Arriving at a biker's convention in Ukraine on his Harley Davidson trike, Vladimir Putin offered a few observations on his recent celebratory meeting with the 10 Russian sleeper agents deported from the United States. "They had a very difficult fate," the former KGB colonel noted sympathetically. "They had to carry out a task to benefit their motherland's interests for many, many years without a diplomatic cover, risking themselves and those close to them."
The reunion was heartwarming. They sang patriotic songs and "talked of life." Putin assured them, reports the Associated Press, that they would have good jobs and a "bright" future.
How sweet. But before they ride off into the Russian sunset on their Harleys, it's worth pausing to consider just what chumps we have been throughout this episode. That Putin should be utterly brazen and unrepentant about this breach of law and diplomatic etiquette is not surprising. But our conduct, both official and unofficial, was pathetic.
Let's review. From the start, the Obama administration reacted to the exposure of the spy ring as if we were the ones who should be embarrassed. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued an angry denunciation of the arrests, calling them "unfounded" and in pursuit of "unseemly goals." Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added that it was "regrettable" that these arrests should have occurred at a time when the U.S. claimed to seek a "reset" of relations.
Whoa. Who spied upon whom? Surely it was the Russians whose commitment to a "reset" in relations was called into question? But no, the White House and State Department pretty much confirmed Lavrov's interpretation. State Department spokesman Phil Gordon stressed that the Justice Department was on its own "channel" and that the arrests, far from casting a shadow over the new relationship with Russia, merely highlight the need for greater "trust and cooperation" between us. As for President Obama, spokesman Robert Gibbs said he had "no reaction" to the arrests and was sure it would not affect our relations with Russia.
So eager was Obama to avoid giving offense to the nation that violated our laws and sovereignty that he rushed to repatriate the spies in what must have been the fastest trade in espionage history. Few seemed to notice or care that by bundling them back to Mother Russia so precipitously, we sacrificed any opportunity to question them about their contacts here (i.e., potential American traitors), other possible sleeper cells, or anything else. Of course, it's possible that the conventional wisdom -- that they cost Russia a pretty penny without producing any valuable intelligence -- is true. But now we'll never know.
The American press also behaved poorly. Many Washington reporters demanded to know why the arrests had come so soon after Obama and Dmitry Medvedev shared a burger -- recapitulating the State Department narrative that it was somehow ungracious of us to arrest their spies. And those were the serious members of the press! Most were not serious, and amused themselves posting sexy photos of Anna Chapman. She "could have warmed up any Cold War night," leered the Washington Post.
But leave it to NPR to supply the most, ahem, party-line reaction. Reporting on June 29, Dina Temple-Raston introduced her story this way: "Anyone who picked up a copy of El Diario La Prensa, New York's largest Spanish-language daily, would have heard of Vicky Pelaez. She'd been a reporter and columnist at the paper for 20 years. So imagine the reaction of her colleagues when they found out that she and her husband were arrested this week as Russian agents." Pelaez's boss, Gerson Borrero, was "shocked, surprised, incredulous ... I thought it was a joke ... She's just like any other journalist. She happens to be writing in Spanish but nothing out of the norm, nothing that would indicate to me that she was a part of this." Temple-Raston then quoted a Barnard professor who assured listeners that these spies were "holdovers from a bygone era" who had not harmed U.S. interests at all.
Very soothing. But National Review's Jay Nordlinger reports that on her desk, Pelaez kept photos not just of Che Guevara but of Abimael Guzman (founder of Peru's crazed Shining Path, a Maoist terror group). She routinely praised Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and other leftists. Fidel Castro, she wrote, "is already immortal," and he quoted her with gratitude as well.
What's wrong with us? The editor of La Prensa is shocked that such a woman was in the pay of Moscow? NPR finds it equally mystifying? And no one, from the White House to the tabloids, is worried about whether hanging a "kick me again" sign on our backs is a good idea?