President Obama seems to have weathered the storm of criticism that arose over his whispering to Dmitri Medvedev during the nuclear summit in Seoul. Mr. Obama promised the outgoing Russian head of state that he would be more "flexible" after the election. That is, after he no longer has to put up with the nuisance of having to answer to those pesky American citizens.
Many of us think this administration has been entirely too flexible already. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that was rushed through a lame duck Senate in December 2010 advantaged the Russians. We wouldn't call that hurried effort so much flexible as it was supine.
Two men who could tell us a lot about what post-election "flexibility" might look like are Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. It was Lugar who did the heavy lifting for President Obama in the Senate in 2010 for START.
Both men are old Russian hands. They have had decades of dealing with first the Soviet Union and now Russia. As far back as 1979, Biden and Lugar were enjoying those famed "Moscow Nights" as they luxuriated in the capital of the Evil Empire. We need to know what they said there.
Journalist Claire Berlinski, in her City Journal article from two years ago, wrote about what we have learned from the files of the late, great USSR. She told us of the collective yawn that greeted truly shocking revelations. Liberal journalists just don't care that much.
But we should. For example, Soviet archives show media icon Mikhail Gorbachev chumming with Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad (the late, blood-stained father of the current blood-stained boss in Damascus). Gorbachev agreed with Assad that Zionism was just a form of racism, made worse by its presumptions of Messianism. The idea that the Jews may be a Chosen People who look for a Messiah is wholly offensive to good atheists like Gorbachev.
But what Berlinski related about Biden and Lugar should give us pause.
Vadim Zagladin was a Soviet foreign affairs specialist. He took copious notes on all meetings with visiting dignitaries-like Assad, like Biden and Lugar.
"Unofficially, Biden and Lugar said that, in the end of the day, they were not so much concerned with having a problem of this or that [Soviet] citizen solved as with showing to the American public that they do care for 'human rights.' … In other words, the collocutors directly admitted that what is happening is a kind of a show, they absolutely do not care for the fate of most so-called dissidents." [emphasis added]
This is the impression these two powerful senators made on their Soviet hosts. As a result of their "not caring," thousands of Russians and other nationalities were thrown into the psychiatric hospitals of the KGB. And we did not get an arms control treaty that could even be submitted to a Democratic Senate.
By contrast, President Reagan, whenever he met Gorbachev or any Soviet official, would press and press for specific named dissidents. He wanted the Siberian Seven Pentecostals to be allowed to emigrate. He pressed Gorbachev about Nobel Prize winner Andrrei Sakharov, Jewish "refusenik" Natan Sharansky, and a host of others. Reagan publicly called upon the Soviet Union to abide by the human rights guarantees it had signed at Helsinki.
Reagan never relented. What about arms control, the subject that apparently interested Biden and Lugar most? In 1987, Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
Reagan's policy of peace through strength yielded the most far-reaching arms reduction agreement in modern history. The previous flaccid policy of détente favored by office holders like Biden and Lugar had yielded little but Soviet advances and Western retreat.
It would not be fair to condemn Biden and Lugar for their actions during those long-ago Moscow Nights. Both men have been in office continuously since 1979. We should not rely on the records kept by Vadim Zagladin. After all, he was a Communist wholly committed to the destruction of liberty in the West.
But it is fair to respectfully request of both men that they provide their own accounts of what transpired in the Kremlin. What did they whisper into the KGB's itching ears?
Reagan is not the only one to prove that strength is the best and perhaps the only way to deal with the Russians. During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill went to Moscow in the middle of winter. He found Soviet dictator Josef Stalin rude, offensive, and impossible to deal with. "If you fought the Nazis more, you [British] wouldn't be so afraid of them," Stalin had brusquely told Churchill, the man who defied Hitler's blitzkrieg at a time when Stalin was still supplying the Nazi ruler with wheat.
Back at the British Embassy in Moscow, Churchill exploded in rage. He railed against bloody Stalin. Shocked, the British ambassador to Moscow tried to shush him. "Prime Minister! You must realize that every word you say is being recorded by the secret police, even here."
Instead of whispering-as Barack Obama and, presumably, Biden and Lugar did-Churchill even more loudly denounced Stalin. He raised his voice and said that if Stalin continued in this vein on the morrow, he, Churchill, and his subordinates would return to London and put the entire matter before the War Cabinet.
The next day, Stalin greeted Churchill warmly and proceeded to negotiate with him with all due respect. The wartime alliance against Hitler held.
Vice President Biden, Sen. Lugar: You owe us your own version of your Moscow Nights.