A New Iron Curtain
The new Iron Curtain may be descending farther to the east than its predecessor, but it is just as surely descending. And Barack Obama is no Winston Churchill. This time, instead of catcalls, the leader of the free world is applauding as Russia eradicates American values from his shores.
Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation writes that the United States must recognize that the Obama's "reset" policy has contributed mightily to the falling of the new Iron Curtain. He notes that Putin's Russia is aggressively siding with the archenemies of America, from Iran to Syria to China. But this is exactly what was not supposed to happen. Obama represented that if he sold out American values and allies in Russia in Eastern Europe with his policy of Chamberlainian appeasement, Russian support for enemies like this malignant trio would end. In fact, such support has only redoubled. Meanwhile, American honor has been stained as we have failed to stand up for our values and the friends who fight to defend them in former Soviet space.
Cohen warns ominously that the attacks by Putin on these values and friends "have an unmistakable flavor of the 1920's and 1930's[,]" when the maniacal dictator Josef Stalin held sway and the Gulag archipelago was born. Cohen lists a horrifying sequence of laws, rammed through a rubber-stamp legislature, that seek to crush the last vestige of democracy and to replace the ideology of Communism with one of Russian orthodoxy in a neo-Soviet dictatorship. He calls on Obama to stand up and speak out against this final onslaught before it is too late.
But Obama is doing the opposite. He is actually helping Putin to liquidate American outposts like Radio Liberty and USAID, depriving the U.S. of even a theoretical ability to influence events on the ground in Russia. He has watched silently as Putin has spurned the Nunn-Lugar nuclear weapons cooperation agreement, and he has said nothing as Putin has launched a whole new wave of criminal investigations and prosecutions of leaders of the democracy movement.
And Putin has only just begun to work on that score. Senior Russia correspondent Fred Weir reports that Putin's newest brainstorm is to conflate the opposition activists with the terrorists who may well bring down a different type of curtain on Putin's effort to stage a World Cup and an Olympic Games in the next few years. Just as in Soviet times, the Kremlin is making it clear that anyone who does not support the Russian state is its enemy and must be destroyed. The Kremlin is even going so far as to accuse opposition leaders of embezzling from their own campaign funds. It genuinely does not seem that the Kremlin recognizes even one person as being part of a legitimate opposition political organization.
The results of Obama's craven failure to lead on democracy have been truly devastating in Russia. As documented by opposition pundit Leonid Bershidsky, Russia has just concluded a series of local elections across the country that saw Putin's party of power, United Russia, not just dominate, but absolutely crush opposition candidates. Dispirited and rudderless, two thirds of Russians stayed home and allowed the remainder to hand epic landslide victories to Putin in every category. After failing miserably in the national contests, the opposition had staked its reputation on at least making a fight out of local contests, in which the Kremlin might be less interested, if only because they are more numerous. Now, they have been wholly discredited and routed.
A few months ago, Russians made a bid for freedom similar to the heroic Polish uprising during World War II against the Nazis. The world saw more than one hundred thousand Russians pour into the streets of Moscow to demand fair national elections. Just as Russian forces stood outside Warsaw and watched the Nazis crush the Poles (then marching in to take over as their successors), Barack Obama also stood on the sidelines and did nothing to support the protesters. Without American guidance and support, the opposition bloom withered and faded, and now it is hardly a memory.
Bershidsky writes that "electoral democracy as we know it is dying a slow, painful death under President Vladimir Putin." But he might just as well have said under Obama. Just as the U.S. would never have prevailed in its revolutionary war against England without the help of France, Russians can no more topple the Putin regime than they could have overthrown the Politburo without American support. And let's be clear: Obama is doing something much worse than just not helping; he's actually supporting the enemies of freedom in Russia, and that leaves our friends in Russia with no hope at all.
Once Putin has restored Soviet-style rule within Russia, his gaze will inevitably turn beyond its borders. Make no mistake: Putin views the loss of the Soviet empire as a disaster, and, starting with places like Georgia and Ukraine, he will want to restore it. He has already shown a willingness to use military force in pursuit of such aims, marching forces into Georgia in 2008 and annexing two big chunks of its territory. And if Obama is re-elected, Putin will see the next four years as his best opportunity to make bolder moves. Putin can't live forever, and Obama's successor could be far more resolute.
The weakness shown by Obama is the same type shown by Jimmy Carter, the same type that emboldened the USSR to believe that it could seize Afghanistan. Instead of seeing Osama's "reset" as invitation to friendship and cooperation, Putin has predictably seen it only as an invitation to further aggression. Americans should think carefully before they allow their votes to be a basis for repeating the mistakes of the past.