Give me a break! dep’t

George Bush told his soulmate Vladimir Putin that Russia ought to strive to become more like Iraq, with a free press and freedom of religion. (No, seriously. He really said it.)

Really and truly, The Onion should sue BushCo for plagiarism or unfair competition or something:

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected a suggestion from U.S. President George W. Bush that his country should emulate democracy in Iraq.

During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

“I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there’s a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same,” Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly.”

Hat tip: Greg Djerijian, who thinks the comment is “certifiable.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

15 thoughts on “Give me a break! dep’t”

  1. Between this, the pig thing and photo-ops while Beruit burns, this has to be the nadir of U.S. presidential diplomacy. It's a national humiliation.

  2. Mark, I just want to see if I understand you correctly–you seem to be defending as utterly obvious the idea that the kind of sacrifice of basic civil liberties that Russians have made under Putin is well worth it, to prevent the kind of breakdown in public order we see in Iraq. Is that correct?

  3. Actually, Dan, I think that Putin's comment is mainly meant to remind Bush (among others) that there are several different kinds of democracy, and that the kind of democracy Iraq has at the moment is hardly a desireable one. The Iraq and Russian models of "democracy" aren't the only ones, and to try and hold up the Iraq model as some kind of paragon to which the Russians should strive is flat out ridiculous.
    As it currently stands, Iraq's "democracy" consists of a nearly non-functional government that is constantly bogged down in sectarian debate over even the most basic issues, making it difficult to get any actual legistlation passed, and most of the country seems to be controlled NOT by the democratically elected government, but by the various sectarian militias who use the constant threat of violence – including terrorist attacks – to force people in their "territories" to conform to whatever rules and restrictions they wish to impose.
    I doubt there are many outside the Russian government who would say that the sacrifices in civil liberties made by the Russian people are "worth it" – just as I would doubt that there are many outside the American government (and the ruling party) who would say that the sacrifices in civil liberties made by the American people are "worth it", because in both cases the kind of break down that has occured in Iraq is highly unlikely to occur, and so the reduction in civil rights is largely unnecessary.
    As has been said "those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither." Yes, safety is important, but there are ways to help make the population safer without curtailing the rights of the country's citizens. Both the Russian and American governments need to remember that.

  4. Surreal.
    You have to go to broad satire to find anything comparable. In "Flash for Freedom", one of the splendid fake memoirs by George Macdonald Fraser of Harry Flashman, Rugby bully and all-round Victorian imperial cad, our hero is introduced to the youngish Disraeli in 1848:
    "Bad work for your lot in the Lords, hey?" says I, and he lowered his lids at me in that smart-affected way he had. "You know, the Jewish Bill getting thrown out. Bellows to mend in Whitechapel, what? Bad luck all round," I went on, "what with Shylock running second at Epsom, too. I had twenty quid on him myself."
    .. Friend Codlingsby just put his head back and looked at me thoughtfully. "Indeed," says he. "How remarkable. And you aspire to politics, Mr Flashman?"
    "That's my ticket," says I.
    "Truly remarkable," says he. "Do you know, I shall watch your career with bated breath."

  5. I am still trying to get word on the end of the exchange.
    According to what's quoted on Brad Delong's site, this ends with Bush saying "Just wait" which is either ominous or ridiculous depending on your persuasion, but I haven't seen any other site mentioning this.

  6. I suspect that "just wait" comment from bush meant that Russia was next to be invaded by the current administration. Or that the administration is planning an assasination of Putin, or cooking up a coup.

  7. Assuming that GWB isn't completely round the bend, "Just wait" can only mean "Wait and see. Things in Iraq will improve." That's still a rather unhinged thing to say if understood as a prediction, but I suppose it might be justified as pep-talk material.
    And of course the former KGB agent whose soul is so transparent to Mr. Bush doesn't actually aspire to any sort of democracy whatever, unless it's "democratic centralism."

  8. Mark: it gets better. If you actually check the transcript, you'll see that Bush replied to Putin's reply. What did he say?
    "BUSH: Just wait."
    I'm not kidding. He actually said this.

  9. "That's an awesomely creative interpretation, Dan."
    Well, I was trying to be charitable. The plain gist of Bush's comment is that even a place like Iraq, with all its violence and chaos, has more political freedom and civil liberties than Russia, and that Putin should draw a lesson from that and not stifle freedom in his country for the sake of stability. That's an utterly unexceptionable point, and I *could* have interpreted Mark's ridicule of it as a demonstration of ignorance about the state of political freedom in either Iraq or Russia (or both), or as the result of a clumsy misunderstanding of Bush's point, or as a neo-authoritarian/totalitarian's general assertion that political freedom inevitably leads to violence and chaos.
    But the most generous interpretation I could think of was that Mark believes that Russia *in particular* is in danger of sliding into Iraq-like mayhem without a strongman like Putin at the helm. This is by no means a foolish, ignorant or nonsensical belief, given what preceded Putin. It's just that I wouldn't expect it of someone who has expressed such intense concern about the comparatively tiny, even trivial, recent curtailments of civil liberties in America.

  10. Being charitable to this administration is like lending ten thousand dollars to the brother-in-law who already piffed away the last three similar "loans" in Atlantic City.

  11. Dan: "The plain gist of Bush's comment is that even a place like Iraq, with all its violence and chaos, has more political freedom and civil liberties than Russia,'''".
    Which means that Bush is lying.

  12. I see a lot of leftists are still, even after the fall of communism, a bit in denial about Russia. It's arguable whether Russia is, at this exact moment, slightly more, or slightly less, democratic than Iraq. It's pretty clear, however, that Iraq's trajectory is in the direction of more democracy, and Putin is steering Russia in the direction of less. (While trying to spike democratic governments in their former subject states.)
    And so Bush's "Just wait" is indeed on point. If Iraq isn't quite yet the more democratic, it soon will be.

  13. Brett, I don't see anyone arguing that Russia is democratic, or even that it's more democratic than Iraq. What we're arguing is that it's insane to hold Iraq up as a model for any other country to be emulating at the moment.

  14. That's just the point, isn't it? That if even Iraq, with all the fighting, manages to be democratic, Putin has no excuse for crushing democracy in Russia.
    The fact that Iraq has other problems is a component of the argument, it doesn't contradict it.
    It's rather as if a co-worker pointed out to you that Sally, the single mother with the drug problem, had a better work attendence record than you, and you defended yourself by angrilly stating that you had no desire to have a child out of wedlock.
    Everyone who wasn't trying to make excuses for you would understand how lame that defense was.

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