Friday, February 29, 2008

President of the United States of Whatever

It appears to be safe to say that Dmitri Medvedev will be the next President of Russia as of March 2nd. Americans including the Democratic candidates for president are falling all over themselves with concern about the electoral process in Russia. I hope that I am not the only one embarrassed over the lack of insight demonstrated by both Clinton and Obama regarding Russia. For some reason reflexive anti-Russian politics seems to be a safe haven in the American scene. Russia Blog highlights the low points during the most recent debate:

"During Tuesday evening's debate, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seemed especially comfortable discussing Russia's heir apparent, Dmitry Medvedev. You could tell from the impish delight with which moderator Tim Russert sprang his surprise question -- "What can you tell me about the man who's going to be Mr. Putin's successor?" -- that a revealing exchange would follow.

First, Sen. Clinton correctly noted that "he's a hand-picked successor... who is obviously being installed by Putin." Then, she weighed in on the side of Russia analysts who view Medvedev as little more than Vladimir Putin's puppet, characterizing the former as having "very little independence" (some experts say the jury's still out on this). She concluded, "I have no doubt, as president, even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin." (Again, an open question.)

Mischievously, Russert then asked, "Who will it be? Do you know his name?" Clinton responded with a couple sorry attempts to pronounce "Medvedev," and finally gave up and said "whatever."

Russia Today's video clip of Clinton's slip-up

Russert then turned to Clinton's rival, asking, "Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?" Obama's answer, essentially, was "not really":

Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of running the government.

Obama went on to criticize President Bush's Russia policy, complaining, "[W]e did not send a signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to be serious about issues like human rights, issues like international cooperation that were critical to us. That is something that we have to change."

If Obama thinks that beating up on the Russians over human rights is going to have a positive impact on the Russian political landscape or elicit more cooperation at this point, he's sorely mistaken. The next U.S. president is going to have to come to grips with a Russia that is saying, "Screw you, West. You messed up our country in the 90s, and we're going to do things our way now." It's a Russia that is deeply paranoid about NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in its traditional sphere of influence in Central Asia, worried about missile-defense installations in Eastern Europe, and increasingly aggrieved about not getting its perceived due in the world. And it's a Russia that is flush with petrorubles and no longer needs handouts from anyone.

The United States needs to convince this Russia to cooperate on a number of key fronts -- Iran's nuclear program, loose nukes, and counterterrorism, to name a few. I'm sorry to say it, but human rights just isn't the top U.S. priority right now. It may not make for good campaign rhetoric, but the smart play is to welcome Medvedev and encourage him to be the liberal reformer he has hinted he might become. Maybe he does turn about to be Putin's mini-me, but there's no need to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy."

American hypocrisy is even more blatant regarding what happened to Gary Kasparov and "The Other Russia". Yes they've been excluded from the ballot, however the process is not dis-similar to what happened to Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, John Edwards, to say nothing of the Green Party, who never see the light of day in American presidential politics

On the other hand the debate among the three parties in Russia have produced moments such as the following captured again by Russia Blog that are quite unforgettable:

Get the Hell Out of the Studio!
Scoundrel. I’ll Rip Your Head Off!

"Take him out, and shoot the scoundrel!" Better than Saturday NIght Live, and real...

Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky about presidential candidate Andrey Bogdanov: “He’s a scoundrel. Look at his face! The guy’s sick! A typical schizoid! Any psychiatrist will tell you, the guy is a wacko…”


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