Joshua Foust (an expose of whom you can read on my Eurasian blog, Different Stans) seems to be pretending that he is shifting his position on Russia:
President Obama decided to cancel a one-on-one meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin next month.He canceled for a host of reasons, not the least of which is Russia’s decision to grant Edward Snowden asylum.Nevertheless, there is a rising chorus of foreign policy realists in Washington who are alarmed by the decision. They’re wrong — Russia has taken a turn for the worse, and it’s time for the President to issue more gestures of contempt.
Foust has been among those very IR graduate realists himself for years, and consequently has been awful on Russia -- he has been demonstratively RealPolitik pro-Putin as they come in all his writings and blogs.
Here's what I wrote at the time:
Joshua Foust has written a twisted post on Pussy Riot on the Atlantic, in which he accuses the intellectuals and celebrities defending the Russian punk rockers jailed for two years for "blasphemy" as getting it all wrong and doing it all wrong in their defense . Ultimately, he then undermines the global mass movement championing the defiant women, and plays to the Kremlin.
Foust always does that. Criticism of the Kremlin is never his strong suit -- except when he claims to be doing so in a highly specialized sophisticated way -- unlike the wrong and even dangerous way everybody else does! Just as he does in this post. But the net effect is the same: discredit, distract, delegitimize.
But with his thorough critique of WikiLeaks, Snowden's defection, and the creepy Russian intelligence factors around Snowden in his Twitter timeline and on his blog, isn't Foust now telling it like it is? (Of course he's trying to get his next security-related gig).
Sure, but only in part, but he's also succeeding in a fantastic distraction, making it seem like the only problem here is Snowden's naivete.
He's created a timeline -- and repeatedly updated it, stealing from other bloggers' research and not crediting it -- but fails to put the entire story into the larger picture of WikiLeaks and the hackers' assault on America backed by Russia as I do in my own timeline.
And now he's -- very belatedly! -- called for "calling out" Putin.
To which I can only say: I'm shocked, shocked...and your sutochnyye, sir. Meaning "per diem," which is what he got at the very least attending Dmitry Trenin's love-in at Carnegie Moscow last spring in the midst of the crackdown on NGOs -- a wonks' conference without a single speaker from those NGOs or sympathetic to them. Indeed, there was the strange spectacle of the think-tankers belatedly talking about the surge in civic activism (and its implicit challenge to them as elites, although they didn't put it that way) -- even as NGOs were being raided all around.
At the time, Foust filed from Moscow a cynical bash of Pussy Riot defense on UN Dispatch. And that's why it it's especially disgusting for him now to airily write airily "I was there" as if he was concerned:
In March of 2013, Russia began a vast crackdown on human rights NGOs, claiming they were agents of “foreign influence.” The National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-funded democracy promotion group, evacuated its staff.
If it has stopped there, Russia’s behavior could perhaps be understandable — maybe. I was in Moscow when Russian police raided Amnesty International in March, and the government’s justifications for it were almost plausible.
Almost plausible? Really, Joshua? How so? In fact, there's nothing plausible about Amnesty International as a "foreign agent". Nothing whatsoever. It's a privately-funded organization, and prides itself on not taking state funding. It is a non-governmental organization. It is not even cooperative with the government of the UK, where it is located.
AI Founder Peter Benenson once split Amnesty's executive over charges of British intelligence infiltration by some early members of the organization back in the 1960s, but it was never confirmed. Amnesty is fully independent and even hostile to Western governments.
That AI's Russian representative could come to celebrate Snowden's defection at the airport in that sheer spectacle lets us know how far AI is from its roots not only in some putative intelligence tie by some early member, but from its one-time critique of oppressive governments, particularly Russia -- the Soviet Union used to generate the lion's share of its "Prisoner of Conscience" lists.
Then you wonder if Foust's entire piece was written as a sandwich (the metaphor I've used before on his pieces) to wrap this one piece of meat with such a moral equivalence -- and therefore a "realist" posture regarding Russia:
It’s true, the U.S. would react poorly to a Russian-funded NGO lecturing the government on the Guantanamo prison, on torture and extraordinary rendition, on drone strikes. But it got worse.
Well, no, Joshua, it's not true. The US has never done anything of the kind with RT, the monster propaganda machine run by the Kremlin with the mammoth Russian government budget which spews anti-American hatred 24/7 in English with not only guests from America's elite, particular its famous dissidents, but from Julian Assange, who has his own show. I don't think I've ever heard a US government official say a single thing about RT -- even to discount some of its more crazy conspiracy theories and hate-fests. In fact, I wish the US government would do more counter-propaganda and polemics with this malicious source which really has completely infected the mind-share.
The Kremlin-supported RT is never questioned as a "foreign agency," nor is a human rights institute set up in New York by the Russian government to run propaganda ops against criticism from the US. In fact, RT and the institute endlessly criticize Guantanamo and any other real or imagined sin of the US, and the USG never answers.
In fact, a Russian NGO leader came to lecture Obama on Gitmo, and Obama didn't flinch or "react poorly" but answered soothingly and explained the difficulties.
In fact, most of the major human rights groups were utterly coopted by the cunning WikiLeaks on the Snowden affair and began warbling nonsense about how he had "discovered human rights violations" (which they themselves had no record or report of). The only thing the USG had to say on that score was a slightly sarcastic -- but wonderful -- quip from Jay Carney reported by AP:
Carney also urged the Russian government to "afford human rights organizations the ability to do their work in Russia throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow transit lounge."
So Foust is completely wrong about this supposed "moral equivalence" of either US behaviour or the nature of foreign-funded operations in each other's countries. The differences matter.
After reciting a litany of all the very bad things Putin has been doing for a year -- aiding the Assad regime's mass crime against humanity in Syria, cracking down on gays, artists, immigrants and demonstrators -- all things we've been writing about for years as Foust sneers and says either we're exaggerating or doing this all wrong and are counterproductive -- he's ready to say this:
It would send a powerful message for Obama to call for a different visit with Putin, one where he publicly condemns the Russian president at a joint press conference for his conduct, and announces a U.S. boycott of the Sochi Olympics until press freedoms are restored and American athletes won’t be subjected to the humiliations of the new anti-gay laws. It would be even better if Obama publicly described Putin as a succor of tyrants, accused him of direct complicity in the brutal carnage in Syria, and called on the Russian government to join the civilized countries of the world in looking to end, rather than prolong, the conflict. Obama should also publicly demand that Putin rejoin successful nuclear counterproliferation programs that have reduced the threat of black market nuclear sales and trafficking.
He ends lamely that there is little chance of this happening and the US should "wake up" to reality.
Everything that Foust has written as a prescription for Obama right now is something I'd endorse. Except, as a Realist, he knows full well that Obama will not do a single one of these things and so there's a bit of posturing here without a real pathway for how this could be brought about. Furthermore, Foust has cut the ground out from the international human rights groups that could be making these demands on Obama by suggesting that when they do, quite understandably -- as any government would! -- they will only be viewed as foreign agents.
....Not that these groups themselves these days are prepared to mount a serious demand on Obama to stop the misguided reset. When I started a petition on whitehouse.gov calling on Obama not to go to the G20 or the Olympics, I didn't get a single signature and therefore it never appeared in search under key words and then died after 30 days. So far only the gay rights movement has succeeded in putting sufficient pressure on Western governments and the International Olympics Committee to get this issue raised seriously.