Friday, December 10, 2004

The Bush response

I think the Bush administration went about this just about right. I called someone I knew in the US on that Tuesday after the election and told him I thought Bush would ignore Ukraine in favor of protecting his relationship with Russia. On that very day, though, Powell came out with a strong statement on Ukraine that ticked off the Kremlin. That Bush later looked to be more conciliatory was just the good cop bad cop routine. Powell gave them the tough talk but Bush took a softer tone to keep the communication open and to allow them to deal.

Some wanted Bush to come out harder on Putin. I don't think that would have served American interests in the end. Sure it would have warned Russia off and prevented the meddling, but it would also have ruined any potential with a signficant ally in the war on terrorism. And the war on terrorism still remains crucial. We don't talk about it a lot but the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Central Asia is a real problem. The Taliban was only one part of it. Putin's cooperation in his own backyard is going to be needed to confront it.

Some think that we risked too much by the response of the administration. Our relationship with Russia is more important than our relationship with Ukraine, they say. That is the post war view of some conservatives. (It was also the pre-war view of some conservatives. The war is over there and it doesn't affect us anyway. It is not in our interests. Besides the German's have a point.) We construe our interests narrowly, mostly down to self-preservation, and deal with anybody who can help us guarantee it. And that has put us in league with some not so savory people over the years. It also suffers from the fact that it is not a particularly moral foreign policy. The neo-cons have taken a lot of hits recently over Iraq, but whatever you say about their point of view, the one thing that can be said about it is that it is a more moral position than what we have had before.

Did the US have an interest in Ukraine? A lot of people have said yes and that is the position of the Russian elite. But what could it have been? Enticing Ukraine out of the Russian orbit? What does that get us in the end that placating Russia wouldn't serve better? Markets for our goods? Russia is larger. A new country for foreign investment? Russia is better for that and the country is awash in money right now from oil. [No blood for] Oil? There is some here but it's a trickle compared to Russia's vast reserves. The war on terror? The Russians could contribute more. Besides, the Ukrainian opposition campaigned on pulling out the troops from Iraq. The Russians are just Russian and we need to defeat them wherever they are? This is the Cold War thinking that some are saying the US used to justify it. And it is the way the Kremlin views it. But it is not very realistic and agitates against what Bush has seen as his one foreign policy priority: terrorism.

What did we get from acting as we did that was of more value to us than what we risked by alienating the Russians? I can't think of a thing except that it was the right thing to do.

As it is, the Bush Administration may have caused a rupture anyway by acting as it did. The talk coming out of the Kremlin and Putin these days might suggest that. We'll just have to see.

But I think they did just fine in the face of what was risked. And I think they did the right thing.

1 comment:

Ron said...

"What did we get from acting as we did that was of more value..."Scott - methinks more than any immediate gain - it was the long term goals that were more important than the possibly transitory goal of placating Putin.

The world (Europe, the US and most nations within Eurasia, including nearly all members of the former USSR) and many others, reacted as they did for one reason. The stark differences between the economic history of authoritarian nations (Russia chief among them) versus more free and democratic nations.

It’s no world secret that Russia’s economy, though massively oil and natural gas fueled today, is still well below that of Poland. Probably more than any other factor, it is the Polish success-example that others long to emulate. At the same time, thoughts of returning to the status of vassal-state within an historically failed authoritarian Russia is anathema to most former citizens of the USSR.

Putin and Russian media have not hidden plans of resurrecting "Greater Russia" - the key to which was bringing back Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan under the wing of Russia - (Think RUBK, pronounce it ‘Rubik’) - thereby bringing all Russian speaking former nationals back within Mother Russia.

The loss of any would be a major setback - for numerous reasons - not the least of which is failure to attain the population needed to be at or near super-power population level. RUBK would have the needed population level of just over 200 million. Meanwhile, the Russian birthrate is in negative territory - while the birthrate of these former satellite nations approach the desired birthrate of 2.1 per family required for population stability.

Belarus is a dictatorial disaster that Putin helped create, and an economic flop that begs for rescue, by Russia... or another Orange Revolution. The Ukraine was to be the plum, ripe for picking; the grand economic shot in the arm. Kazakhstan, the last target, is a far different and more difficult proposition altogether.

Putin’s desire - the rebuilding of Greater Russia, like Rubik’s Cube, is a far greater challenge than he or his advisors ever believed it might be - and they have been badly frightened and disappointed that it didn’t go nearly as easily as they assumed it would.

We know now more about Putin's goals, and the lengths to which a Putin-led Russia was willing to go to attain them - but more importantly, we know more about the people of Ukraine, and how powerful their desire for freedom has been, pitted against the desires of corrupt and dictatorial aspiration. It was, and is a continuing lesson of great value, not only for the people of Ukraine - but for the rest of the world combined.

You're spot-on, Scott - the US, and most of the world, did what was right. We gave freedom a chance to defeat corrupt design.