Saturday, 22 June 2024

    Putin, Xi, and the Pirate King

    In the news this week, Alexei Navalny, the dissident Russian politician who was serving 30 years in an Arctic Gulag, died. Navalny was a longtime rival of Tsar Vlad, had campaigned against corruption – Putin’s corruption – and after returning to Russia in 2021, had been found guilty of “extremism” and “fraud” – what were clearly nonsense charges, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. 

    Navalny had been in Germany, where he had been taken for treatment after being poisoned (August 2020). It was later determined that he had been exposed to “novichok,” a nerve agent. The FSB (former KGB) was implicated in the attack, which probably consisted of putting the nerve again on his underwear, where it would be absorbed through the skin.  He returned to Russia in January 2021 and was immediately arrested, brought to trial and convicted. 

    He had recently been moved to IK-3 penal colony (Polyarnyi Volk (Polar Wolf)) in Kharp, about 1,000 miles north-east of Moscow. He was 47. His death was, sadly in this troubled world, not a surprise, though his official cause of death has yet to be established. As Inspector Reynault would observe, they are probably working out whether he was shot trying to escape or it was suicide. Navalny was 47.

    That Tsar Vlad would kill one of his opposition should surprise no one. He has a long history of such actions.

    Some folks are using this as proof we must not deal with Russia, we must fight on, etc. He is evil and can’t be trusted. 

    Well, yes, he is evil and no, he can’t be trusted.

    But let’s take a deep breath. Let’s list those leaders of nations who we can’t trust. Start with everybody’s favorite panda, Emperor Xi. How many people in concentration camps in China? At least a million, probably substantially more. How many have been through re-education camps in the last 10 years or so? Estimates vary, but multiple millions, some estimates run as high as 8 million. 

    China continues to grind down and destroy Tibet, a country that has been going through a slow, steady – literal – genocide for decades.

    Hong Kong’s freedoms have been suppressed, standard freedoms of speech and press and religion don’t exist. Chinese companies, with the full knowledge of Beijing, push out fentanyl that killed nearly 100,000 Americans last year. Between 1979 and 2015, under Chinese government direction, there were an estimated 400 million forced abortions. The list is incomplete, but this is what Emperor Xi capable of.

    Yet, we’re told we need to talk to Beijing, compromise, work with Beijing.

    Iran feeds weapons into the Houthis and Hezbollah, while denying basic rights in their own country, under the direct supervision of the Ayatollah. Iran is in the process of becoming a nuclear power – if it hasn’t already. And is trying to throttle world trade.

    And again, we have folks in communication with Tehran. Last summer we sent $6 billion to Tehran for the release of 5 Americans.

    The point in all this is that, as much of a thug as Tsar Vlad is, and he is, we are dealing with other thugs around the world; it’s the nature of leaders of many countries from time immemorial. Which is not to say that we are necessarily doing a good job in our dealings, only that we are dealing.

    But it also means we need to recognize that the first criteria that we should have for such actions is a clear understanding of US interests and whether dealing with various evil regimes is necessary to further our interests.

    There are only two other practical options: one, we shut out everything and every one, button up the country, and talk to no one ever again. Obviously, that won’t work – for a whole host of reasons, buttoning up the border being high on the list of why we can’t…

    The other option is to go to war with everyone we think is bad… 

    That isn’t going to work either.

    We are left with the simple reality, one not commonly addressed by Washington in the last 33 years, that we need to understand our – US – interests and at the same time recognize that we are surrounded by many evil characters around the world. We don’t need to be their friends, but in many cases we need to deal with them.

    It’s also a warning. As Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King noted:

    But many a king on a first class throne,

    If he wants to call his crown his own,

    Must manage somehow to get through

    More dirty work than e’er I do.

    Just so. Gilbert and Sullivan were able to make light of it but they touch a truth: the workings of many, indeed most, governments in history have been marked with all sorts of crimes against humanity in general and often their own people in particular. And under increasing stress the veneer of civilization is revealed to be quite thin; any government can find itself shedding civilization and embracing evil. The only thing that keeps a government from stripping away that veneer is a strict adherence to the law and to morals, to an understanding of duties and behaviors that come before the law. For the US, that means a strict adherence to the Constitution and to the Bill of Rights.

    We need to deal with Putin, and Xi, and the Ayatollah and a host of other figures. But we need to first understand what US interests are, and we need to both maintain our morals and our Constitution, while remembering that the men we are dealing with have been, are, and will remain, evil; men who wish us ill, and they will contour to do so, no matter what nice words they say. We must deal with them from time to time; we must not become like them.