The Putin regime's moves to tighten controls over foreign NGOs is being portrayed in the West as yet another example of Russia's savage authoritarianism and anti-Western paranoia. While only a drunken apologist could deny Putin's authoritarianism, the real question is whether or not the crackdown on NGOs is a symptom of classic tyrant-paranoia, or if it has a valid basis.
If the Putin regime is being paranoid, then the case of blue-chip NGO Freedom House - an American NGO whose name seems to pop up more than any other in this part of the world, particularly when it comes to the push for democracy - provides a clear example of Henry Kissinger's dictum that "even a paranoid has some real enemies."
Freedom House was founded innocuously enough in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President and one of the great modern champions of human rights, and Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate for president in 1940, uniting the mainstream American political spectrum to ensure that it would not be accused of being ideological. It was founded, according to its website, out of concern "with the mounting threats to peace and democracy...[and has been] a vigorous proponent of democratic values and a steadfast opponent of dictatorships of the far left and the far right."
Who today is the far-left/right dictatorship that Freedom House steadfastly opposes?
James Woolsey, who chaired Freedom House for the past three years and only recently stepped aside, told Radio Free Europe in an interview in October that Russia was one of, if not the, main target. "We are really quite honored that President Putin, who is increasingly coming to head a government that is edging towards fascism in Russia, would be critical of what the NGOs, including Freedom House, were doing to help bring about a movement toward democracy in Ukraine," he said.
He described Russia as "fascist" several times in the interview. "We had a period of time in the early 1990s when we were working cooperatively with the Russian security services, but now apparently they have decided to try and blame the security services in the West for their own movement toward fascism," he said. "Mr. Putin and his movement toward fascism in Russia are on the wrong side of history. They are not going to succeed... ultimately they will lose."
All of this warlike talk might be excusable, even laudable, if it came from a genuine human rights activist who paid for these words. But this is James Woolsey - one of the closest things America has to a Blackshirt (if we're going to abuse this over-abused word as he does). Indeed it's almost comical - in the way that so many insane-rightwing-plots are pure applied black comedy in the Bush Era - that a seemingly-heroic, do-good NGO like Freedom House could be led by one of the most nefarious vertebrates ever to befoul the halls of American power. You'd think that Woolsey, the notorious neocon goon and ex-CIA head, would have better things to do than to front organizations which would seem, on the surface, better suited for the likes of a Jimmy Carter. But then again, it's even scarier to consider that his role there is no accident.
A little background: Woolsey, among other things, was one of the original founding members of the Project for the New American Century, the neocon vanguard which, in 1997, called for: a massive rearming of America to ensure that it had full spectrum dominance; aggressive use of American power, including military, to implement and secure American global domination; and the invasion, occupation, and democratization of Iraq. As most anti-Bush watchers know, the PNAC group famously bemoaned the fact that its imperial policies would meet resistance with the American public: "[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor." Like, as in, a 9/11. What luck!
Two of its key goals explain the nexus between Freedom House and Russia: "[T]o challenge regimes hostile to U.S. interests and values; Promoting the cause of political and economic freedom outside the U.S."
Woolsey's resume of evil is impressive. He helped found the notorious Iraqi National Congress, which provided "proof" about Iraqi WMDs. And he also serves on the Center for Security Policy, headed by fellow goon Frank Gaffney, who in 2004 publicly advised President Bush to level Fallujah (which Bush did), invade Iran and North Korea (which Bush can't but yet may try), and adopt "''appropriate strategies for contending with China's increasingly fascistic trade and military policies, Vladimir Putin's accelerating authoritarianism at home and aggressiveness toward the former Soviet republics, the worldwide spread of Islamofascism." Note how Gaffney, like Woolsey, equates "Islamofascism" with Putin's Russia, making Russia a mortal enemy bent on destroying the US.
