Thursday, August 08, 2013

Cat Fight Between New Republic's Julia Ioffe and Lawrence O'Donnell

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New Republic Senior Editor Julia Ioffe tore Lawrence O'Donnell to pieces in her column. Ioffe has reported from Russia for three years. O'Donnell doesn't let Ioffe's superior knowledge in Russia politics get in the way of his narrative of Vladimir Putin having Godlike powers. Ioffe explains in her column.

* Vladimir Putin is not omnipotent. He does not control everything that happens in the Russian Federation, a vast and often inhospitable landmass that spans 10 time zones. * Similarly, Barack Obama does not have total control over the minutiae of the United States of America. * Putin does not orchestrate, he reacts. Putin is no chess player. He is a knee-jerk, short-sighted little tyrant. Don't give him credit where credit isn't due. * Americans, especially Americans who have never been to Russia, overestimate the abilities of both Putin and the Russians. Because, I mean, come on. Tank! * The Russians did not create the Snowden situation; Julian Assange and the U.S. government did. Assange insinuated himself into the situation and sent Snowden to Ecuador (the country granting him asylum) through Russia (his great friend). * The Obama administration trapped Snowden in Russia. The U.S. unsealed the charges before it had Snowden in custody, revoked his passport, then downed the plane of the president of a sovereign state over other sovereign states because it thought Snowden was on board. The only place, by design, where Snowden could go was back to the U.S. Where he was charged with espionage, for which the maximum punishment is death. Russia is a brutal place where whistleblowers are harassed and killed, but Russia, unlike the U.S., has no death penalty. And it is only because the Russians made a stink about it, that Eric Holder was forced to come out and assure the Russians that Edward Snowden won't be put to death. This happened over a month after Snowden's arrival in Moscow, and after the charges of espionage were unsealed. * If a Russian Edward Snowden ended up in JFK Airport, there is no way in hell we'd turn him over to the Russians. Not in a hundred years, and not ever. * You can't back Putin into a corner and leave him no options. If you are a world leader worth your salt, and have a good diplomatic team working for you, you would know that. You would also know that when dealing with thugs like Putin, you know that things like this are better handled quietly. Here's the thing: Putin responds to shows of strength, but only if he has room to maneuver. You can't publicly shame him into doing something, it's not going to get a good response. Just like it would not get a good response out of Obama. * The Obama administration totally fucked this up. I mean, totally. Soup to nuts. Remember the spy exchange in the summer of 2010? Ten Russian sleeper agents—which is not what Snowden is—were uncovered by the FBI in the U.S. Instead of kicking up a massive, public stink over it, the Kremlin and the White House arranged for their silent transfer to Russia in exchange for four people accused in Russia of spying for the U.S. Two planes landed on the tarmac in Vienna, ten people went one way, four people went the other way, the planes flew off, and that was it. That's how this should have been done if the U.S. really wanted Snowden back. * However, the decision to blow off the Moscow summit was a good one. See yesterday's post. * I am not a Putin apologist. I think he and his people do bad things, like kill people and fleece the country for its wealth. But neither do I think he's oppressing the Russian masses. He is their most extreme and natural, their most post-Soviet manifestation. There.

European countries view the death penalty differently than the United States. Putin would have received grief domestically if Snowden was sent back to the United States to be executed. Putin cares more about his poll numbers than the United States justice system. Putin doesn't have a love for whistleblowers. Putin just doesn't need the grief.

Ioffe made an important point of the United States forcing Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane to land in Austria is important. Putin would have looked weak if he gave up Snowden after the Bolivia incident. Vladimir Putin never wants to appear weak. Ioffe pointed out that Putin would only give up Snowden if he could save face. The United States never provided that option. It didn't help with the heavy-handed language coming from members of Congress. Of course, Donnell didn't want to hear nuance, so he yelled over Ioffe. That explains why Ioffe will likely never appear on O'Donnell's show again.

My main beef with O'Donnell is not that he wouldn't let me make these 11 points—because, let's face it, that's not what the TV is for—but that he did exactly the same shit Russians did to me when I was in Russia. They assumed that the U.S. and its government was one sleek, well-functioning monolith, that Obama was omnipotent, and that everyone in the world, including other important (and nuclear!) world leaders, act and must act as Russia demands it should, using Russian foreign policy calculus, and with only Russian interests in mind.

Sound ridiculous? Believe me, it sounds just as insane in reverse. The problem is that this was not in the ranting comments section, but was coming from the host of a prime time, national television show. And if you don't have the good sense and education or, hell, the reporting experience to know better, then just let the guests you invited on speak.

Otherwise, don't waste my fucking evening.


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