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.
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.
The most important one: the price of oil. Russia wants it high, and America wants it low. Russia only talks about stability in the Middle East when one of its pet dictators is threatened; at other times it gives active support to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and does all it can to sow discord throughout the region — strife raises the oil prices. And then, of course, there’s the basic reality that Russia wants an entirely different kind of world than America does, one where tyrannical values rather than American ones hold sway.
Then Saunders actually issues a veiled threat, as if speaking on Putin’s behalf. He says that if we don’t submit to Putin’s will, Putin may begin sending even more dangerous weapons to Syria — or even combat troops. “Think Russia is already doing this? Think again.” He even implies that if we don’t bend over for Putin, he may start supporting al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Simply a blood-curdling read when coming from an American presidential adviser.
Saunders finishes with more lies. He claims Russia gave the U.S. warning about the Boston bombers, when in fact Russia withheld critical information about their communications that might have helped us intercept them — this is now the focus of a congressional investigation.
Saunders intones like a mantra the Kissingerian doctrine that “the highest moral standard is the standard of results, not intentions, hopes or statements.” He asks America to walk away from the stirring moral leadership of Ronald Reagan, who with his “evil empire” and “tear down this wall” speeches served as a great hope for millions of Eastern Europeans who dwelled in the Soviet shadows.
In his stead, Saunders urges us to follow Chamberlain, to beg Putin for mercy and hope for his good graces.