And speaking of fascism, Woolsey is also the co-chair of the Committee on the Present Danger, a far-right group (they love that word "committee," like the Bolsheviks they are) famous for launching a three-month network TV scare-campaign in the early 1950s about the "present danger" that the US faced against the Soviet Union before the committee eventually dissovled. After the CPD was revived in 2004, its managing director, Peter Hannaford, was forced to resign when it was revealed that his firm had lobbied on behalf of Austrian fascist Joerg Haider.
Woolsey also boasted in the Wall Street Journal that the National Security Agency used its international eavesdropping network, ECHELON, to spy on European companies in order to give major US corporations a competitive advantage. His reasoning? "We have spied on you because you bribe." As with Freedom House, Woolsey operates by abusing American power in ways once thought unimaginable, and then blaming the other side for uncivilized behavior which naturally provokes us.
This brief dossier is important because it casts the appointment of Woolsey as the chairman of Freedom House as not merely strange or comically sinister, but intentional. Freedom House is just one of the many effective tools used to implement the policies outlined in the Project for the New American Century, and that is why the cross-pollination, in which goons like Woolsey simultaneously head up "human rights" NGOs and far-right think-tanks, makes perfect sense.
Under Woolsey's term, Freedom House played a crucial role in the pro-US revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan - drawing on its experience covertly supporting the first "color" revolution in Serbia in 1999. According to a Washington Post article, "US Advice Guided Milosevic Opposition" (Dec 11, 2000), "U.S.-funded consultants played a crucial role behind the scenes in virtually every facet of the anti-Milosevic drive, running tracking polls, training thousands of opposition activists and helping to organize a vitally important parallel vote count. U.S. taxpayers paid for 5,000 cans of spray paint used by student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia, and 2.5 million stickers with the slogan 'He's Finished,' which became the revolution's catchphrase.
"...The lead role was taken by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's foreign assistance agency, which channeled the funds through commercial contractors and nonprofit groups such as NDI and its Republican counterpart, the International Republican Institute (IRI)."
Freedom House's role included mass-printing Gene Sharp's book From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, which was used as the guidebook for the Serbian student opposition group "Otpor." Otpor became the model for student opposition movements in every color-revolution since, including Ukraine's Pora and Georgia's Kmera.
In Ukraine, Freedom House helped organize the "largest civil regional election monitoring effort" in Ukraine, involving more than 1,000 trained observers. They also organized crucial exit polls showing that Yuschenko had actually won, which gave the Revolution its moral energy - as did their carefully-organized exit polls in Serbia and Georgia.
In Kyrgyzstan, Freedom House provided the printing press for the opposition newspaper My Capital News, which printed damning stories about then-President Akayev's corrupt family. When the Kyrgyz authorities cut off electricity to MCN's offices, Freedom House delivered emergency generators to keep it running - generators provided by the US Embassy.
The moral algebra in this tale of intrigue gets confusing because Freedom House happened to be on the side of the Good Guys in many of these fights. On the other hand, considering the way the revolutions in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have soured, it's hard to say what has been won and lost - unless of course you're measuring the spread of American power and influence.
Indeed, Freedom House is not always on the side of the good guys, as evidenced by its choice in chairmen, as well as in the makeup of its board members - a cast of cartoon-villains which includes such prime-time ogres as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Kenneth Adelman - the same Adelman who had famously predicted that the war in Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Freedom House's sponsors include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a far-right pro-big business foundation which, among other things, took a strong stand in the 60s against affirmative action, and once supported academics who pushed the Bell Curve theory arguing that blacks were genetically less intelligent than whites. During the early years of the Vietnam War, Freedom House argued that American intervention was justified because - yup, you guessed right - it helped the spread of democracy. Why'd they do that? Becuase that's what Freedom House does. It agitates for right-wing America's interests, cynically deploying appeals for democracy and human rights at properly chosen times to to serve the right's global mission.
