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J.E. Dyer: Ronald Reagan, 1982 – “A Test of Wills and Ideas, a Trial of Spiritual Resolve”

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Thirty years ago, on 8 June 1982, President Ronald Reagan addressed the British House of Commons, giving a speech that has since become one of his most famous.  In it, he proclaimed that “the march of freedom and democracy … will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

On this anniversary of that seminal speech, it’s worth taking a few minutes to review its quintessential Reaganisms.  Chief among them is his optimism – not a ditsy, foolish optimism, but a considered optimism about the biggest of things: the course of history and man’s future.

Equally important is his vision, which is part and parcel of the optimism.  Out of all of the Cold War’s premier analysts, Reagan was virtually the only one who foresaw the imminent end of Soviet communism, and who could utter this line in 1982:  “It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live now at a turning point.”  We were living at a turning point, and it was the one Reagan described in his next lines:

We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West but in the home of Marxism- Leninism, the Soviet Union.

“Democracy,” he said, “is proving itself to be a not at all fragile flower.”

A third and very important Reaganism is his willingness to identify evil and speak about it without demur.  The House of Commons speech mirrors in tone Reagan’s 4 March 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, in which he spoke this remarkable sentence:

[L]et us be aware that while [the Soviets] preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

Ideological statism is not a mere cultural alternative; it is absolutely evil.  Reagan had no doubt of what was right and wrong in this regard:  “It would be cultural condescension, or worse,” he said, “to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.”

But Reagan’s refusal to gloss over evil never produced discouraging rhetoric.  It was always accompanied by a hard-nosed optimism about what was good in the Western culture of freedom and restraints on the state.  The contrast he invariably made, as in this speech, was between the power and effectiveness of human freedom, on the one hand, and the sclerotic, overstretched unsustainability of despotism on the other.  He knew, long before we began speaking of it today, that all attempts to put the people under harness and dictate to them the features of their lives end in oppression, poverty, and despair.

The political particulars of this next passage may have changed over time, but the underlying sense of it resonates today:

If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma–predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?

To both of those questions, Reagan’s answer was no.

Reagan’s address to the House of Commons

8 June 1982

We’re approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention — totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy’s enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not at all fragile flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than thirty years to establish their legitimacy. But none — not one regime — has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.

J.E. Dyer: This is What ‘Forward’ Looks Like

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

One thing I like about Governor Scott Walker is that he reclaimed the excellent English word “forward” – which is the state motto of Wisconsin – before President Obama decided to use it as the theme-word for his 2012 campaign.  I also like Walker’s policies and the quiet, dogged way he works.  But the “forward” theme is important.  Wisconsin has moved forward, and it needs to move further forward.  How?  By getting government off people’s backs.

I wonder, myself, how much further Wisconsin could have gone by now if it had a better regulatory environment.  In 2011, Forbes ranked Wisconsin 35 out of the 50 states for regulatory environment.  The Small Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE) Council ranks Wisconsin 24th overall in its Small Business Survival Index, but says Walker has been making improvements.  Wisconsin ranked 34th in the SBE Council’s 2011 study in “Taxation,” with high personal income taxes, corporate income and capital gains taxes, property taxes, and fuel taxes.

Walker has indeed made efforts to streamline and reduce regulation; he’s getting a lot of criticism for it.   But the bureaucratic, statist regulation favored by progressivism is well entrenched in Wisconsin and has been for a long time – Wisconsin having pioneered it.  The Badger State has a ways to go to be a more jobs- and business-friendly environment.  If you want to know why “only 30,000” jobs (see more below) have been created in Wisconsin (while unemployment has somehow managed to drop from 7.7% to 6.8% under Walker), look to the regulatory and tax environment.

I wrote last year, during the legislative crisis in Wisconsin, about the importance of the showdown with the unions for the future of government and progressivism in the US.   My thoughts from that period remain pertinent:

Because political “factions” often objected to being regulated in the manner proposed by progressives, the creation of agencies was intrinsic to the progressive agenda. The agencies were sold to the public as a means of taking the corrupt politics out of issues that ought to be decided straightforwardly by disinterested experts. The progressive idea has always been that this stable of public experts should be insulated from the demands of interest groups – even if the interest group in question is a majority of registered voters.

