Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | July 28, 2011

Obama’s State Department: Representing the American people to Russia and Israel

Kim Zigfeld at Pajamas picks up on the position assumed by the Obama administration on a Senate bill that would condemn Russian officials complicit in the torture and death of a rights lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.  The bill, sponsored by John McCain and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), would deny US visas to a list of Russian officials and freeze their assets in America.  Equally important, it would call attention to what those officials have done, and to the pattern of threats, intimidation, and even homicidal brutality wielded by the Russian government against whistle-blowers.

The Russians have warned the Obama administration about what will happen if the Senate goes through with the McCain-Cardin bill.  And the Obama State Department has in turn conveyed that warning to the Senate:

Senior Russian government officials have warned us that they will respond asymmetrically if this legislation passes. Their argument is that we cannot expect them to be our partner in supporting sanctions against countries like Iran, North Korea, and Libya, and sanction them at the same time. Russian officials have said that other areas of bilateral cooperation, including on transit to Afghanistan, could be jeopardized if this legislation passes.

The administration revealed yesterday that it has “quietly” placed a number of Russian officials on a no-visa list – “without,” as the New York Times delicately puts it, “official notification to the Russians.” Faithfully reporting the situation according to the administration’s talking points, the Times continues:

A State Department memo laid out the visa ban, which was first reported by The Washington Post. The document was sent last week to senators who have been pushing for far more stringent measures. Their provisions would not only deny American entry to Russian officials linked to the case of the lawyer, Sergei L. Magnitsky, but also freeze their American assets. At least 19 senators are sponsoring the bill, including Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, and John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

The measure would apply as well to officials implicated in the shooting deaths of Natalia Estemirova, a human rights worker killed in the North Caucasus in 2009, and Anna Politkovskaya, a crusading journalist killed at the entry to her Moscow apartment in 2006.

The State Department’s memo argued against such sweeping measures, saying they might undermine Mr. Obama’s policy of reset with Moscow and that the Russians had threatened retaliation that could harm American interests around the world.

Particularly ineffable is NYT’s characterization of the overall episode:

The Obama administration has disclosed one of its sharpest policy responses to Russian human rights abuses, telling American lawmakers that dozens of Russian officials have been quietly barred from the United States…

Skeptics can be pardoned for doubting the “sharpness” of a policy implemented “without official notification” to the Russians.  Even Jimmy Carter displayed more fortitude in standing up for human rights.

When it comes to US ally Israel, however, the Obama State Department is prepared to eschew euphemism and deal in actual money.  Haaretz got hold of two internal State Department reports in which the US delegation in Israel is judged to have done poorly at the task of convincing the Israeli public about Obama’s policies.  That these reports found their way to Haaretz looks like a story in itself; the administration comes off in them as peevish and ultimately spiteful, because the upshot of the internal assessment is that the US should terminate our program of guaranteeing loans to Israel.

Does the skepticism of the Israeli public about the Obama administration justify terminating a loan-guarantee program?  The main context in which the connection would be obvious is that of Chicago politics.  (Or Putin-style Russian politics, for that matter.)  Relevant passages from the Haaretz story:

“A fragile Israeli coalition government leans toward the views of its members from the nationalist and religious right, creating a challenge for diplomats seeking to build support for U.S. policies,” the report says….

The reports portray a problematic picture of the missions’ performance in Israel.

The Tel Aviv embassy faces intense challenges, generated by Israel’s current government, negative public opinion toward President Obama, a sensitive political environment and a vibrant media scene, the report says.

It finds that the embassy’s annual public relations budget, intended to influence public opinion in Israel, is about $7 million a year, or roughly NIS 25 million.

Despite its diplomatic wording, the report implies the Tel Aviv embassy has totally failed in its public relations efforts during the Obama term. “Much of the Israeli public is suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote negotiations aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state,” it says. “The lively and fractious press often misinterprets American policies.”

