Freeing Eddie SnowdenBy Kim Zigfeld
Not like the mighty woman of American fame,
If you may know a nation by the company it keeps, then let me introduce you to Russia: it is the country that dreams of being Libya when it grows up. Mr. Snowden? Your table is ready, sir!
Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Usher, and 50 Cent all performed for Muammar Gaddafi. Russia's Vladimir Putin, it seems, is jealous, and it is hot on the heels of Gaddafi's celebrity count.
True, the celebs willing to sell themselves to neo-Soviet Russia are perhaps not quite as glittery as those who've headed for Libya. Putin's legion includes the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Steven Seagal, Hillary Swank, and Gerard Depardieu.
But Gaddafi could never boast of attracting international political refugees like Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Edward Snowden as Russia has done. If you find yourself disgraced and pursued as a sexual deviant or even traitor, have no fear: Russia lifts its lamp beside its golden door! Black gold, that is.
One has to wonder how Hollywood types square fraternizing with a country that has just made homosexuality, for all intents and purposes, illegal. It's now a crime for anyone to openly discuss being homosexual or to demonstrate homosexual affection in public. But then again, since Barack Obama has no problem with this type of brazen hypocrisy, why should they? And Gaddafi's views on gay rights weren't exactly enlightened, either. So the real question is: How do they square merciless attacks on any conservative who speaks about family values when they say nothing about their colleagues who fraternize with Putin?
Which brings us to Mr. Snowden. With a one-sentence hand-scribbled note, Snowden asked Russia to help him elude American justice and transit through Moscow to his looked-for permanent home in Venezuela despite having had his passport canceled by U.S authorities. Simultaneously, through his mouthpiece Glen Greenwald, Snowden let it be known that if not given safe passage he'd have no problem releasing piles of American secrets that could lay the country low.
A classic neo-Soviet Keystone Cops fiasco followed.
Russia deliberated over the scrawled request, after allowing Snowden to hold a press conference and to illegally remain indefinitely in its airport transit zone, and then issued a broadside attack against the U.S., claiming that Americans were refusing to extradite Russian criminals, implying Russia had the right to retaliate over Snowden. The Russian newswires reported that his asylum documents had been issued then -- whoops! -- in the face of withering U.S. pressure, they hadn't. Snowden's Russian lawyer, whom the Kremlin gave free access to Snowden despite his being in an off-limits transit area, announced he was appalled to see America asking Russia to "discriminate" against its own citizen.
Then Snowden's father appeared on state-controlled Russian TV and thanked Putin for his "courage" in hosting little Eddie at the airport for more than a month. Then his lawyer began talking about an appeal if his bid for asylum was denied. Snowden found himself having climbed aboard the roller coaster known as Putin's Russia.
After Russia appeared to blink, the U.S. government upped the pressure by publicly confirming Snowden would not be subject to capital punishment in order to remove that as a possible basis for the Kremlin to grant asylum. Then it was revealed by Amnesty International that Russia routinely extradites asylum-seekers when they hail from its fellow dictatorships in Central Asia. And then Republicans in Congress began firing off serious sanctions threats.
Senator Lindsey Graham immediately called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics, to be held in Russia, if the Kremlin granted Snowden's request. But then House Speaker John Boehner publicly jumped down Graham's throat, showing how little some Republicans have learned about cooperation and character, and how little they remember of the legacy of Ronald Reagan. Boehner didn't even try to explain what alternative course of action the U.S. should pursue to punish Russia for what would be an act of war, clearly signaling weakness to the Russians and encouraging them to follow through with their scheme.
Undeterred, Graham recruited bipartisan support for a proposal to shift the location of the upcoming G-20 meeting out of Russia as a sanction for supporting Snowden. Graham's pressure appeared to pay dividends. Barack Obama let it be known that he was considering canceling a scheduled meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit if Snowden were admitted to Russia, saying it would also be a sign of American displeasure over Russian support for Syria. Yet another option is expanding the "Magnitsky List" of Russia officials banned from U.S. shores for human rights atrocities. The U.S. has plenty of fearsome weapons in its arsenal to punish Russia for harboring anti-American fugitives and allying itself with American foes.
Finally, Graham started pushing a sanctions bill through the Senate calling for tough punitive measures against any country that offered Snowden sanctuary.
For the first time since he took power, Putin felt the full weight of U.S. power being brought to bear against him. Palpably, he vacillated. He was not sure what to do. He dithered. And then suddenly there seemed to be pressure pouring in him from all sides.
He was humiliated for a second time when Interpol refused to accept a Russian arrest warrant for investor William Browder, patron of Sergei Magnitsky, saying it was politically motivated, and when the European Court for Human Rights found serious fault with the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And the IOC forced Putin to publicly confirm Russia's anti-homosexual laws would not be applied to foreigners during Olympics, meaning they would have more rights than Russian citizens under Russian law. It got very, very hot indeed in Putin's kitchen.
Then finally Putin summoned his courage and did it. On August 1st, he issued Snowden Russian credentials and his English-language propaganda unit Russia Today trumpeted the news that Snowden had walked out of the Moscow airport and into the city twilight.
There's no other way to put it: It was an act of war by Russia upon the United States.
Graham should not cede the Olympics issue. There are many, many good reasons not to send American athletes to Sochi next year besides Snowden.
There's Alexei Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the John McCain and Mitt Romney of Russia. Imagine that rather than letting them run against him, Democrats arrested both and sent them to jail for years in Alaska. That is what Putin has done to this pair. Sending U.S. athletes will help Putin claim his actions are OK with us.
There's the terrorism. The leading Chechen warlord has declared an all-out jihad against the Russian games, in part because Russia is staging them on what he considers holy ground, desecrating it.
There's the appalling expense of the games, over $50 billion layered with billions in graft, in a nation that doesn't rank in the top 125 countries of the world for life expectancy.
There's the invasion of nearby Georgia in 2008, and the illegal annexation of large chunks of its territory. Sending U.S. athletes to Sochi will make it appear to Russians that we are OK with this barbaric action.
Shock waves rolled through Russia when Graham mentioned an Olympic boycott. It is precisely the kind of gesture that really would get Russia's attention. Of course, it should not be the only U.S. response to Russian aggression, as it was in Jimmy Carter's time. But it is an important option to consider.
The United States must act decisively now. At long last, the U.S. government must recognize that Russia is America's enemy, that it rejects American values and seeks American downfall. Its conduct towards Snowden leaves no doubt that this is so.
FOLLOW US ON