“Microaggression” has become a fashionable term in the academy, but it applies better in the realm of international relations, where American adversaries are constantly needling and testing the world’s sole superpower.
The Iranians did this in January when they detained two boatloads of U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy has just completed a review of the incident and disciplined nine sailors and officers for their actions that day. While the Navy personnel made mistakes that allowed them to be captured, the Navy found that Iran violated international law by preventing the boats from leaving, detaining their occupants for 16 hours, videotaping propaganda films involving the crew members, and damaging equipment on their boats.
The Navy report stands in stark contrast to the words of Secretary of State John Kerry after the sailors were released: He thanked “the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response.” Needless to say, the administration did not let this calculated humiliation stop it from concluding the one-sided nuclear deal with Iran that rewards the mullahs for their bad behavior all over the Middle East.
The Obama administration, as far as one can tell, has been equally supine in the face of numerous microaggressions from Russia. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post recently reported that the Russian intelligence services, the FSB, is harassing U.S. diplomats all over Europe. According to Rogin, “Diplomats reported that Russian intruders had broken into their homes late at night, only to rearrange the furniture or turn on all the lights and televisions, and then leave. One diplomat reported that an intruder had defecated on his living room carpet.”
The harassment is most intense in Moscow, with diplomats reporting “slashed tires and regular harassment by traffic police.” In Obama’s first term, Rogin continued, “Russian intelligence personnel broke into the house of the U.S. defense attache in Moscow and killed his dog.”
This harassment is continuing and getting worse. In a follow-up dispatch, Rogin reported: “In the early morning of June 6, a uniformed Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) guard stationed outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow attacked and beat up a U.S. diplomat who was trying to enter the compound.” The diplomat suffered a broken shoulder and had to be evacuated from the country for medical treatment.
In reply, the Russian Foreign Ministry preposterously claims that it was the American who attacked the Russian guard and not vice versa. More plausibly, the Russians claim that the “diplomat” was actually an intelligence operative working under diplomatic cover. That may well be the case, but so what? Diplomatic immunity protests genuine diplomats and intelligence officers alike. It’s not as if the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has more spies in it than the Russian Embassy in Washington. Both countries routinely use diplomatic cover to station intelligence personnel abroad. That doesn’t give the other country leave to physically assault anyone. The standard procedure if a diplomat is caught spying is to declare him persona non grata and expel him.
One would think that the Russian actions would result in expulsions of Russian diplomats in the United States as well as other consequences. But that hasn’t happened as far as I can tell. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any consequence at all beyond ineffectual protests from the State Department. Instead of putting Russia into the deep freeze, the administration is cooking up cockamamie schemes to cooperate with Russia in Syria to fight terrorists such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front despite plentiful evidence that the only Russian objective in Syria is to prop up the murderous Assad regime.
Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, has it right in denouncing the administration’s inaction: “The problem is there have been no consequences for Russia,” he told Rogin. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner, they’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship.”
The Obama administration is hardly unique in its failure to deliver a muscular response to these sorts of microaggressions. The Bush administration was no better about responding in 2001 when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft in international airspace. The plane was subsequently forced to land on Hainan Island where its crew was detained and interrogated. They were not released until the administration issued a groveling letter saying it was “very sorry” for the American conduct, which was entirely lawful and proper.
It’s usually easier to let these small things slide instead of precipitating a big crisis. But when you don’t respond to microaggressions in dealing with dictatorships, greater aggression is likely to follow.