Of all Ronald Reagan’s achievements, among the greatest was that this president who began his term declaring the Soviet Union an “evil empire” was, by the end of his tenure, strolling through Red Square with Mikhail Gorbachev to the cheers of the Russian people.
That the Cold War ended without our tearing our nations to pieces, as Britain and Germany did, was a triumph, especially considering the awesome power of our weaponry. And since the Cold War ended, Americans have seemed to understand the importance of good and strong relations with Russia. The Washington-Moscow connection is among the most critical on the planet.
Why, then, this raft of attacks on President Vladimir Putin over his efforts to consolidate power to combat his terrorist threat?
In late August, two Russian airliners were brought down in minutes by “Black Widow” Chechen terrorists. Days later, a school of Russian children was seized by Chechen terrorists loyal to Shamil Basaev, the Osama bin Laden of the Caucasus. Hundreds were slaughtered in the most barbaric atrocity since 9/11.
After these horrors, Putin acted to centralize power over his Balkanizing country. He called on parliament to approve a plan to let him name the governors of Russia’s 89 provinces, rather than have them elected. Most of the governors approved. But Western elites are howling as though Putin were using the Beslan horror as Hitler used the Reichstag fire – to railroad his rivals to Dachau.
In The Washington Post, Robert Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and The Weekly Standard calls Putin’s plan an “unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia.” Putin “is imposing dictatorship,” rails Kagan. “Putin is not really ‘with us.’ … A dictatorial Russia is at least as dangerous as a dictatorial Iraq. … A Russian dictatorship can never be a reliable ally of the United States.”
“[T]he aspiring dictator of Russia has forced President Bush to reveal how committed he really is to the cause of democracy around the world.” Kagan demanded that Bush denounce Putin – which Bush and Colin Powell both mildly did, infuriating Moscow – and even consider sanctions against Russia.
Query: Have we lost our minds? In Russia, what is vital to us is that we have a stable, friendly government and reliable partner in combating terrorism. How Russia chooses its regional or provincial leaders or parliament is none of our business. What are Western media and politicians doing hectoring Putin and mucking around in Russia’s internal affairs?
British journalist John Laughland has looked behind the attacks on Putin and discovered the “oligarchs” – Russian billionaires who looted the privatized assets of the old Soviet Union, men like Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin has run them out of Russian or locked them up. And they have used their vast fortunes to buy up intellectuals in Western capitals to agitate against him.
Also agitating against Putin is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, a front group of neocons such as Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Michael Ledeen and Kenneth (“Cakewalk”) Adelman.
ACPC wants Bush to cut Putin adrift in the name of democracy. These are the same ideologues who engineered the war to “democratize” Iraq and prevailed on Bush to declare “world democratic revolution” the overarching goal of his foreign policy.
These neoconservatives are demanding that Putin negotiate with the Chechens rebels. Many favor a NATO presence in Chechnya along the lines of the NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Putin sees them as pressuring him to negotiate with child-murderers and as pursuing a devious Western strategy to further weaken and break up Russia. In interviews, he has expressed a growing bitterness toward the West – reacting just as Andrew Jackson would have if Czar Nicholas I had loudly demanded that Jackson sit down and start negotiating with the Cherokees.
But the larger question is: Why is Bush still listening to these people? These were the propagandists and agitators for the war in Iraq that may yet cost him his presidency. Nothing they promised has been delivered. They constantly undercut relations with our European allies with their insults. They persuaded Bush to outsource Middle East policy to Sharon, to our national detriment.
Now, they are pushing Bush to distance ourselves from, if not to destabilize, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Why does Bush continue to heed men whose policies have radicalized the Middle East and converted much of the Islamic world into a giant recruiting station for Osama bin Laden?