As President Obama spends the day at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying desperately not to get caught dissing Vladimir Putin on an open mic, it appears that the Russians are planning to send their own delegation in the opposite direction. Moscow is naturally quite interested in the current congressional debate over the possible use of military force in Syria. The Atlantic has an article up today by Abby Ohlheiser that details reports of lobbying efforts by the Russians on Capitol Hill.
Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested a plan to directly lobby Congress was in the works on Monday, after meeting with Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin, speakers for the upper and lower houses of Russian parliament. They apparently proposed the idea to Putin, arguing that they could work U.S. lawmakers towards a more “balanced” stance on Syria.
I have to say, my immediate reaction was that this was a bad idea for Russia if what they wanted was for Congress to vote “no”. Several members have already expressed skepticism about President Obama’s plans on a number of different levels. While it still appears likely that the motion will pass, that is not an absolute certainty. However, one thing that I can say for certain is this: suggesting that a “no” vote is essentially a vote for Russia will not serve to encourage lawmakers.
Ohlheiser notes that, “In any case, Speaker of the House John Boehner has already RSVP’d ‘no’ to Russia’s invitation. ‘The Speaker has declined the Russian embassy’s request that he meet with a delegation,’ a Boehner spokesperson told CNN.” I am less than shocked that Rep. Boehner did not want to be seen bowing to the wishes of Russian lobbyists at such a critical time.
Still, it appears that some U.S. representatives have had positive experiences with the Russians in the past. The Atlantic recalls a recent congressional visit to the country:
Russia’s ability to impress and win over American lawmakers hasn’t been all misses. Earlier this summer, a group of GOP lawmakers from the House visited the country on a fact-finding mission related to the Boston Bombings. In the gentle hands of their tour guide, Steven Seagal, Reps Michele Bachmann, Dana Rohrabacher, and Steve King left with reportedly good impressions of the country, bonding with Russian officials over the “threat” of extremist Islam, and of their mutual distaste for Pussy Riot.
Perfect. I now have an answer for the next time that someone asks me, “What do Steven Seagal and Steve King have in common?” (Assuming, of course, that the Steve King they are referring to is the representative from Iowa and not the pastor of my church.) I also have further proof that it is a good thing that Michele Bachmann will no longer be a member of Congress. Sure, she will still hold influence in conservative circles, but at least she won’t be able to vote on important issues, like firing missiles at Syria or naming a post office after someone who did something once.
My suggestion to Russia is that if they want to sow dissension and chaos on Capitol Hill, don’t send over lobbyists. That could create a united front against Russian influence. Just leave our representatives on their own and watch as they sink further and further into backbiting, name calling, and partisan bickering. Don’t worry about the Obama administration – they’ll find a way to make Congress upset, same as always.
Then again, maybe this strategy by Russia is a classic case of reverse psychology. Maybe they are sensing that a “no” vote is possible and want to make sure the motion passes. Why, you ask, would they want the U.S. to conduct military strikes against Syria, the very thing that they have been railing against for some time?
Maybe the Russians are hoping we get bogged down and waste a lot of money. Maybe they believe a small strike will satisfy our need to demonstrate strength without endangering Assad. Maybe they truly have gotten annoyed with Assad and are hoping one of the missiles will hit him by mistake. Maybe they think that unilateral action will hurt our international standing.
Yes, the “reverse psychology” theory may be a bit out there. Then again, it makes about as much sense as the policy the United States has pursued in Syria since 2011. All I know is that when the Russians come to town, something is going down.
Enjoy your time in St. Petersburg, President Obama. It appears that you were able to make it through the initial handshake with Mr. Putin today without too much embarrassment. Now, try to avoid him as much as possible over the next 24 hours and you might just be able to walk out of there with your head held high…or at least not with your tail between your legs.