Israel can probably survive without the loan guarantees.  On the other hand, the Obama administration has been at pains to continue aid to Egypt (and indeed announced an augmentation in the form of debt forgiveness and a “sovereign guarantee” of new bonds issued by Egypt), in spite of the change of regime there, Egypt’s uncertain future, and poor polling for Obama among the Egyptian people.

On Wednesday, Caroline Glick cited news reports that the Obama administration is now pressuring Israel to issue an apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, and pay compensation to the families of those killed.  The implication Glick points out if Erdogan were to get the apology he is so determined on – a big boost for his image as an Islamic leader, at a time when he is vying with Iran and the Arab Muslim Brotherhood for primacy in that regard – ought to be obvious to Team Obama, and perhaps that’s what the administration wants.  But in the context of all the other foreign policy being perpetrated by this White House, it’s not clear that decisions – even bad ones – are being made for reasons of that kind.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.



  1. Seems that if Obubler doesn’t like you, you need to threaten him. Otherwise he picks up his ball and goes home. Nice friend.

  2. From the days of Hoover until the Reagan era the United States has always done business with people from that neck of the woods who had blood on their hands to a completely different degree of culpability to the people on Obama’s list. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, I am unaware of any US administration taking any action whatsoever against the assets of Putin’s (literally) robber-barons who asset-stripped the Russian people. The US has a far clearer record of providing a cushy haven for overthrown CIA assets and their worldly (ill-gotten) goods.

    So how come the right-wing has become suddenly interested in these matters? Couldn’t be anything to do with manufacturing yet another stick with which to beat a president whom they hate, and in relation to whose very legitimacy they are still in denial. It sure can’t be moral-sensibilities.

    As for Pajamas Media: You get exactly the PR that our dependents, the Israelis, have paid for (with US tax-payers money).

    As for Glick. This couldn’t be the same foreigner who has advocated the annexation of the entire West Bank by Israel, and the immunity from legal sanction for Jews who steal the homes and land of Palestinians anywhere in the the West Bank, or damage or injury to Palestinian property and persons in carrying out these crimes?
    The Israelis (To Glick’s chagrin) have already expressed “regret” at the deaths of the Mavi Mamara victims.

    The main pressure coming on the Israelis for a more fullsom apology are the Europeans and the Turks themselves in the lead up to the September vote to give Palestinians the same national rights as Israelis (and free peoples everywhere). Turkey has been a good ally of the US, and it’s troops have fought alongside ours, and most importantly, she occupies a vital strategic location. (Contrast with Israel – a total strategic liability that acts as a spoiler to our regional alliances, costs the US tax-payer billions, and ignores our entreaties to stop stealing Palestinian land and resources) Moreover, the murder of the citizens of a NATO member while going about their lawful business on the high-seas by a foreign non-NATO dependent of the US has undermined US strategic interests in the region, and the credibility of the US as a dependable ally. No wonder we and the Europeans are looking for an apology from the culprits to limit the damage to our common interests.

  3. “Asset-stripped the Russian people”? That’s a phrase found in the bubble over a character’s head in some neo-Marxist comic book like “Super Soviet”. The right thing to do would have been to restore the property confiscated by the Bolsheviks to its original owners but they’re all dead, many executed by the same apparatchiks that stripped THEIR assets. But it must make more sense to assume, as the Soviets did, in their hypocritical manner, that all assets belong to the state and its bureaucratic masters, since the collective Russian people can’t own anything.

    • I actually agree with you – to a point. When I used the phrase “asset-stripped the Russian people” I didn’t intend the interpretation to have taken. Given that most of the assets concerned were never actually confiscated from anyone, but comprised of industry and assets that were established or discovered during the lifetime of the Soviet Union, these assets should have been privatized by the same transparent process that is used in developed Western Democracies when nationalized industries are privatized (e.g. British Telecom and BP where the proceeds of the sale were used to pay down public debt). Instead of doing this, the Russian elite (i.e. Putin’s pals) gave a present of these state-owned assets to themselves and their friends.

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