A Prize to Remember
Next month, the hand of a dead physicist may well shake the world. In October, the 2013 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought will be announced, and the prize will be awarded at the end of the year in Strasbourg, France. One nominee for the prize is Edward Snowden, in a clear slap at Barack Obama. Another is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a just-as-merciless slap at Vladimir Putin. If one or the other prevails, the figurative first rounds may have been fired in Cold War II.
It's possible the battle could be declared a draw. As the New York Times reports:
The others in contention include Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was 14 when the Taliban shot her in October but survived to become a potent voice in the struggle for education rights for women... and Erdem Gunduz, who helped inspire the mass protests against the Turkish government's perceived authoritarianism this year in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Europe may blink. But if the Russian or the American is selected, it will be a shot heard round the world.
There's no doubt whatsoever who Sakharov himself would select, of course. For him, the choice would be the mother of all no-brainers. He'd see in Khodorkovsky a kindred soul, imprisoned in Siberia for demanding democratic reforms from the Kremlin, accused in a pathetic show-trial, and convicted not by a jury but by a rubber-stamp, bureaucrat judge.
The notion, by contrast, of allowing Putin, a proud KGB spy, to use an award to Snowden as a propaganda weapon to ratchet up the Cold War and further crush democratic values in Russia would be repugnant and anathema to Sakharov. To say the very least, Sakharov would find it pretty disturbing to watch Putin rewriting Russian history textbooks to rehabilitate and lionize Stalin while sweeping his crimes against humanity under the snow.
While there's some doubt as to who will win the prize, there isn't a shred of doubt as to who the biggest loser will be: Obama. The nominations of both the American and the Russian speak volumes about the abysmal failure of the so-called "reset" policy devised by Obama and his ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, a policy which can rightfully be called one of the greatest blunders in the annals of the U.S. Foreign Service.
Even if Snowden doesn't win the prize, Obama's relations with Europe (whose parliament itself nominated Snowden) have clearly collapsed into rubble. Not only has he been unable to unify Europe behind his Syria policy; now Europe is on the verge of enshrining an American traitor, currently at the top of Obama's most-wanted list, as one of its great heroes. There's no difference in 2013 between America's relations with Europe and those Obama decried when he bid for the presidency.
And even if Khodorkovsky doesn't win, Obama's Russia policy stands in smoking ruins. Within the last few weeks, the president of Russia has called the U.S. Secretary of State a "liar" and the Russian Secretary of State has accused Obama of "blackmail." Other examples are too many to recite. Russia is coiled to strike in defense of hated American foes in Syria and Iran, while the U.S. is threatening to turn Russia's 2014 bid to host the Olympics into a humiliating unearthing of all the country's worst faults. For the first time since Putin came to power, a clear majority of Americans see Russia as an enemy. It's come to this: Russia has gone so far as to declare the chirping cherub Selena Gomez persona non grata, and Cher has returned the favor.
While we have watched American relations with both Russia and Europe degenerate into Cold War, we've also seen Obama and McFaul sitting silently while Putin eradicates the last scraps of democratic and American values in Russia and returns the country to neo-Soviet status. Putin rigs elections, eradicates opposition parties, jails opposition political leaders, murders opposition journalists, attacks tiny neighbors, seizes control of all broadcast TV, and replaces Communism with racist, sexist, homophobic, exceptionalist Russian Orthodoxy as his driving ideology. All with impunity as Obama stands mute.
So Obama has brought us the worst of both worlds. We neither stand for American values, inspiring the world as we did under Reagan, nor do we reap the benefits acquiesance would bring. We are a diminished nation because of Obama's incompetence, something that was eminently foreseeable based on his flimsy credentials before he ever set foot in the Oval Office.
Senior Russia watcher Clifford D. May opines:
Putin is deeply committed to winning, to beating Obama like a rented mule, to diminishing the United States, exacting a little revenge for all America did to undermine the Soviet empire, and for inviting former members of the Soviet bloc to join NATO after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As for the gassing of women and children by Syrian leader Bashar Assad -- Russia's friend and Iran's loyal servant -- I think Putin will leave it to bourgeois humanists to shed tears.
This may as well be Obama's foreign-policy epitaph.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.