It should go without saying that my advice doesn't mean I think President Obama should attend every subsequent VE Day parade in Moscow -- or any other VE Day parade. But because the topic is so loaded this update is to underscore the great importance of America's President attending this year's event.
Rightly or wrongly, Obama's refusal to attend the parade was widely perceived as a protest of the Russian government's actions on domestic matters and international actions especially toward Syria, Ukraine, and Crimea.
But running alongside this view is an insidious propaganda 'narrative,' which gained coin in the past two years: Russian don't have a right to exist as Russians because they are too dangerous to the rest of the world as they are. They must be purified of the dross of being Russian before they can be upstanding members of the International Community.
It's not put quite that baldly, but it is very clearly implied by the argument that Russians can't learn to practice good Western values without submitting in overt ways to the value system shared by the United States and European Union
One doesn't need to read the news out of Russia to intuit how Russians perceive the narrative. But the news reports shout that Russians believe the Western governments, led by the United States of America, are intent on destroying their country, their culture, and their history.
That is why President Vladimir Putin enjoys an 80+ approval rating in his country -- a rating found by every polling organization in the world that queries Russian. Even many Russians who despise Putin staunchly support him at this time. They see him as standing up to America's attempts to wipe their nation off the map.
That is precisely why President Obama should send a loud and clear message at this time to the Russian people, a message that shouts above the noise by generated by armed conflicts, politics, propaganda, and media opinion.
The message is that Americans understand that here in the 21st Century, civilized peoples don't support or practice the ideas that undergird eugenics.
We here in America know that Russians are not sub-humans who can only be made fully human by accepting the values of NATO countries. And if our propagandists gave a different impression they have no support from even one civilized adult in the United States.
Obama's attendance at this year's VE Day parade would be the perfect way for him to say all this, without using a bunch of words. Besides, talk is now so greatly cheapened by politics it's only actions that have any weight with the majority.
The action here would be to just go, pay his respects to the Russian Soviet war dead, then go home.
Many if not most Russians would say at first, 'It's an American trick,' Obama's spokespeople could answer this by saying, 'You should hear what his political enemies in America have to say about it.' But they wouldn't even have to make that point; the Russians will hear what his enemies say.
So while it might take a little time, the true import of his visit would sink in among informed Russians.
Now to the specifics of my advice:
1. DO NOT visit with "dissident" or "human rights" groups if you make the trip. You'd have a good excuse to refrain from such meetings because trip planning would be virtually last minute. Have State announce beforehand that the President is going to Russia simply and only to honor the fallen in World War Two. Don't muddy the clear waters by making it into talking points for Western Values and don't try to 'explain' the decision. Just state the purpose and have State reply to any and all hysterical questions, 'It is what it is. Deal with it because there are actually a few things more important than geopolitics.'
2. Because there's little time to arrange security for the trip, I'd hesitate to advise that you personally address a college audience -- or any audience. But you could give a radio address if you just can't stand the thought of not getting a single Teachable Moment out of the visit
In that event, make it a Teachable Moment on the grandest and most profound theme you and your speechwriters can muster on short notice. Make it a BIG theme. You know -- BIG. I have a dream that all the world's children, etc. But be brief. Ten minutes. Max. The less you say, the less it can be ripped apart.
3. Now as to the problem of offending peoples in other former Soviet republics who are also having VE celebrations, if you don't attend those -- the last-minute improvised nature of the trip provides some cover. But you could give a pre-visit speech here in the USA that would work in the big theme and the importance of not letting the sufferings of the past overtake today.
4. As to other national leaders who've cancelled their planned attendance at the parade in Moscow or refused to attend in the first place -- your visit would certainly send a strong message about cooperation to all Europe's leaders. You wouldn't have to say much, beyond announcing the trip. Then it would be their decision to rethink or not.
5. But the meta-message in your decision would be that the United States of America must act independently when it sees the need.
The inescapable truth is that Americans would have lost a lot more of their finest in World War Two if the Soviets hadn't shed so much of their own blood. And lost it to a war in which Americans had no part in starting. Of course the Soviets weren't fighting and dying to save Americans but that's the way things worked out. This towering fact must not be forgotten.
As for Israel: I seem to recall reading that Bibi was originally going to attend the parade -- but that was before the Kremlin played a nuke card by inking an agreement to sell a powerful missile defense system to Tehran.
In any case, there is no such thing as ironclad ink.
In any case, there is no such thing as ironclad ink.
And in a world of God there is always just enough time. Never was there a more important time to try to remember the best about the past and leave go of the rest.
Godspeed, Mr President, if you decide to make the trip.