On Tuesday, I wrote about U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul’s objection to tying America’s economic interaction with Russia to the promotion of human rights. McFaul was in Washington for a conference and also to push for repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation that sanctioned Moscow’s trade status for restricting Jewish emigration. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, Jackson-Vanik disadvantages American businesses, and so it’s time to repeal it.
But I argued that McFaul’s emphasis on repealing Jackson-Vanik was a dodge, since its repeal is uncontroversial. The real issue is whether it should be replaced by legislation that would hold Vladimir Putin’s administration accountable for its atrocious human rights record. Were McFaul not representing the Obama administration, I added, he might very well support such action–McFaul is the author of several books on promoting democracy in the post-Soviet space. Today, Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov, two outspoken Russian opposition figures, take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to make those points, and a few others.
The authors note that McFaul challenged a crowd on Monday to ask Aleksei Navalny, a popular Russian activist and blogger who has become a vocal leader of the protest movement, what he thinks. McFaul was certain his interlocutors would decline to accept the challenge. Kasparov and Nemtsov called McFaul’s bluff:
So we asked Mr. Navalny, who, along with several other members of the opposition leadership, signed a letter cited by Mr. McFaul calling for the removal of Russia from Jackson-Vanik. “Of course no one in Russia is foolish enough to defend Jackson-Vanik,” he told us. “But we also understand that it should be replaced with something else. And we said as much in our letter when we recommended the passing of the Magnitsky Act, as has been done in Europe.”
Mr. Navalny is referring to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate last May with wide bipartisan support. Named for the Russian attorney who died in police custody in 2009 while investigating official corruption, the Magnitsky Act would bring visa and asset sanctions against Russian government functionaries culpable of criminal and human rights abuses.
Kasparov and Nemtsov also challenged the administration’s realpolitik approach to the “reset” policy, arguing that McFaul’s devotion to his own policy (the “reset” is McFaul’s handiwork) is causing the erstwhile defender of human rights to subjugate his own value system in the mad dash to defend his legacy. What’s more, the authors point out the assault on logic the administration must conduct in order to justify its behavior:
Moreover, if economic engagement is the best way to promote an open society, why does the Obama administration not forge a free-trade pact with Iran instead of levying sanctions? Russia will be joining the World Trade Organization regardless of what the U.S. does. But WTO membership will not undo Mr. Putin’s monopolization of political and economic power. If Mr. Putin and his oligarchs believed for an instant that the WTO might weaken their grip, they simply would stay out.
The Obama administration is not only attempting to overturn a law, but also its spirit. As Mr. Kissinger did 39 years ago, Amb. McFaul is trying to make the case that human rights should not get in the way of realpolitik and the business of doing business. He reminds us that the State Department already has its own secret list of banned Russian officials, and so nothing more need be done. But the entire object of such laws is to publicly shame and punish the rank and file of Mr. Putin’s mob so they know the big boss can no longer protect them.
The Obama administration talks a lot about human rights. Kasparov and Nemtsov are right to ask if those speeches are, as the president himself might say, just words.