For Bill Clinton: Rushin' Rubles

Communism may have collapsed in Russia, but the people who brought you the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall haven’t.  Now they are classed as biznessmen.  Now, they court Western politicians and use their oil money to lubricate international diplomacy.  And they’re rushin’ with rubles to make friends.

Bill Clinton is one of those friends.  The Russians paid him $500,000 to deliver a speech.  Even Joe Klein in TIME Magazine calls the Clintons’ money-grubbing from the heirs of Stalin and Brezhnev troubling.  Klein refers to the Clintons’ “blind spot” in accepting vast sums from the  former masters of the Gulag.

As president, Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act.  But as former president, he has had no problem associating himself with – and collecting large checks from – some of the worst violators of religious freedom.  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issues annual country reports.  It says this about Russia:

Amid a sharp increase in human rights abuses, serious violations of freedom of religion or belief continue in Russia … The government continues to bring criminal extremism charges against peaceful religious individuals and groups.

We lost an historic opportunity in the 1990s, the Clinton era.  We could have shown Russians how freedom means religious and civil liberty.  We might have shared our vision of checks and balances.  We might even have promoted the Federalist Papers and other historic American contributions to the freedom of the world.  Federalist No. 51 by Madison explains how civil liberty is based on guarantees of religious freedom.

Had President Clinton seriously looked to the future, had he actually built that “bridge to the twenty-first century,” we might have helped Russia overcome a thousand years of despotism.  We could have prodded them to come to grips with the truth of seventy years of crime and repression under Communism.

You would not have to be a religious believer or political conservative to do this.  In 1999, French leftists collaborated on an extraordinary document, The Black Book of Communism.  In this well-documented work, they showed how the USSR of Lenin and Stalin murdered millions.  “A single death is a tragedy,” said Stalin; “a million deaths is a statistic.”  Stalin racked up those statistics.

Under Bill Clinton’s administration, there was no outcry against the new Russian constitution.  Bibulous Boris Yeltsin seemed friendly enough.  But those who could see farther into the future warned in 1994 about a constitution that placed too much power in the hands of the Russian Federation president, stripped local governors of any power, and failed to afford protections for religious freedom.  Since the days of Tsar Peter the Great, the Russian Orthodox Church has been slavishly obedient to the Kremlin. 

The “wild freedom” of Russia in the 1990s came to a sudden end on New Year’s Eve, 1999.  Russians woke up on January 1, 2000 with a political hangover.  Vladimir Putin, the young premier who had emerged from the shadows only recently, had elbowed woozy Yeltsin aside and assumed power as the new Federation president.  Putin was a KGB apparatchik from his earliest days.  A martial arts buff and disciplined student, Putin had the physical staying power many of his predecessors lacked. 

Ronald Reagan had the good fortune to outlive not one, but three Soviet dictators.  Strong and fit, Vladimir Putin would not likely succumb to the usual catalogue of illnesses besetting Kremlin bosses.  He bid fair to be a long-term dictator. 

Even thoughtful liberals took note of the ominous turn of events.  British reporter Luke Harding writes for the left-wing Guardian.  He wrote in 2011 about his experiences as Moscow bureau chief for his newspaper.  About his book, Mafia State, he writes this:

Someone has broken into my flat. Three months after arriving in Russia as the Guardian's new Moscow bureau chief, I return home from a dinner party. At first, everything appears normal.

And then I see it. It is a strange detail. The window of my son's bedroom is wide open. The dark symbolism of the open window is not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out.

I find myself in a new world. It is a place of unknown rules, of thuggish adversaries. But who are these ghosts? And who sent them?

The people who sent those thugs to “warn” Luke Harding that his kids just might fall out a tenth-story window could well have been in the audience for Bill Clinton’s $500,000 speech in Moscow.  Or, more worrisome still, were Luke Harding’s “ghosts,” the “thuggish adversaries” of whom he wrote, the ones who actually cut the check for Bill Clinton’s speech?

Why should we care about this matter now?  Because today Russia is aligned with Iran in the mullahs’ headlong push to get a nuclear weapon.  Putin has been free to do this because Sec. of State Hillary Clinton gave his man Sergei Lavrov a bright red “re-set” button in 2009.

This childish prank showed the incompetence of Madam Secretary’s staff.  The word printed on the button did not translate as “re-set,” but “overcharge” in Russian.  And it wasn’t even printed in Russia’s Cyrillic alphabet.

Vladimir Putin took the red button as a green light.  He tightened his grip on Russia.  He stepped up his harassment of political opponents.  And pesky journalists who asked too many questions got warnings.  And he was freed to range the world, making mischief. 

Dare we say it?  Bill Clinton did not “overcharge” his Russian friends.  For a paltry half-million-dollar speaking fee, they got another boost in their tawdry pursuit of international respectability and another “bye” on their aggressions. 

Doubtless they will want to hear from him again: “Y’all come back real soon, Bubba.  Back to the USSR.

In March, FRC President Tony Perkins testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs concerning the important of religious liberty to American foreign policy.  You can read the text of his remarks here.

 Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.