The Wisconsin Republicans are challenging that idea directly. The vociferous political left isn’t wrong about that: the crisis in Wisconsin is a power struggle for the future of government, not just a clash of this year’s fiscal priorities. If the voting public can, in fact, deny professional autonomy – in this case, the option to organize for collective bargaining – to public employees, the essential premise of progressivism is badly undercut. Public employees, in their professional capacity, would not then have a “right” to anything the voters don’t choose to accede to.

But there is a danger in focusing too exclusively on the benefits and negotiating privileges of the government-worker unions.  It is certainly important to prevent them from bleeding the productive private sector dry, but that alone won’t balance the budgets in most badly overspent states (e.g., California, New York, Illinois), nor will it release the states’ economies to revive and flourish.

Government-worker benefits aren’t going to go away, and even cutting them on the margins won’t relieve California, for example, of a meaningful amount of its unfunded pension obligations.  The future “pie” has to be enlarged.   And in that regard, authorizing government regulators to overregulate is even worse than suffering government-worker benefits to over-increase.

Spiraling state debt and credit downgrades are symptoms of overregulated economic atrophy, as much as they are of fiscal irresponsibility.  We could afford a lot more public expenditure – without going into debt – if we reduced the regulatory burden on the economy.  (We also wouldn’t need as much public spending, even by the standards of our welfare state.)  But we haven’t lifted the regulatory burden on a national basis for nearly 30 years; we have only increased its weight.  Besides the environmental measures linked above, Wisconsin under Walker has joined a few other states in lifting some regulations on the telecommunications industry, but the colossal juggernaut of government regulation has barely been touched by most state reform efforts, including Wisconsin’s.

J.E. Dyer: Russia, Iran Standing Off from Obama Showcase Events

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Vladimir Putin decided not to attend the recent NATO summit in Chicago – although probably not out of petty pique at our president.  Regardless of his sentiments about Obama, he would have attended if he had thought it was in his interest to do so.   Now Iran has abruptly ended the scheduled talks on her nuclear program in Baghdad, affirming no interest in continuing this round without some lightening of sanctions up front.  The next round of talks is to be held in Moscow.

If they occur, as promised, in June – before the US election – the most likely outcome is more stalling and no progress.  But that is not because there has been no prior interest on the Western side in making big concessions in order to get an agreement.  What Iran is doing actually amounts to avoiding being presented with a favorable agreement.  The abruptness of the talks’ end indicates mostly that Iran doesn’t see it as advantageous to stick around and talk anymore, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the P5+1’s anxiety to negotiate a good deal for Iran.

As for Putin, his proximate reason for not attending the summit is obvious.  Missile defense was – as always, over the last decade – to be one of the two main topics in Chicago, the other being Afghanistan.  The collective NATO missile defense system for Europe was to be declared operational at the summit.  It was.  Russia’s main bone of contention with NATO is missile defense.  Although Russia has been invited to be a missile defense partner with NATO, and has participated in extensive talks on the matter, there remain fundamental disagreements between the parties over how to operate and orient a collective missile defense.

Putin had no intention of being present for photo ops under a “NATO missile defense” banner – in spite of President Obama’s assurance to Dmitry Medvedev that the US would be more “flexible” about the whole thing after our November election.  Putin’s reluctance is partly because Obama’s NATO allies have a different view.  They aren’t interested at all in more “flexibility”:  the Europeans, in their own special way, have actually been quite stringent on the need for missile defense, determined to go ahead with it for political purposes if not for the capabilities of the inaugural system.  The initial capability relies entirely on US Aegis warships being stationed in the Black Sea or Eastern Mediterranean, along with an early warning radar in Turkey whose data the Turks – against NATO policy – don’t want shared with Israel.  The vulnerabilities of this initial set-up are obvious, but for the Europeans, the point is the show of commitment.

Writing at NRO earlier this month, Daniel Vajdic assessed Putin as increasingly detached from reality.  I’m not so sure it’s Putin who’s in that condition.

If Greece leaves the Eurozone rather than staying in and swallowing some very nasty-tasting medicine, who will come to Greece’s aid?  The door will be open to Russia, in a way it wasn’t in 2010 when reports abounded that Russia offered Greece a 25-billion-Euro loan, but was rejected by the Greek leadership due to opposition from the EU and US.  Russia is already keeping Cyprus afloat, and has for centuries had a national interest in maintaining the principal geopolitical influence over Southeastern Europe.  Russia and Greece have begun a significant naval rapprochement – but that’s not the only rapprochement going on between the two Orthodox Christian nations.  Russian businessmen promised in September 2011 that Russian investment in Greece would be increasing dramatically, a credible promise given the level of investment Russia (and China) already had in Greek infrastructure.  As the Eurozone crisis rages – literally, at this exact moment – the second Greece-Russia Investment Conference is unfolding on the island of Evia.

