Official Washington influences the opinions of the American people about world affairs by demonizing certain foreign leaders, making them objects of both revulsion and ridicule, thus justifying “regime change” strategies, a particularly dangerous game when played against nuclear-armed Russia, as John Ivens explains.
On the morning of Jan. 16 at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Clinton, Iowa, I met Madeleine Albright. She looked different than I remembered her as the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State during Bill Clinton’s second term. She looked less imposing than before, more like a little barn owl seeking refuge from a bitterly cold Iowa winter.
Secretary Albright was acting as a surrogate for Hillary’s campaign. That Saturday, she was motivating volunteers to canvas and make phone calls for Hillary. I sensed that Secretary Albright came to Clinton, Iowa, to energize older folks on the same weekend Chelsea Clinton was in Davenport appealing to voters of younger generations.
But I thought Secretary Albright might be a good source of insight into Hillary’s perspectives on foreign policy. In Clinton’s 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, Hillary identified Albright as her “longtime friend and partner in promoting rights and opportunities for women.”
I asked Secretary Albright how she would advise Hillary Clinton when negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She replied that we should keep talking to Putin, but we should be wary that he expands Russian influence at every opportunity. Secretary Albright said we should “draw the line” when “little green men” invade other countries (a reference to events in Crimea in 2014, I presume).
Secretary Albright told about when she accompanied Bill Clinton to a summit in June 2000 with Putin. She wore a button showing three monkeys, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” Putin asked why she was wearing this button: “We always watch what pins Secretary Albright wears. Why are you wearing those monkeys?”
And Albright said, “because of your evil Chechnya policy.” Putin was not amused. He protested, “You shouldn’t be dealing with the Chechens.” President Bill Clinton gave Albright this look like “Are you out of your mind? You have just screwed up the summit.”
In retrospect, the monkey pin incident might be thought of as a humorous aside, but perhaps Secretary Albright besmirched both nonhuman primates and Russians, a dubious example of tact and diplomacy in one of Bill Clinton’s first summits with the new Russian President.
The fighting on both sides of the Chechnyan conflict deserves a great deal of scrutiny by a war crime tribunal; nonetheless, Putin was fighting an insurgency of violent Islamic jihadists in league with Osama bin Laden. This is why Putin was among the first national leaders to express support and sympathy for the United States after 9/11. That is the sad irony of Madeleine Albright’s monkey button.
At a $1,500/plate fundraiser in March 2014 during the early phase of the crisis in Ukraine (after a U.S.-backed putsch had overthrown elected President Viktor Yanukovych and as ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s south and east were under attack from the new regime and seeking protection from Russia), Hillary was quoted in regards to Putin’s response: “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s. … All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”
In 2014, Bill Clinton was quoted, “Putin wants to re-establish Russian greatness, not in Cold War terms — in Nineteenth Century -empire terms.”
In Hard Choices, Hillary devotes an entire chapter titled “Russia, Reset and Regression,” dealing with her issues with Putin. She narrates her awkward experiences negotiating with Putin, and she seems frustrated about her working relationship with Putin as a negotiating partner. But oddly enough, she makes no such comparisons of Putin to Hitler anywhere in this chapter. Instead, she recommends a “pause” button instead of a “reset” button, adding:
“But we should hit the pause button on new efforts. Don’t appear too eager to work together. Don’t flatter Putin with high level attention. … And make it clear that Russian intransigence wouldn’t stop us from pursuing our interests and policies regarding Europe, Central Asia, Syria and other hotspots. Strength and resolve were the only language that Putin would understand.”
I thought, “Enough Already! Enough dark arts of demonizing leaders of other countries! Enough references to ‘He who’s name must not be spoken, the dark lord Vladimir.’“
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, despite his notoriety, is an accomplished negotiator. He has recently advised that such demonization reveals a failure in foreign policy.
As Americans, we don’t get to vote for a Russian president. That particular right to vote belongs to Russians who live in the largest nation on the planet, spanning ten time zones and possessing an arsenal of nuclear weapons comparable in numbers to ours.
Russian national history begins four centuries before American natives had their first encounter with Columbus. Russians are as well educated and typically speak more languages than Americans. There are three nations that need to join together in agreements to address urgent climate change problems in the Arctic: the United States, Canada and Russia.
What Americans can do, is to vote for a president who can make peace with Russian leaders. More questions about peacemaking and diplomacy need to be asked and answered in the 2016 election cycle.