Sergei's Law is an advocacy video that has a bit of a propagandistic feel to it (it's the dramatic sound track), but that's perfectly ok, because we never get to hear the sustained arguments on behalf of this case and this law, the Magnitsky Accountability Act.
Why? Because there's a din of pro-Kremlin noise in the US media and blogosphere lately that is actually quite appalling -- a very creepy collusion of old socialist left, new new new Twitterati left or "progressives," libertarians, and conservative pragmatists all bound by a cynical RealPolitik regarding the Kremlin. They can never jump over their own knees to get past whatever flaws their own country has to see the graver flaws of Russia that are a threat to its own people and the world.
I'm still trying to come up with a term to describe these people, as the old paradigm of hawks/doves doesn't work and I flat-out reject the term used nastily all the time by Joshua Kucera -- Russophobes -- without ever deploying the opposite "Russophiles".
Magnitsky is the litmus test for these two camps in America. On the side of human rights and support of Magnitsky in mainstream and new media, outside of a few human rights groups and the sponsors of the bill, and of course this blog, there are virtually no voices. There's the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, thank God, but a ready bunch of young stars like Mark Adomanis to savage him for taking a moral stand (creepy -- this is what "IR" -- International Relations programs produce nowadays.)
On the opposite side of those simply advocating for basic justice are much larger heavy-weights with administrative resources: the Obama Administration, the Soros-funded Center for American Progress, the endlessly prolific and retweeted Mark Adomanis with the heft of Forbes behind him (shouldn't business people care more about ending impunity for corruption and justice for corporate lawyers?!) Raymond Sontag in the American Interest -- these and more are all lining up against the Magnitsky bill. Why? They could have their reset and eat it, too, and still endorse this narrowly-focused bill that has to do with ensuring that there is no impunity for a very specific set of persons violating human rights. It would really cost them nothing.
Instead, we hear all kinds of specious arguments against Magnitsky, as I've been recording. For example, that it's lacking in judicial process to punish anyone suspected of a crime before a court of law has convened. That simply betrays ignorance about how you have to battle impunity: entry into the United States, and shielding wealth here, these are privileges, not rights. And if there is a list of persons responsible for the harassment of Magnitsky and letting him die deliberately in a Russian jail -- facts that are established -- it is more than fine to act. In fact, it's a duty to act, especially when the corruption involved has drawn in the US and the UK because of attempts to hide the funds here.
Raymond Sontag's arguments (like the rest of the tweeting RealPolitickers) are notably specious -- just because you can't do everything about all countries or are weak in protecting human rights in some areas of foreign policy (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc.) doesn't mean you should do nothing (the Registanis invoke this silly argument, too). Just because your bill with a list of names doesn't have any actual international prosecutorial clout doesn't mean you don't take a political stand anyway, based on morality and human rights law. And it's especially dishonest to invoke any notion that Medvedev is changing the law and therefore everything's fine -- the only way you get change is by really implementing laws, not just articulating them.
"Hit them in their wallets," says chess master and opposition figure Gary Kasparov -- by which he means literally making it impossible for officials in Russia who do wrong to travel abroad and expatriate their wealth to the US and other Western countries. [NOTE: I mistakenly heard this as "hit them in their laws," and felt he meant to get them to take their own laws seriously and implement them, by invoking your own legislation -- which is relevant, too.]
Sontag really is out of ideas when he fetches up this argument:
The Magnitsky Bill’s backers point to the fact that corrupt Russian officials like to travel and keep their money abroad as evidence that denying them these privileges will make them less corrupt. But these arguments miss the rather obvious point that if these officials did not engage in this corruption, they would also be effectively barred from Western banks and trips abroad not by American laws but by the fact that they could never afford such luxuries on their meager official salaries in the first place. These arguments also miss the point that, however irritated Russia’s leaders may be with the Magnitsky Bill, its sanctions are nowhere near sufficient to get them to take on their own security services.
Huh? But that is indeed the idea; to deter officials from corruption by not making it easier for them to ex-patriate their wealth and enjoy it abroad. Hello! And the problem isn't that Russia's leaders can't take on their own security services; Putin, a former KGB man, *is* the security service. Hello again!
If that line of accommodationist reasoning wasn't queasy-making enough, you can still head on over to The American Conservative (fortifying once again my premise that conservatives are just as pro-Russian in the US these days as leftists, and it makes no sense. I'm grateful to Liberty Lynx on Twitter for reminding me of the anniversary recently of this debate with the awful Kevin Rothrock at A Good Treaty; he was a sterling example, as an American Enterprise Institute researcher, of just these conservative pro-Kremlin views, but he denied the phenomenon even existed.)
Daniel Larson thinks it's posturing on Jackon Diehl's part just to say the honest, moral thing:
Now that Putin has canceled, maybe it’s time to put human rights in Russia back on the agenda.
In fact, Bush -- and Colin Powell, when he finally begin to speak up -- did have some deterrent effect on Russia. And the idea isn't that you imagine you can directly and immediately affect their behaviour; the idea is that you don't break faith with victims; you show solidarity with the likeminded opposition who share our values, and you don't let the bad guys win. It's a moral proposition, and this kind of morality is what is expected in American politics. Why it has gone missing from the hearts of conservatives or for that matter leftists who are supposed to be pro-human rights is a vexing mystery. But then so prostrate have our intellectuals become before the Kremlin that they can't even understand when the G-8 snub is a snub -- they will justify ANYTHING that Putin does. Larson quotes Dmitri Trenin who says Putin "hates" international jamborees. Oh? Well, that doesn't stop him from going to the CIS and CSTO summits in the near abroad!
The strange scrambling to justify not endorsing this bill just doesn't make sense. It's as if the only thing that really powers it is all the official Russian screeching about it -- so accommodationist to the Kremlin are those who are complaining about the Magnitsky bill. Why?
We saw some manuevering from Sen. John Kerry recently in delaying the debate on this bill. Diehl reports that there was insistence by the White House and the State Department that the bill had to be postponed. This was ostensibly due to the fact that newly-crowned President Vladimir Putin was going to come to the US for the G-8. But now he's sending his swapped-seat-mate Medvedev instead, possibly to dis the US over antimissile systems in Europe, which two senior Russian military officials have now vowed to attack preemptively if they continue to be deployed.
But what's Kerry's excuse, really? I don't think it's about Putin's visit, or Medvedev's visit. I think he is simply too supportive of Obama's position, and McFaul's position, and others in the Administration, to risk going against them. Obviously he doesn't want the political embarassment of the president vetoing such an obviously decent human rights law, so his strategy is probably to tread water. delay, and hope support dissipates (Lugar, a key supporter, just lost his election). Why? Kerry wants to be the next secretary of state? Or simply be supportive to the president for everything else he wants to achieve?
I hope people will listen to the long line of political and civil figures in this film in both the US and Russia to hear their sustained arguments for why this bill needs to be passed. I'm glad to see that at least these young future foreign affairs professionals who made this film, mentored by Amb. Thomas Pickering and Governor Bill Richardson (former UN ambassador), have their heads and hearts in the right place on where human rights fits into American foreign policy.