Sunday, March 18, 2018

How to respond to a vile crime

As every news consumer has heard, on March 4 somebody tried to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. Prime Minister Teresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, announced that the weapon was a nerve agent only made in Russia. Members of her government have pointed directly at Vladimir Putin. European nations and, more grudgingly, the United States, have denounced the chemical attack. Britain and Russia have carried out tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. This is a substantial diplomatic crisis.

Over here on this side of the ocean, we haven't heard much about the response from the Labour Party, the official opposition. That should matter; Labour is nearly as strong with British voters as May's Tories. So what is Labour saying? Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, laid out his response in the Guardian.

First and foremost, he reassures that his party understands that something very wrong has taken place. And they want it investigated properly.

There can be no one in Britain who is not outraged by the appalling attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last week. The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is barbaric and beyond reckless. This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services. They have a right to expect full support in their work, just as the public should also be able to expect calm heads and a measured response from their political leaders. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.

Since Labour is always tarred (mostly inaccurately) by its rightwing opponents with coming from a pinkish, commie-sympathizing, pro-Soviet history, Corbyn bluntly denounces the Russia that is.

... Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption. And we pay tribute to Russia’s many campaigners for social justice and human rights, including for LGBT rights. However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a “new cold war” of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent. ...

But he points out that Labour does have a policy idea that would seriously punish Russia for its international misdeeds: stop allowing the London real estate and financial markets to act as a haven for Russian billionaires.

... our capacity to deal with outrages from Russia is compromised by the tidal wave of ill-gotten cash that Russian oligarchs – both allied with and opposed to the Russian government – have laundered through London over the past two decades. We must stop servicing Russian crony capitalism in Britain, and the corrupt billionaires who use London to protect their wealth.

Labour voters remain suspicious of the government in this crisis; they and Corbyn remember that a previous government took them to war in Iraq on the basis of intelligence lies. They want the evidence out before the public -- and if the evidence is good, Labour does have a prescription about what the nation ought to do.

I can't help wondering whether our Democratic leaders would be so relatively capable of responding thoughtfully when/if this country confronts a similar crisis. After all, a majority of us believe, with plenty of evidence, that Russia helped give us an unfit president. We don't react well to Ruskies. And our crony capitalist sector is also awash in corrupt Russian money -- just look at who buys those gold-plated Trump Organization digs.

Our Democratic politicians too often stampede easily when told national security is at stake. I find this even more worth thinking through as the Russia investigation pushes closer and closer to Donald Trump. This president would have no scruples against ginning up a security crisis if he thought it might save his hide. We'll be darn lucky if we don't see this, especially before the midterm elections. Democratic leaders better thing ahead about how to calm and critique (and if need be resist), if push comes to shove.

Ditto the last paragraph if Trump tries to quash the Russia investigation. ...

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