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Former Bush Advisor: Keep Calm and Submit to Putin

Paul J. Saunders channels Chamberlain in a fact-free Washington Post editorial.



June 1, 2013 - 12:00 am
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It’s hard to imagine how someone could be more discredited regarding Russia than by being intimately associated with both the George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon administrations. That’s the case with Russia pundit Paul J. Saunders: he worked for Bush as a key Russia advisor and now works for the Center for the National Interest, known as the Nixon Center until 2011.

Recall Bush infamously looked in Vladimir Putin’s eyes, glimpsed his soul, and declared him trustworthy. And hosted a Russian war criminal in the Oval Office, before Putin invaded Georgia and annexed two huge chunks of territory. The Center for the National Interest is actually run by a Russian, Dimitri Simes, another discredited figure who has urged the same disgraceful policy of appeasement towards Russia that has been embraced by the disastrously failed “reset” policy of Barack Obama.

In the May 23 Washington Post, Saunders published an editorial fully supportive of the Obama reset. The column is one of the more dishonest and outrageous pieces of writing about Russia I’ve come across in my career of monitoring Russian affairs.

Saunders argues that the United States should not oppose dictatorship in Russia until Russian troops begin “massing on the country’s Western border” and “opposition activists are being executed by the hundreds.” Yes, really.

He denies that dissidents are being sent to psychiatric wards, Siberia, or being subjected to show trials like those that occurred in Soviet times, and therefore urges Americans to do as Obama says and to thank their lucky stars, because things are just fine in Russia as far as Americans are allowed to be concerned.

Saunders obviously is not familiar with my site. In the last six years, I have documented numerous instances in which Russian opposition figures were, in fact, sent to psychiatric wards.

Nor does he read the Post itself.

The paper hosting his column has repeatedly reported on the show trial of leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny currently underway in the city of Kirov. The Post has also reported on show trials ranging from Pussy Riot all the way back to Mikhail Trepashkin.

And it seems Saunders doesn’t know that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the most significant dissident of the post-Soviet era, has been cooling his heels in a Siberian prison cell since 2003 following the mother of all neo-Soviet show trials.

Interpol recently rejected an international arrest warrant from Russia after concluding the charges were nakedly political and improper. The warrant was for leading Russia investor William Browder, apparently the next man on the show-trial hit list.

As for freedom fighters losing their lives in Putin’s Russia, Saunders has apparently never heard of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, assassinated by Putin’s goons on Putin’s birthday for reporting human rights atrocities in Chechnya. Nor has Saunders heard about Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in Britain for connecting Putin to acts of terror in Moscow.

Nor does he know of like Paul Klebnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Nikolai Girenko, Natalia Estemirova, Andrei Kozlov, or Stanislav Markelov, all dissidents murdered on Putin’s watch.

Putin is currently engaged in an all-out war on foreign influence in Russia, using a law designed to combat terrorism as the basis for liquidating all organizations that reflect foreign values or receive foreign support. The most chilling of his recent moves: his attack on the Levada polling center, the last remaining organization whose reports on Russian public opinion can be trusted.

Arguments just like those offered by Saunders led Chamberlain to believe he did not need to oppose Hitler and led FDR to believe he could make a deal with Stalin. The idea that we should wait until Putin is “executing dissidents by the hundreds” and is massing troops on their border is repugnant. Who, after listening to the tape recordings of Nixon’s paranoid rantings from the Oval Office, could be surprised that such repugnant work  would follow his name even decades later?

Saunders urges us to ignore the fact that Russia is providing massive military support to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran, claiming that Russia is right to support genocidal anti-American dictatorships in both countries in order to stave off the chaos of revolution. He ignores that successful revolutions have occurred in both Egypt and Libya despite massive Russian opposition.

Saunders says that the U.S. and Russia can’t be considered enemies, even though Russia routinely issues the most vehement of anti-American pronouncements, and is currently engaged in a furious attack on America-friendly NGOs operating in Russia. And never mind the concurrent breathtaking military buildup.

Saunders admits that Russia and the U.S. have opposing interests, but he doesn’t name any.

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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Agree with some of this, but to say there are successful revolutions in Libya and Egypt? We were better off with Gadafi and Mubarak, now we have the muslim brotherhood, islamists.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Saunders admits that Russia and the U.S. have opposing interests, but he doesn’t name any."

Lets see if I can help the poor misguided soul tic off a few: Russian interests in reestablishing the hegemony a la the USSR - and would relish lording it over all of Europe. Russians don't seem to much care for Jews - could that be their leading interests in the Middle East? Their policy seems to be saying just that. And the aforementioned energy policy where Russian interests are for higher the better oil prices. Just a few of the many conflicts in interests between the two countries.

Putin is the last in his line of the old USSR totalitarian style dictators - operating under the guise of democracy. He cannot pull the old USSR back together and it is quite likely that if left to its own devices what is left of Russia would crumble like the Balkans into many separate countries - and would not likely be a peaceful transition. Putin it seems would like to recapture something of the old USSR's glory days - a tough act for him since the 'core' of the old USSR was the ethnic whites - who's population numbers are dwindling.

As for Russia not being an enemy of the USA - I disagree. No country can have so many conflicts of interest with us and be called 'friend'. Putin and Russia have done nothing to warrant being called 'friend' by us. Friends do not 'buzz' each other with squadrons of Backfire Bombers or cruise a missile carrying sub just off your largest populations centers. These are the acts of a hostile nation. What is so hard to understand about that?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Saunders is a naive fool & certainly one of lenin's useful idiots.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I come down in the middle on this one. Russia is the last of the great European multinational empires. It has no democratic tradition. Under Communism the best elements of civil society were systematically exiled, butchered, imprisoned , isolated and marginalized for a 70 year period. Today, Russia is poor, the population is in sustained decline, the economy is dominated by criminal elements with roots in the KGB and the Communist Party. A large percentage of Russians long for the good old days when Uncle Joe ruled with a firm hand. Ethnic Russians live as minorities among hostile populations, often Muslim populations but even in the Baltic nations they are second-class citizens.

On the other hand the Communist ideology is dead. Russia is authoritarian but not longer totalitarian. And for the US this changes everything.

We cannot fix Russia. They are not allies but they are not our enemies. Their perceived interests conflict with ours. Where we can make a difference with respect to the human rights abuses in Russia we should do what we can. The behavior of the Russians in Syria is partly a consequence of our actions in Libya and our own dithering and incoherent policies in the region.

There is no simple and easy formula for dealing with Russia. Unlike Iran, they pose no direct threat. Neither are they reliable allies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Charles, yours is a sensible, realistic, point of view. I would add that current events in Syria are a result of the US backing jihadis causing immense suffering to the Christians there. The Russians are right to take actions to prevent 'hotheads' (i.e., the US) from more mischief in Syria.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Trade builds ties to defeat war, and is a better way to win friends in Russia.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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