Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jackson-Vanik amendment

Betrayal of Dissidents at Core of Realism

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.

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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.

The UN is little better. It is tragic that this incident from nearly a decade ago has long since disappeared from public consciousness:

“On January 25, 2003, an Iraqi man stopped a UN-marked Land Cruiser right outside the UN compound in Baghdad, pleading, ‘Save me! Save me!’ According to a CNN report of the incident, the unarmed man then boarded the UN car and refused to get out. Appearing agitated and frightened, the young man, with a closely trimmed beard and a mustache, sat inside the white UN-marked SUB for 10 minutes, the Associated Press reported. Then, according to CNN, an Iraqi guard struggled to pull him out, while an unfazed UN inspector watched from the passenger seat.”

The UN handed the man over to Saddam Hussein’s security forces; he has never been seen again. Kofi Annan did not care. For Kofi, Saddam was a man he could do business with (literally), and he wanted nothing to get in the way.

Realists will always find an excuse to ignore dissidents and dismiss their fight for freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, what these realists see as sophistication not only is amoral, but actively undercuts long-term U.S. security.

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Kasparov, Nemtsov call McFaul’s Bluff

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.

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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.

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End of Jackson-Vanik Shouldn’t Be the End of Russian Accountability

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.

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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.

Since Russia was finally granted admission to the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik amendment–still on the books–now disadvantages American companies. The law has outlived its usefulness, and McFaul supports its repeal, the process of which could begin in the Senate Thursday. But while even Putin’s opposition (for the most part) supports the repeal of the amendment, they would like its legacy to be upheld. Specifically, they would like legislation addressing Russia’s deepening human rights crisis.

As it happens, there is bipartisan legislation with broad support sitting in Congress right now. Called the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011,” it would impose a visa ban on Russian officials involved in particularly heinous rights violations. It is named for the Russian attorney who was jailed without trial and left to die painfully in his cell as Russian officials, aware that he was in desperate need of medical attention, stood by. It is not only the proud owner of bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress, but that rare piece of legislation that is the subject of broad agreement around the world. As Robert Kagan and Freedom House President David Kramer wrote in October:

Like no other initiative in memory, this legislative push in both Congress and in Europe (the Dutch parliament in July unanimously endorsed a Magnitsky-like effort, and the European parliament has done the same) has struck a chord in Moscow and forced Russian authorities to reopen the Magnitsky case. Several prison officials where Magnitsky had been held are now the focus of investigations. In the absence of accountability and rule of law in Russia, American and European parliamentarians have made it clear that if Russian officials engage in major human rights abuses, they and their immediate families cannot enjoy the privilege of traveling to, living or studying in the West, or doing their banking in Western financial institutions.

This draft bill has already done more for the cause of human rights in Russia than anything done by the Obama administration (or by the Bush administration before it). It also caused the State Department to ban certain Russian officials implicated in the Magnitsky case, though this is not sufficient, and these individuals should also be added to an asset-freeze list.

McFaul, however, is vocally opposed to the legislation and to tying Russia’s dismal human rights record to either the reset or trade relations. Yesterday in Washington, at an event organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, McFaul was challenged on this by Kramer and by one of Magnitsky’s former clients, Bill Browder. McFaul rejected their arguments, repeating only that Jackson-Vanik should be repealed. This was a clear evasion, because repeal of Jackson-Vanik isn’t the issue. Throughout the day, McFaul became increasingly irritated by the discussion. At a separate event later yesterday, McFaul was asked about it again:

“If you want to do something constructive, that’s an area where we should be focusing on our attention, not on this weird linkage, like somehow holding Jackson-Vanik is going to make Russia more democratic or is going to help us with Syria,” McFaul said. “I dare somebody to stand up today and tell me how not lifting [Jackson-Vanik] helps the cause of promoting rule of law, democracy, and human rights. We just don’t see it that way.”

The tetchy dodge aside, McFaul is minimizing the legacy of Jackson-Vanik. It has certainly been about pegging human rights progress with upgraded trade status (and McFaul talks about this in his book, Advancing Democracy Abroad). Russia’s admission to the WTO without a concurrent replacement for Jackson-Vanik–especially in light of Putin’s recent behavior–would represent a break with the bipartisan status quo in Putin’s favor. McFaul knows better and so do his critics.

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