Obama's Russia Policy: Hysterical Ambassadors and Leg-Rubbing between Presidents
Where U.S. policy towards Russia is concerned, March came in like a meek little kitten and went out like a braying jackass.
The month started out with President Obama calling Vladimir Putin and congratulating him on his election victory, one which likely made Putin president for life. Obama made no reference to Putin's documented electoral fraud, his exclusion of rivals from the ballot (even as he jailed or murdered others), or his support for dictatorship and mass murder in Syria.
It ended with Obama literally fondling Dmitri Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea, as the two whispered like lovers in front of a TV camera that Obama did not realize was still rolling. Obama told Medvedev, in so many words, that he would love to sell out U.S. interests on missile defense but could not do so until he won re-election. Medvedev indicated he and the real ruler of the country, Putin, could probably wait that long and would do all they could to help Obama win.
As if this weren't enough humiliation for Americans, our ambassador to the Kremlin then had a disturbing public crackup.
Ambassador Michael McFaul scheduled a meeting with Lev Ponomaryov, the éminence grise of the Russian human rights movement, and found himself swarmed on the old man's doorstep by reporters from Kremlin-controlled national broadcast TV network NTV. Mcfaul was immediately and disturbingly rattled by the reporters, apparently because they made it harder for him to carry out his mission: Obama and McFaul want to help Putin get the opposition to pipe down, because their protests make it seem like Obama is making friends with a cruel dictatorship. But he doesn't want to be seen doing so, because that gives the same effect.
McFaul called Russia a "wild country" and then, like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, squealed at the reporters to stop spying on him: "Our ambassador in our country always goes around without this disrupting his work. Yet you're always at my house. That's interesting. Aren't you ashamed?" He followed up on Twitter: "Everywhere I go NTV is there. Wonder who gives them my calendar? They wouldn't tell me. Press has right to film me anywhere. But do they have a right to read my e-mail and listen to my phone?"
Within hours, he was forced to make a public apology on Twitter, stating: "Misspoke in bad Russian. Did not mean to say 'wild country.' Meant to say NTV's actions were 'wild.' I greatly respect Russia." He responded to a question from a Russian calling herself "prostitutkamila," who wanted to know how a person of his rank could freak out so badly in public, by explaining: "Were not just journalists there. Were men in military uniform. People w/ posters. All strange for me. Learning." He then carried on a further dialogue with a person identifying her-/himself as a prostitute.
Why did McFaul speak to reporters in Russian if he doesn't know the language well enough? Why do posters and uniforms and cameras so easily fluster our man in Moscow? Why was he sent to represent his country if he doesn't know how to do his job? Can America afford on-the-job training for such a critical position? Should our ambassador really be carrying on an ongoing Twitter discussion with a "prostitute"?
And more importantly, why is McFaul ashamed to meet with a human rights leader? Why does being caught doing so make him nervous? Why isn't he proud of it, and eager to get the word out about doing so? Why didn't he beam with delight when he saw that reporters were interested, and bring our Mr. Ponomaryov to show solidarity and give him some of the spotlight?
Why does Obama feel the need to whisper to Medvedev in private about giving Russia what it wants and more? Why can't he announce to his fellow Americans that such is his policy?
The answer is obvious, of course. Both McFaul and Obama know that Americans expect them to stand up for American values, the way Ronald Reagan always did. They know that if they are seen collaborating with a cruel dictator, they will pay a heavy price at the polls. But at the same time, they know that if they do speak out openly for American values, they will come in for furious criticism from the Kremlin, and the illusion that they have "reset" America's relationship with Russia will disappear like smoke.
McFaul was going to do the same thing as Obama, and just as secretly: make Obama's critics in Russia be quiet so the Potemkin relationship Obama wants to use as a political card in the election can still be played. They are ashamed of their actions, as well they should be, and they get nervous when outed.
To his great credit, Republican challenger Mitt Romney confronted Obama directly over his outrageous policy of appeasement towards Russia. He expressed alarm that Obama was "looking for greater flexibility where he doesn't have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia" and reminded Obama that Russia is "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actor. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
That's dead right. Russia has deluged Syria with powerful weaponry that has been used to carry out mass murder against women and children, and it has stood by Syria in all this against a tide of world opinion. Russia supported Egyptian dictatorship; it supports Iran; it supports Cuba and Venezuela. It supports American enemies wherever it finds them around the world, and that should surprise nobody.
Russia is ruled by a proud KGB spy who spent his entire life learning how to hate and destroy America and her values. To suggest that Putin would somehow magically decide to throw away his life's work just because the USSR collapsed is fanciful nonsense. Would Obama give up his love for democracy (if, indeed, he feels such love) just because America were conquered by a foreign foe? Naturally, Putin will go on doing whatever he can to defend his own view of the world and to destroy values he sees as dangerous and harmful.
And Obama and McFaul are helping him do it. They'll do much more, they promise, if only the Kremlin will let them alone until they have re-election in the bag, just like Putin. Will American voters give them that chance?