Alana Goodman is absolutely correct that the Obama administration’s treatment of Chen Guangcheng is abominable. But the betrayal of dissidents is simply the bread-and-butter both of realists and the UN’s breed of internationalists, both philosophies to which Obama aspires.
In the 1970s, realists sought to kill the Jackson-Vanik Amendment which tied relations with the Soviet Union to freedom of emigration. Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core. Alas, few realists are students of history. As Sen. John Kerry auditions for a second-term Obama administration secretary of state appointment, he burnishes his credentials by undercutting any attempt to tie U.S. relations with Russia to human rights. Indeed, when it comes to the Magnitsky bill, it is clear he was for it before he was against it.
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.
Vladimir Putin’s brazen election fraud, conducted twice in the last few months, has put the Obama administration in an uncomfortable position politically. The administration touts its “reset” policy as a success, but with Russia’s recent attempts to shield Iran’s nuclear program and protection of Bashar al-Assad at the Security Council–not to mention the election-year efforts to stir up anti-Americanism–that policy is increasingly defined by American concessions to Russia.
The reset has also put its architect, current Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, in the unenviable spot of having to defend his signature achievement. McFaul has a long and distinguished career writing about Russian democratization, and the inherently political job of a diplomat requires him to either excuse or ignore behavior by the Putin administration that he has been warning against all along. But the issue that put McFaul on the defensive is the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, which punished the Soviet Union’s trade status for its restrictions on Jewish emigration.