The leaders of Europe have a problem.  If they effectively force Greece out – a move that would be understandable from a fiscal and monetary perspective – they will have to outbid Russia if they want to turn around and buy Greece back.  The implications for NATO are as uncertain as anything else.  A NATO missile defense, opposed by Russia and relying on the nations and waterways around Greece?  America has to be acting like the alpha dog to make that one work.

J.E. Dyer: Reflections on Ambassador Shapiro’s ‘We’re ready to attack’ comments in Israel

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Why in the world were these things said?

“It would have been better to solve it (the Iranian nuclear crisis) in a diplomatic way, by using pressure and without applying military force,” the ambassador clarified at the closed meeting, “But that does not mean that this [attack] option is not possible. Not only is it possible, it is ready. The necessary planning is in place to make sure it’s ready.”

Well, ok.  The question is not whether we are ready or should be ready for this option – um, of course we are; would we tell anyone if we weren’t? – the question is why our ambassador in Israel would say this.  (Read the full comments for the unnecessarily explicit flavor.)

First of all, an ambassador – or at least his top advisors – knows that bellicose comments of this kind do not accord with the conventions of diplomacy.  You don’t go around assuring other nations that you’ve been practicing to attack a third party.  Besides being operationally stupid, it’s potentially both destabilizing and destructive to your credibility.

Instead, you state what your national interests are, you clarify the outcome you’re looking for, and you assure the relevant audience that you will do what it takes to protect your interests and secure your outcomes.  The point is not whether the audience knows that you have actually tested a military OPLAN (who cares? We test them regularly), the point is for them to understand exactly what you want and the seriousness of your determination.

A warning (or, in this case, an assurance) that the US is ready to attack Iran was almost certainly given on orders from the White House, since it’s not something a diplomat would naturally be moved to say, or say without permission.  It’s a combination of operational TMI and inflammatory rhetoric: a sort of anti-diplomacy.

Second, this is a threat that can’t be convincingly conveyed in a fey, indirect manner.  If we mean this threat and we want it to affect Iran’s decisions, then say it to Iran.  (I would advise putting it in different terms.)  Putting the threat out there in the guise of an assurance to Israel just looks manipulative.

It also looks spurious and irresponsible, if we’re going to sit down with the Iranians in Baghdad later this month and “negotiate.”  What, exactly, are the Iranians supposed to assume about this threat?  What action of theirs could trigger it?  Does it clarify the US position, or obfuscate it?  With the threat of war, it is not actually a good idea to be overly clever and create doubt about triggers and your intentions. If you’re going to deploy the war card, certainty is the mindset you want your intended audience to have.

In any case, if the US and the Western powers make the offer of a sweet deal for Iran, in the hope of getting some kind of agreement – a prospect endorsed by the analysis of long-time observer Gerald Seib in this video – that signal will be at odds with the over-explicit threat of attack.  It would be hard to be convincing about a coherent position in that case.

Regarding the point on military preparations, I know many readers try to stay abreast of where the aircraft carriers are, and that’s not necessarily a fool’s errand.  It’s important not to go all “Pat Buchanan” about it – there are two carriers in the Persian Gulf region at least twice a year because they are turning over their patrol duties; it’s not a sign of the Apocalypse – but it can be a useful indicator.  That said, I advise you not to try this at home if you aren’t familiar with US Navy operations.  The presence of two or more carriers in the Central Command “AOR” (area of responsibility) is almost always an indicator of strike group turnover – or simply a coincidence due to a rare circumstance like USS Abraham Lincoln’s (CVN-72) recent change of homeport from Everett, Washington to Norfolk, Virginia, which involved an extra transit through (and deployment in) the Middle East.

The US administration announced earlier this year that it would be keeping two carriers on station in the Gulf region for the time being.  That gives the president a ready option in case he wants to ramp up pressure on Iran.  I would not obsess over the carriers, however.  They will undoubtedly participate if there is a strike on Iran – they will be indispensable for keeping the Strait of Hormuz open, and their F/A-18 strike-fighters will no doubt be used for the precision targeting of hardened sites, among other tasks for the airwings – but they may well not be the centerpiece of the operation.

