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Friday, August 01, 2008

Kasparov on Obama

Garry Kasparov, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Berlin is an ideal place for an American president, even a would-be president, to speak to the world about freedom and shared values. Barack Obama's recent visit evoked the famous speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that defended the U.S. stance against the Soviet Union and tyranny in Eastern Europe. Both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are now gone, but dangerous, nuclear-armed dictatorships are not. Sadly, Mr. Obama declined to mention this in Berlin.

The stage for his disappointing performance was set several weeks ago, when the Illinois senator rejected John McCain's proposal to eject Russia and exclude China from the Group of Eight (G-8). Mr. Obama's response during a July 13 interview on CNN -- "We have to engage and get them involved" -- suggests that it is impossible to work with Russia and China on economic and nuclear nonproliferation issues while also standing up for democracy and human rights.

It has repeatedly been shown that the exact opposite is true.

The U.S. does not cede leverage with authoritarian governments when it confronts them about their crimes. Instead, the U.S. increases its credibility and influence with foes and friends alike. Placating regimes like those in Russia and China today only entrenches hostile, antidemocratic forces.

Commercial agreements, arms control and other mutually beneficial projects can be pursued without endorsing dictatorship. During the same interview, Sen. Obama spoke of enlisting China to help write the "international rules of the road." This is the same logic that led the United Nations to place China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia on its current Human Rights Council. Do we really want to live under rules created with the approval of such regimes?

While Mr. Obama talked about the importance of receiving Russia's help in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported that Tehran is acquiring advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles from the Kremlin. This is the cooperation the West has earned by including Russia in the G-8.

In Berlin, Mr. Obama repeatedly mentioned the 1948 Berlin airlift. On CNN, he said he would like to "bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan." A strange statement, since President Harry Truman fought against giving up an inch to the communists on any front around the world. Not only did Truman save West Berlin; South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe also have much to thank him for. By contrast, in their July 9 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Obama advisers Madeleine Albright and William Perry, secretaries of state and defense under Bill Clinton, criticized Sen. McCain's proposal to respond to major powers' human-rights abuses with more than lip service.

Mr. Obama also asked if the West would stand up for "the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe." Commendable, but what about the political prisoner in China and the recently convicted blogger in Russia? Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Russia's Dmitri Medvedev both came to power in blatantly fraudulent elections. The hypocrisy of condemning one while embracing the other destroys American and European credibility, and undermines any attempt at global leadership. Those of us living behind the Iron Curtain at the time were grateful Ronald Reagan did not go to Berlin in 1987 to denounce the lack of freedom in, say, Angola.

In short, the candidate of change sounds like he would perpetuate the destructive double standards of the current administration. Meanwhile, the supposedly hidebound Mr. McCain is imaginative enough to suggest that if something is broken you should try to fix it. Giving Russia and China a free pass on human rights to keep them "at the table" has helped lead to more arms and nuclear aid to Iran, a nuclear North Korea, and interference from both nations in solving the tragedies in Darfur and Zimbabwe.

Would all of this have occurred had the U.S. and Europe threatened meaningful reprisals? At least Mr. McCain wants to find out.

Reagan's Berlin speech is remembered for his command: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" But he also made a critical point about negotiating from strength, a point Mr. Obama seems to be missing. Reagan knew that if the U.S. backed down on the Strategic Defense Initiative, his speech would just be pretty words the Soviets would ignore.

Reagan avoided the mistake John F. Kennedy made when he met with Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, Kennedy was weak in Khrushchev's eyes and keen to make a deal, and the Soviet premier bullied him mercilessly in Vienna. The Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis were soon to follow.

Today, instead of communists there are deal-making capitalists and nationalists running the Kremlin and China's National People's Congress. They, and blowhards like Hugo Chávez, hardly represent the existential threats faced by Truman, Kennedy and Reagan. Yet Mr. Obama still is reticent to confront them, saying in Berlin that "we must reject the Cold War mindset of the past and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must." But the Cold War ended and democracy became the global standard not because Western leaders merely defended their values, but because they projected them aggressively.

On Sept. 11, 150 years ago, another Illinois politician to run for president, Abraham Lincoln, said: "Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere." Not where it's convenient. Not in countries lacking large energy reserves. Everywhere, Mr. Obama, everywhere.

4 comments:

Misha said...

Kasparov needs to be very careful what he says, if it's true, as rumored, that he is in the employee of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Certainly it is not the proper role of U.S. intelligence and national security agencies to be actively interfering (in a partisan manner) in domestic American elections.

