06.06.13 8:45 AM ET
Steven Seagal and the League of Hollywood Halfwits
It was one of those worthless congressional delegations, full of grave purpose, that amounted to nothing more than a taxpayer-funded vacation and a propaganda coup for the wrong side. Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Steve King (R-Iowa), and Bill Keating (D-MA) slogged around Moscow, appearing at the offices of the dreaded FSB (successor to the dreaded KGB), solemnly visiting the site of the Beslan school massacre, and chatting with various Duma representatives as part of a bumbling “investigation” into the radicalization of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
According to Rohrabacher, the group’s mission to Moscow was facilitated by former Hollywood tough guy and current freelance diplomat Steven Seagal, who happens to count fellow martial arts enthusiast Vladimir Putin and Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov as friends. If not for Seagal, Rohrabacher averred, the striped-pants brigade at the State Department would surely mislead and misdirect: “You know what we got [before Steven Seagal]? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard. You think that's good for democracy? No way!”
Better that the “control of information” be managed by a slow-witted star of straight-to-video classics like Out for a Kill (as Professor Robert Burns) and The Patriot (as Dr. Wesley McClaren); who declares that he was “born clairvoyant”; who has been accused of sexual harassment by, among others, Jenny McCarthy and Ray Charles's granddaughter; who variously claims to have been a CIA officer and private security guard for the Shah of Iran and Anwar Sadat; who is chummy with Arizona’s birther sheriff Joe Arpaio and is an avowed supporter of Putinism.
America, these are your elected representatives.
In his infinite generosity, Seagal also arranged a congressional trip to Chechnya where the group would be introduced to Kadyrov, a precocious young tyrant with a penchant for exotic animals, Instagram, and “disappearing” his political enemies. The trip was canceled, according to media reports, because it would have violated House ethics rules, though Representative Cohen said he objected to the Kadyrov meeting on moral grounds.
The Putin regime has invested a good bit of money in attracting Hollywood nonroyalty to the troubled Caucasus republic. Indeed, Seagal isn’t the only washed up, kung-fu fighting actor to be seduced by Kadyrov. In 2011, Belgian absurdity Jean Claude van Damme celebrated the dictator’s birthday with the hearty declaration, "I love you, Mr Kadyrov, all in my heart"—and received a $500,000 check in return. Hilary Swank also attended the party, later apologizing and pleading ignorance of his regime’s innumerable human rights violations. It was, in a way, a convincing defense.
Gerard Depardieu, who recently fled his native France when it introduced a confiscatory tax rate of 75 percent on incomes over €1 million, obtained Russian citizenship last year, becoming fast friends with Putin (“For me, he is like François Mitterrand or Pope John Paul II”) and was soon extolling the vassal state of Chechnya, led by his “close friend” Kadyrov. In February, he too attended a Kadyrov birthday party—the hot party on the celebrity tour of the Caucuses, apparently—where he declared, “Glory to Chechnya! Glory to Kadyrov!"
According to The Washington Post, Seagal snapped at suggestions that Kadyrov was a criminal thug: “All these accusations are thrown around. Is there any evidence? Has he been indicted?” Why yes, there is. I’ll allow various human rights groups to set out the binders of evidence that Kadyrov is a gross violator of human rights, that he shutters newspapers (recently one with the modest title "Kadyrov's Path") when deferential journalists aren't appropriately deferential, and has been accused of ordering the murder of his political enemies.
The political mutterings of oafish celebrities are best ignored. But when those mutterings have rubbed off on oafish politicians, or are given a platform by serious media outlets, they’re worth engaging. There was much muttering about former basketball star Dennis Rodman’s recent meeting with the fat-headed dauphin of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, whom he declared “a friend for life” because he was “so honest.” As if American politics weren’t polluted with enough stupidity, Rodman was asked to discuss his “basketball diplomacy” with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, during which he babbled incoherently about the Dear Leader’s hatred of war (Sample babbling: “[Kim Jong-un] is just a great guy. If you sit down and talk to him, you know, perception is perceiving how things work”).
While Rodman’s attempt at geopolitical analysis was roundly mocked and dismissed, Seagal’s appears to have rubbed off on his guests. On a recent Russian television appearance, he supported the imprisonment of the anti-Putin feminist punks in Pussy Riot. When asked about the group, Rep. Steve King wouldn’t denounce the regime’s jailing of its members, instead saying that “it's hard to find sympathy for people who would do that to people's faith.” The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) timeline on the Tsarnaev brothers’ path to jihad was also faithfully repeated by almost all of the visiting congressmen, with Rohrabacher even lamenting the “sinister way” his colleagues on Capitol Hill discuss Russia. (The notable exception to all this glad-handing of Putin was Rep. Steve Cohen, who has previously petitioned the Kremlin to release Pussy Riot).
After the Boston bombing, Chechen leader-in-exile Akhmed Zakayev told me that the Kremlin would use the attack to shore up support of his Chechnya policy in the West. And here we have Rohrabacher and King lunging for the bait. “If you are in the middle of an insurrection with Chechnya,” Rohrabacher told reporters, “and hundreds of people are being killed and there are terrorist actions taking place and kids are being blown up in schools, yeah, guess what, there are people who overstep the bounds of legality.”
Of course the League of Hollywood Halfwits would fall for this stuff (especially when there is a healthy cash payment involved). It’s rather depressing, though, that members of Congress are taking their foreign-policy cues from the star of Under Siege.