If President Obama were to scope a strike on Iran as I believe he would – narrowly, striking only a limited set of nuclear-related targets – the strike may well be conducted as a “prompt global strike,” according to the doctrine and capability of the same name, which has been in development since the last year of the Bush administration.  It could involve mostly cruise missiles and “global airpower”:  B-2 and B-52 bombers launching their missions at a distance from Iran, including launches from US territory; i.e., Whiteman and Barksdale.  (I doubt that it would involve long-range ballistic missiles, which are not accurate enough for most applications in this kind of strike.)  The strike would certainly be conventional, not nuclear.

All that said, if an agreement is reached with Iran in the next couple of months, it will be because the agreement is advantageous to Iran, delaying the EU sanctions which are to kick in this summer, and requiring nothing of Iran that the mullahs were not willing to concede.  Any agreement that does not entail full, unannounced inspection of all Iran’s suspect facilities and nuclear-related programs, as well as Iran’s adherence to the “Additional Protocol” of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, is an agreement that will not stop the nuclear weapons program.  That kind of agreement, however, is what we are virtually guaranteed to get.

 

Originally published at http://hotair.com/greenroom/archives/2012/05/17/reflections-on-ambassador-shapiros-were-ready-to-attack-comments-in-israel/

J.E. Dyer: Academia – Pro-Palestinians behaving badly

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

No, this wasn’t in the West Bank.  This happened in London on Monday, 14th May.  The Palestine Society of the University of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) held an event at the Khalili Lecture Theatre, advertised with these words: “I am Palestinian!  Representation and Democracy in the Arab Revolutionary Age.”  The event was open to the public, and – as is often the case – was being videorecorded by people in the audience.

Blogger Richard Millett was one of those using a video camera – for the first few minutes.  About 8 seconds into the presentation, Millett was prodded in the shoulder and ordered to stop recording.  When he refused, a man got in his face, demanding he stop recording, and said, “You’re a typical Israeli, you know.”  (Millett is not an Israeli, and it’s not even clear he’s Jewish.  I have no personal acquaintance with him.)  As that confrontation unfolded, a very large man seated in front of Millett got up, towered over Millett, ordered him to leave, and snatched Millett’s backpack, walking out of the auditorium with it.  The audience began rhythmic clapping, shouting at Millett to leave.  Millett tried to make the case for his presence at a meeting open to the public, being held at the taxpayer funded University of London facility, but the audience continued to shout at him – noise for noise’s sake; noise to drown him out and preempt any rational discourse.

Eventually, Millett did leave, in part to ensure the recovery of his personal belongings.  The audience clapped ecstatically for his departure.

If you go through Richard Millett’s website, what you will see is documentation of a number of such events (most of which he was able to remain and record throughout).  Millett is critical, no doubt about that, but all he does is document exactly what the anti-Israel – and often anti-Semitic – activists and lecturers themselves do and say.  He quotes them accurately and gets them on video when he can.  There is nothing unfair about his coverage; it is scrupulously honest.

The University of London should certainly look into this, and ensure that public events can be attended peacefully by anyone, and that videorecording is allowed to all or denied to all equally.  Such enforcement may have little effect, however, on a group mindset that resents not merely criticism but the simple truth.  If a civic or political group, meeting publicly, is not willing to have its activities and statements recorded truthfully by critics, its purpose is suspect.  Forcible suppression of truth only works one way:  those who practice it have wrong intentions.  There can be no good purpose for preventing third parties – i.e., the whole of society, whether friendly or critical – from seeing what is said and done at a public event sponsored by the Palestine Society.

The flip side of preventing the coverage of pro-Palestinian events is silencing supporters of Israel and those who make a pro-Israel – or even just a balanced – case in the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations.  College campuses in the United States are the scene of a growing number of such attempts.

Quite a few of the most noteworthy have taken place in California (although by no means all.  On a slightly different head, see here for a Rutgers event to which putative Israel supporters were denied entry, based on blatant profiling by the sponsors.  And here for the attacks on Israel supporters who mounted political displays at UCLA and Penn State).  Back in 2010, writers for the American Thinker summarized a series of events at California universities at which critical or pro-Israel speech was shouted down – including an event made infamous for this exclamation by Dr. Jess Ghannam, a psychiatry professor at UC-San Francisco (emphasis added): “Now, every single Israeli military official and politician will be afraid to speak publicly. It’s huge!”