After President Barack Obama takes office in January, there will be an investigation to discover whether a foreign citizen, and a covert operative of the CIA, while still receiving funds from the Agency, actively participated in and interfered with the conduct of U.S. domestic political elections.

Last time I checked Mr. Kasparov was not an American citizen; therefore his opinions on U.S. elections carry about as much weight as an American's opinions on Russia's elections (That is none.)

But if it turns out that Kasparov sought to interfere in U.S. elections, while still in the active service and employee of the U.S. CIA, it would be a political bombshell, almost certainly calling for congressional hearings and possible prosecutions.

The Bush administration's simplistic "fer us or agin us" mentality, expressed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, has already gone way too far in the opinion of many responsible people. Today Bush's policies increasingly resemble the McCarthyism of the 1950's, when loyal American citizens found their very patriotism questioned, simply because they did not subscribe to a narrowly pre-conceived political viewpoint.

We've seen Bush try to justify the use of torture in the so-called "war on terrorism," something that is essentially anathema to the basic moral sensibilities of the vast majority of Americans, based on his logic that "we're in a war and I'm the war president." We've seen this administration release the identity of--and thus destroy the career of--Gloria Plame, a covert U.S. intelligence operative (specializing in the field of WMD), simply because her husband had the courage to publicly point out the inconvenient truth that the intelligence evidence did not support the administration's claim that Iraq's work on WMD constituted an urgent casus belli.

If the persistent rumors that Mr. Kasparov has received millions of dollars from the CIA are true, then the Bush administration must withdraw that covert support from Mr. Kasparov immediately, in the wake of his recent involvement in U.S. domestic politics (exemplified by Mr. Kasparov's recent anti-Obama interview with the Wall Street Journal).

The CIA has no mandate to finance foreign-based individuals or entities which seek to actively interfere in U.S. domestic politics and elections, and if the agency is being misused that way now, by the Bush administration, it constitutes a clear abuse of power.

Certainly Mr. Kasparov is entitled to express his opinions, in the Wall Street Journal or anywhere else; however if Mr. Kasparov is actively receiving financing and other covert support from agencies of the U.S. government, as is rumored, then it is certainly inappropriate for Mr. Kasparov to be appearing in U.S. media outlets, as a foreign citizen expressing positions which pertain to US domestic political debates and elections, the outcome of which Mr. Kasparov and his associates have a vested interest in.

Misha said...

It is one thing for Mr. Kasparov to take CIA money and then present himself to the Russian people as “just another honest politician who seeks the welfare of Russia” (while all the while he is secretly really an agent of a foreign government--the United States). But it is something else entirely for Mr. Kasparov to take CIA money and then to present himself falsely this way to the American people. It is certainly inappropriate for an operative of the CIA to take agency money and then use it to covertly interfere with the political process and political debate within the United States itself, while all the while posing as something that he is not.

One does not have to be the proverbial “rocket scientist” to grasp that Mr. Kasparov’s article in the Wall Street Journal was not intended for Russian audiences, as the article made not one “Russian” political point (that is, not one point that would have had any relevance in the context of any Russian political debate). Instead Kasparov’s article--from beginning to end--was a polemic intended for American audiences, and it dealt solely with American political themes. Kasparov’s op ed polemic puts forth a vision of what U.S. policy ought to be toward Russia, not what Russian policy ought to be toward any subject under the sun. Mr. Kasparov’s article was a partisan political “rant” that even went so far as to endorse one American presidential candidate over another.

I have to remind the reader that American intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, have no statutory mandate to engage in activities that are intended to interfere covertly in U.S. domestic political debates and elections, either directly or indirectly, and indeed they are barred by law from doing so.

Mr. Kasparov is apparently taken very seriously within the U.S., but within the Russian political establishment, Mr. Kasparov is dismissed as a political gnat and something of a crank. I could compare the role of Kasparov in Russian politics to the role of let’s say Ralph Nader in US politics, but in truth that would be unfair to Mr. Nader. Kasparov has no following to speak of in Russia itself. His main political activity seems to be breaking minor city ordinances by organizing small protests, without first getting the proper permits from city officials, in order to get himself arrested. Then he uses the resulting publicity to get the attention of (mostly foreign) media, where he speaks at length (in English) about the alleged ‘oppression’ and lack of freedom in Russia.

As former Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out, if Mr. Kasparov really wanted to be taken seriously in Russia, a good first step might be for him to give interviews to Russian media, instead of only foreign media, and to give those interviews in the Russian language, which is after all the language that all Russians speak and understand, instead of only in English, a language that the vast majority of the Russian people do not understand.

