Wednesday, June 30, 2004


...and Still the Wounded Lion!

Anne Applebaum exposes the ridiculous farce of the Department of Homeland Security's Chechnya policy in her Washington Post column Two-Faced Chechnya Policy today. Last month a Boston court granted Ilyas Akhmadov, former foreign minister of the Chechen separatist government, political asylum in the US.
Two days after the judge's decision, DHS lawyers appealed it, on the grounds that Akhmadov is a terrorist. Although conceding that Akhmadov was part of a government that had "spoken out against" terrorism, the appeal argued that his "actions and comments" have "furthered acts of terrorism and persecution by Chechen separatists," and that he should therefore be deported. To anyone who has ever heard them speak, the text of this appeal would sound like nothing so much as the work of Russian security officers, not U.S. officials. Rumor has it that the State Department has protested, on precisely those grounds.

What interests me, though, is not some inside-the-Beltway battle for influence between DHS and the State Department but rather what this strange tale says about how cavalierly we use our own power, in Chechnya and anywhere else not on the front pages. We may think of these places as insignificant, but the feeling is not mutual. On the contrary, every nation in the world considers its relationship with the United States to be one of its most important. Around the world, the words of the U.S. government carry extra weight. Phrases from the DHS appeal will be quoted in the Russian media, used in other court cases and cited as a precedent: "Look, the U.S. government thinks Akhmadov is a terrorist"; or "Look, the U.S. government is dumping moderate Chechens"; or "Look, the U.S. government doesn't care anymore about human rights."
Put another feather in the cap of Bush's war on terrorism. Applebaum is right, Chechnya does resonate in the Muslim and Arab world. Chechnya is one of the major battlegrounds for "jihadists" or whatever you want to call them - Islamic mercenaries willing to travel to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya or Iraq or Pakistan. Of course, this could have been avoided had the Chechen separatists, moderates looking to establish a democratic state and break off from the failed Soviet Union. Applebaum points out that these factors have resulted in US diplomatically having a soft spot for Chechnya:
Theoretically, U.S. policy toward Chechnya is clear enough. Although we consider Chechnya to be "an internal Russian matter," we do say that we want the war to end by negotiation, and we do believe that there is someone for the Russians to negotiate with. Indeed, when the Great and the Good speak about Chechnya, which isn't often, they usually sound like Steven Pifer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. In 2003, for example, Pifer told the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that "we do not share the Russian assessment that the Chechen conflict is simply and solely a counterterrorism effort. . . . While there are terrorist elements fighting in Chechnya, we do not agree that all separatists can be equated as terrorists."
But the war on terrorism has changed that. President Bush not only desires Putin's support (since it's hard to come by in other places where it didn't used to be so hard) but he cannot debate Putin given his rhetoric on the war on terrorism. No negotiations with terrorists, right? So Putin won't negotiate on Chechnya. And that's where I think Applebaum falls short in her critique. She puts the entire blame on Homeland Security, calling on Tom Ridge to withdraw DHS's appeal. But it's not just about Homeland Security. It's the Russian interests, it's the war on terrorism, it's the anti-Muslim rhetoric that resonates in the White House these days. Chechnya isn't becoming another Palestine - to some degree it's been that way for a while (just on a smaller scale). And it's not going to change until "the Great and the Good: senior judges and top ambassadors, senators and presidents, and famous names and famous faces" that run foreign policy (according to Applebaum) are given the freedom to enact policy outside of the frameword of George Bush's war on terrorism.

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