In a similar vein, Israeli soldiers giving a presentation at UC-Davis in March 2012 were relentlessly heckled by Palestinian-activist students.  One accused the Israelis of having turned “Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists, and child molesters.”  He hollered at the soldiers (emphasis added): “How many women have you raped?  How many children have you raped?  You are a child molester!”  And he admitted freely: “I can embarrass myself all I want.  I will stand here and I will heckle!  My only purpose today is that this event is shut down!”

J.E. Dyer: You’re Killing Me, Mitt

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

As with so many Romney-related flaps, the one surrounding his observation that he could take credit for President Obama’s restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler has been confused and out of focus. Well, maybe not out of focus, but focused narrowly – and with all the superficiality that can be mustered in 24 short hours – on Romney’s unconscionable triumphalism at Obama’s expense.

The temptation is strong to just let this one go. But it’s actually a perfect example of where Romney is, um, challenged, and why my enthusiasm for him remains tepid. The short version of my point is that the president has no business restructuring auto companies and trying to guide them through “recovery.” He is not empowered by any part of the US Constitution to do this, and it’s a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea in any case.

If I want the services of someone who’s good at reorganizing auto companies, I’ll invest money in a private business. That’s not what we elect a president for. The president of the United States, our highest elected public official, needs to keep his paws off the management of private companies. When he doesn’t, the window is flung open to cronyism, graft, bad business decisions, and distorted, uneconomic incentives.

The US auto industry keeps snuffling up to the public trough – has been doing so for 30 years now – because it is required by the government to operate under unprofitable conditions. It is tended by the federal government as an interest of politically connected constituencies. It has been artificially constrained and incentivized for so many years now that to say it has “recovered” is a wholly political statement, bearing no useful relation to the Big Three’s actual profit-loss or earnings picture, stock price, or any other measure of business health.

In fact, Chrysler’s much-touted “payback” of its taxpayer bailout turned out to involve a shell game in which the US Department of Energy is lending Fiat $3.5 billion so that Fiat can pay off its US Treasury loan and pump Chrysler with cash by exercising an option to buy Chrysler stock. The Washington Times describes the transaction as follows:

So, to recap, the Obama Energy Department is loaning a foreign car company $3.5 billion so that it can pay the Treasury Department $7.6 billion even though American taxpayers spent $13 billion to save an American car company that is currently only worth $5 billion.

That’s government management in a nutshell. Romney can’t manage the auto industry better – not from the Oval Office. No one can. If he wants to run auto companies, he needs to see if Ford, GM, or Chrysler is hiring. If he wants to guide them through bankruptcy, he can become a federal regulator or get himself appointed as a bankruptcy judge – and in either case, follow the law on the matter as written by Congress, rather than getting creative and exercising powers the Constitution doesn’t give him.

When Romney speaks of the US auto industry recovering, he is speaking in the language of big, dirigiste government, accepting at face value the short-term effect of a bailout process that has served mainly to perpetuate unprofitable but politically entrenched conditions. It guarantees that more subsidies will be needed down the road. The taxpayer had to be billed for getting the Chevy Volt built and maintaining the political sway of the UAW, because those are special-interest mandates that no one would pay for voluntarily. The bailout under Obama has simply been a pretext for expanding the unprofitable conditions that make the US auto industry unable to truly “recover,” in the sense of not continuing to need bailouts.

A president who doesn’t see this is hard to get excited about. There is no point in claiming that Romney does see it, when he never speaks as if he does. About the auto industry bailout, what he ought to say is that it was improperly handled by Obama through executive actions that must not serve as precedents; that it hasn’t turned out to be a good deal for the taxpayer; and that due-process bankruptcy without presidential intervention would have been the right way to proceed and should have been defaulted too.

Romney’s utterances on this topic indicate that he is a big-government politician.  Not only is he not offended by the bailout, he’s not offended by the Obama administration’s dirigiste approach to restructuring GM and Chrysler.  He’s taking credit for it.

In the sense that he would not engage in Chicago-style cronyism, I think Romney would be better than Obama.  (There are a number of other ways in which Romney comes out on the long end of the personal- and professional-integrity comparison.)  But in terms of improper autonomy in the executive, and structural opportunities for cronyism, he would probably either set or confirm some very undesirable precedents while in office.  He needs an active, curmudgeonly Congress to thwart him, early and often.

J.E. Dyer: A Tale of Two Embassies

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Are liberty and the right to intellectual freedom – including free speech – on “the right side of history”?  I’m increasingly unsure how the Obama administration would answer that question.  I’m even a little unsure how the American public would answer it.  The latest and most disturbing case in point is the handling of the situation with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who was escorted out of the US embassy in Beijing this week and left in the hands of the Chinese authorities.