True to form, we now see Mr. Kasparov surfacing yet again in the Western media, this time writing an op ed piece for the Wall Street Journal (no less), that fortress of the American business elite and imperialistic establishment. But, as I pointed out, Kasparov’s article made not one political point that could be said to express a Russian political perspective (that is, a point that had any relevance inside Russia itself). Instead Kasparov’s op ed polemic is entirely argued from an American political perspective, to a U.S. audience; it only argues what the U.S. ought to be doing (and which of the two American presidential candidate is best).

U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, might become covertly involved in foreign political causes, or even backing one foreign political candidate over another; however, it is certainly true that the CIA ought not to be involved in such covert activates when they seek to interfere in U.S. domestic political debates and elections.

Therefore if the rumors that Mr. Kasparov is a covert operative of the CIA are true, then he is certainly an inappropriate recipient for such assistance, as the only political role that Kasparov fulfills is as an agent provocateur within American politics. In this role Kasparov has now stooped even to involving himself blatantly in domestic American partisan politics and debates, and even to endorsing specific American presidential candidates.

Certainly Mr. Kasparov is entitled to express his opinions about domestic American politics or anything else, and he is even entitled to formally retire from his career in “Russian” politics and settle down to a new job at the Wall Street Journal or Fox News, if he likes. But he should be doing any of these things while he is still on the payroll of the CIA.

Misha said...

Correction: the female CIA agent and WMD specialist whose career was destroyed by the Bush administration is Valarie Plame, not 'Gloria' Plame, as I originally wrote in my first comment above.

I also want to point out that heads of state generally do not give 'official' endorsements to candidates for foreign head of state, while they are running for office. So, for example, even though Barack Obama is supported by some 79 percent of the German public (as opposed to John McCain's 11 percent support), it would be inappropriate for Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to 'endorse' Obama at McCain's expense.

This simple rule is honored by all heads of state, as well as all serious candidates for that office.

This is true for quite practical reasons. For example, supposed that Barack Obama does not win in November. Then Germany's leader will need to deal with John McCain (for better or worse). But it almost certainly would be for worse if Germany's leader has already 'registered' herself as an official 'political opponent' of John McCain.

It is widely recognized as a mistake for any head of state to give official 'political endorsement' to a candidate for foreign head of state, because the two countries in question will still need to deal with each other regardless of who wins the election.

Against this backdrop Mr. Kasparov's endorsement of John McCain (at the expense of Barack Obama) seems strange, and it is really only one more factor that explains why Kasparov is not taken seriously as a genuine political candidate inside Russia itself.

If, as it is rumored, Mr. Kasparov's is backed by the U.S. CIA, then his "endorsement" of one U.S. presidential candidate over another (and his playing U.S. partisan politics generally) is not only a "bad idea" but it runs afoul of U.S. laws on this subject, and it thereby instantly disqualifies Mr. Kasparov as a future recipient of such covert aid.

One might argue that Mr. Kasparov is entitled to express his own political opinions, even on matters touching on U.S. elections and U.S. domestic partisan politics, even if he does receive covert U.S. aid. After all, we should not 'censor' the man, and shut shut off his covert aid, simply because he expresses his honest opinions.

However that argument falls apart the moment one considers what would happen if tomorrow Mr. Kasparov decided that Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev were not such bad guys after all, and were indeed really the best people to be running Russia, and he began expressing this opinion in the Russian and foreign media. Under such circumstances we can well imagine that CIA support for Mr. Kasparov would be shut off instantly. But in that case his support would be shut off for nothing more than his "expressing his honest political opinions" (about Russian politics in that case).

Therefore the argument that Kasparov ought to be able to freely express his views about matters pertaining to partisan U.S. politics, and even U.S. elections, while all the while he is merrily still on the (covert) U.S. government payroll, is absurd.

If some person, or some entity, is receiving covert US aid, and that person or entity then begins to publicly express preferences about the outcome of US domestic elections and US partisan politics (regardless of which side he takes) it is ipso facto completely unacceptable.

It's one thing for a nation's intelligence agencies to attempt to interfere and subvert the political process and elections of a foreign country, but it is quite another thing for a nation's intelligence agencies to attempt to interfere and subvert its own political processes and elections.

Anonymous said...

wow Misha 3 posts of complete bullshit based on your assumption that some Kremlin propagated rumors are true. By the way Putin himself has broken the "heads of state generally do not give 'official' endorsements to candidates for foreign head of state, while they are running for office." rule - so thanks for confirming what we know, Russians are politically stupid.