarov was an advisor to Yeltsin in 1994-97 and served as the President’s liaison to political parties. I have no idea whether he was personally involved in any “undemocratic practices”, but this sounds a lot like guilt by association. Particularly since Lieven does not see fit to mention that his main target, Shevtsova, has repeatedly said that the dismantling of Russia’s newborn democracy began under Yeltsin.
“Money quote” from my article:
Lieven finds something “a bit nauseating” in the allegedly knee-jerk pro-Western sympathies of Russian liberals. But that seems a much more fitting description for the actions of a Western pundit who, in the heat of debate, brands his Russian opponents enemies of their country–in a country where such a label poses real risks, not of prosecution but of “unofficial” harassment and even violence. (A Russian translation of Lieven’s article was promptly posted online.)
Today’s New York Times editorializes on the Ricci v. DeStefano decision. They point out, correctly, that the 5-4 ruling in favor of the plaintiffs is hardly a stinging rebuke to Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor, who ruled against them earlier as a federal circuit court judge. The dissenting view is not an opinion of some radical crackpots.
However, the Times also says this:
Cases like this, even the dissenters concede, pose difficult questions of fairness. New Haven’s decision to reject a test on which one group did poorly hurt other firefighters, who studied hard and were not to blame for the test’s flaws. But in the end, as Justice Ginsburg noted, New Haven was within its rights not to use a flawed, possibly illegal, test to make its promotions.
Of course, the test’s only “flaw” is that not enough black and Hispanic test-takers passed it with high enough scores. As the majority carefully explains, the test was devised with painstaking attention to fairness, with black and Hispanic reviewers involved in the process. The view that the racial disparity alone makes it flawed and even illegal may not be “racist” (I think we need to draw a moral distinction between race-conscious policies intended to subordinate and stigmatize a group of people, and race-conscious policies intended to remedy past wrongs), but elevating race-consciousness over standards to this degree seems to me deeply polarizing, counterproductive, and yes, discriminatory. The bare fact is that Frank Ricci and the other plaintiffs would have gotten their promotions if it were not for the fact of their race.
The Ricci ruling is definitely worth reading in its entirety, particularly for the political atmosphere in New Haven that surrounded the decision to throw out the exam (described in detail in Justice Alito’s concurring opinion).
For antoher take on Ricci and the future of race preferences, see this excellent piece by John McWhorter on TNR.com.
I came back from LA Monday morning with a dead laptop, due to an unfortunate accident involving the spillage of a very small quantity of coffee. (Why don’t computer manufacturers do a better job with protective covers or skins for keyboards if they’re that fragile?) Because of that, and a bit of a crunch related to Obama’s upcoming trip to Moscow, I have yet to do a write-up on the domestic violence conference (all I can say is, it was a great event).
For those interested, here are several reports from Glenn Sacks:
‘Many female perpetrators are put in battered women’s shelters instead of batterers’ treatment programs’
‘Nobody will deal with violent couples, only men’
‘I asked abusive men’s wives if they’d been violent and got a lot of grief for it from the DV establishment’
Batterers’ treatment provider: ‘Nothing makes the therapeutic relationship more difficult than disrespect’
‘The violence really began in our family about 10 days after Ruth realized that she had all the power’
I’m currently in LA for a fascinating conference on family violence, “From Ideology to Inclusion,” which examines alternatives to conventional feminist views of domestic violence. (Glenn Sacks of Fathers & Families is here, and we’re getting along fine.) The event is fascinating, especially the first speaker I got to hear, Erin Pizzey.
More later — I will be writing about this one.
My landslide is bigger than yours!
So, Russia is resisting G-8 condemnation of the Iranian government’s handling of the election and the post-election process.
What a surprise.
According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “”No one is willing to condemn the election process, because it’s an exercise in democracy.”
And, compared to Russia, it was! There was a viable opposition candidate who was allowed not only to get on the ballot, but to campaign, have access to the media and participate in televised debates. That’s a far cry from the Three Stooges who “ran” against Medvedev in 2008 — and who debated each other, with Medvedev conspicuously absent. Medvedev had the bigger landslide, 71% to Ahmadinejad’s 62% — but the latter figure is suspiciously similar to United Russia’s 65% win in the December 2007 elections. The new formula for authoritarian regimes seems to be somewhere around two-thirds of the vote for the ruling party or its candidate. Soviet-style figures of 99% won’t do for a “democracy,” even a “sovereign” one; on the other hand, two-thirds demonstrates that a convincing majority of the population backs the ruling party.