More recently, Freedom House sided with the far-right in argueing against America joining the International Criminal Court (ironically using the exact same bogus argument that the Defense Department used, citing the possibility that rogue nations like North Korea could bring cases against American "peacekeepers" for crimes against humanity). Today, it still refuses to condemn, let alone even cite, the illegal detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, using the same rationale as the Bush Administration (the inmates are "illegal combatants" rather than POWs and therefore are not entitled to Geneva Convention protections).
One of the most suspect gigs that Freedom House helped kickstart, in 1999, is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, a pro-Chechen "charity" group chaired by notorious Cold War Russophobe Zbigniew Brzezinski. Freedom House has not launched any other pro-Muslim separatist causes except for this one. Among its committee members are, again, James Woolsey, the famous crusader against Islamofascism, as well as "Cakewalk" Adelman, William "Weekly Standard" Kristol, and Max Kampelman, who is also Chairman Emeritus of Freedom House and another OG on the Project for a New American Century. Why would Woolsey, Brzezinski and the rest of the far-right supergoon squad choose, among all oppressed Muslims around the world, to heart-bleed over just the Chechens and only the Chechens? Are you starting to see why the Putin regime is "paranoid"?
Freedom House also developed a soft spot for Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the radical Islamist opposition group in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan before their respective revolutions. Freedom House's work with HuT was one reason cited by Uzbek authorities for throwing Freedom House out of the country.
Since 2002, Freedom House's annual "freedom reports" have been used as the basis by the White House to determine international aid, primarily through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The reports are also regularly cited by both the American media and Congress. Since 2004, Russia has been demoted to the very bottom ranking - "Not Free" - along with genuinely tyrannical regimes like North Korea and Libya. To those of us who live here, even those of us who oppose the direction Putin has taken, this is not only surprising but nauseating, an example of the worst type of "moral relativism" that these same right-wingers constantly denounce.
Interestingly, a feudal monarchy like Kuwait gets a higher "freedom" rating than Russia, while pro-American Egypt, whose dictator-for-life Mubarak recently won another "election" with 89 percent of the vote, and then subsequently jailed his rival for five years, was praised and upgraded on the freedom scale for apparently assisting in the formation of a few women's groups. What is the difference between Kuwait and Russia? Go back to the Project for a New American Century: one "promotes" American interests, and the other "opposes" American interests. Therefore, the other, Russia, is "Not Free" and "fascist."
In light of this story, it's hard to listen to all of the Bush Administration's Orwellian bleating about "civil society" and "democracy" in the fight to keep foreign-funded NGOs operating in Russia as they have since Yelstin's time. In fact, Russian authorities would have to be suicidal not to tighten control. Woolsey himself outlined the role he saw them play: "I think what is important is to help build up civil society, the student organizations, the NGOs and the others that the FSB and President Putin hate so much." This isn't about civil society; it's about fighting for America.
In September of 2005, Woolsey gave up his post as chairman of Freedom House. The new chairman is Peter Ackerman. And, not surprisingly, Ackerman is also the chairman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, an organization which helps train and supply color-coded revolutions. Its website says that the ICNC "develops and encourages the use of civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend democracy...provides assistance in the training and deployment of field advisors, to deepen the conceptual knowledge and practical skills of applying nonviolent strategies in conflicts throughout the world where progress toward democracy and human rights is possible."
So the McDonald's of NGOs is run by avowed US imperialists and who repeatedly and aggressively attack Russia as "fascist" and push to challenge and isolate Russia, which they see as much of a threat to American hegemony as Islamofascism. And then they whine about human rights when the Russian government moves to curb their activities on Russian soil.
The real tragedy in this is that genuinely admirable, courageous NGOs, like Memorial and Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, will suffer from the aftershocks of Woolsey and Co.'s abuse of NGOs. In the end, civil society, democracy and human rights will deteriorate, allowing the Bush goons to cite it as a reason to step up the battle against Russia. And as always the Russian people will be caught in the crossfire in a cruel and savage game, where words like "freedom" and "sovereignty" are mere Trojan Horse weapons used by one elite battling for power against another.