The Corner

What’s in a Handshake, Etc.

Earlier this morning, we had some technical problems with my column, but those seem to be banished now. Wanted to mention something further — something about one of the themes of this column. I talk about Obama’s foreign-policy gestures, and what they mean to various people. For example, his clasps and grins with Chávez. His New Year’s greeting to “the people and leaders of Iran” — not just the people, but those lovely “leaders,” too. His calling of Iran “the Islamic Republic of Iran” — twice. And so on.

People notice. Dictators and their supporters notice; democrats, would-be reformers, and political prisoners notice. Vladimir Bukovsky is said to have had some advice for Western policymakers, which is to say, Free World policymakers. (I learned this from John Derb.) As you go about your business, you may want to ask, “How will it look to the boys in the camps?” And some of Obama’s moves must look awfully bad to the boys in the camps.

I might mention, too, his decision to reenter the United States in the U.N. Human Rights Council — that sham and farce. (There is also that sick-making bow to the Saudi king.)

Anyway, in my column, I mention Sharansky, and I want to quote him a bit. When he was in the Gulag, he met a fellow prisoner, a Christian named Volodya. And they decided to study the Bible together. (This was in a period when the Gulag authorities permitted it.) In his great and classic memoir, Fear No Evil, Sharansky writes,

We called our sessions Reaganite readings, first, because President Reagan had declared either this year or the preceding one (it wasn’t exactly clear from the Soviet press) the Year of the Bible, and second, because we realized that even the slightest improvement in our situation could be related only to a firm position on human rights by the West, especially by America, and we mentally urged Reagan to demonstrate such resolve.

Yep. What American presidents do matters — even small, seemingly innocuous things, such as declaring a particular year the “Year of the Bible.” You can encourage dictators or you can encourage political prisoners. It is very hard to do both. Sometimes — no, often — you have to deal with dictators, to advance some national interest. But it is not very American — not very decent — to forget the boys in the camps entirely.

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