Chen, who is blind, was transported to the US embassy on 22 April by well-wishers in China, barely escaping pursuit by authorities.  To secure his departure from the embassy compound, the US agreed to a deal with China by which Chen and his family, who have been tortured and subjected to a brutal form of house arrest for seven years, would be allowed to live, undetained, near a university where Chen could pursue academic studies.  No information has been released as to how the features of that deal would be verified.

Chen reportedly made the decision to leave the embassy when he was told by American personnel that his wife would be beaten by authorities if he did not give himself up.  Chen is in a Chinese hospital, in an extremely vulnerable position, and has been making appeals through the foreign media for help for him and his family.  He has now officially requested asylum of the United States.

Embassies do not make a practice of publicly spiriting asylum-seekers out of host nations, although the embassies of a number of nations, including the US, have quietly assisted over the years in getting asylum-seekers to safety.  During the Cold War, there were official procedures for handling the issue in US embassies and consulates.  Nevertheless, in a publicized case inside the country the dissident seeks to leave, the embassy will not, during normal peacetime relations, take him out of the country by force majeure.

What the embassy can do, however, is offer refuge to the dissident.  The grounds of the US embassy, anywhere in the world, are sovereign US territory.  And what the United States can do is put pressure not on the dissident, but on the dictatorial communist government, to allow Chen and his family to be reunited, and to travel abroad if that’s what they want to do.  Such pressure is more effective when the US has the dissident in safety, and is clearly going to withstand any pressure to give him back to a government that has been torturing and imprisoning him for his beliefs.

The US can put a spotlight on the dissident’s plight, and ensure that the world is watching anything the communist authorities do to his family.  More than that, the president can make it a personal priority to see the dissident released into a safe situation – abroad, if necessary or desired – and a promising future.

How do we know a president and his embassies can do this?  Because it’s what was done by two presidents – Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan – for two Russian Pentecostal Christian families in the former Soviet Union.

On 27 July, 1978, two Pentecostal families from Chernogorsk, in Siberia, burst into the US embassy in Moscow, seeking American help to leave the country.  They had been attempting to emigrate from the USSR for as much as 20 years (in the case of one of their number), which had resulted only in more assiduous oppression by the Soviet authorities.

Of President Carter, we may say that he did at least the minimum by allowing the Pentecostals to remain in the embassy (where they eventually lived for five years).  There is an interesting echo of the accounts of embassy pressure on Chen in this exchange in October 1978 between Carter and the press (view it here in the papers of the Carter administration):

Q:  Mr. President, a family of Russian Pentecostals, the Vaschenkos, are seeking asylum and are lodged in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  They said in letters that have been smuggled out that the embassy is bringing subtle, emotional pressure to expel them into the hands of the Russians, probably at great risk.  Did you direct the embassy to seek their ouster, or are you willing to give them asylum and visas?

The President.  They are Russian citizens, as you know, and have been in the embassy in the Soviet Union, in Moscow, the American Embassy, for months.  We have provided them a place to stay.  We provided them a room to live in, even though this is not a residence with normal quarters for them.  I would presume that they have no reason to smuggle out correspondence to this country since they have the embassy officials’ ability to transmit messages.  I have not directed the embassy to discharge them from the embassy, no.

Reagan had a more proactive approach, one remembered and affirmed by others in later years.  His concern for those suffering persecution in the communist world was genuine and passionate.  Kiron Skinner wrote about Reagan’s intervention with Soviet authorities – including direct appeals to Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov – in his 2007 book Turning Points in Ending the Cold War.  (See excerpts from pp. 103-4 here.)  According to Skinner:

By the summer of 1983, at the height of the Cold War chill, Reagan and Andropov had privately worked out the details of the Pentecostals’ release from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the families were allowed to leave the country.  As Secretary [of State George] Schultz writes in his memoir, “This was the first successful negotiation with the Soviets in the Reagan administration.”  Schultz further notes, “Reagan’s own role in it had been crucial.”

Skinner recounts further the release of well-known dissident Natan Sharansky in 1986 (then known, before his emigration to Israel, as Anatoly Scharansky), as well as Reagan’s advocacy for the Pentecostals and the army of intellectual dissidents in the Soviet Union on his radio program in the 1970s.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/j-e-dyer/j-e-dyer-a-tale-of-two-embassies/2012/05/07/

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