"[Secretary] Rice was much tougher on the Russians during their meeting than was generally reported in the US press. So do you think Bush will keep up the heat on Putin over Syria and Iran during the Bratislava meeting?"
[Signed] Chicago Dan"
Dear Chicago Dan:
Is it me? Or has anyone else noticed that the spike in Chechen terrorist attacks in Russia coincided with Moscow's decision to favor Japan over China with a pipeline route and Putin's reluctance to accept China's 'invitation' to have Russia take a larger role in the Shanghai Cooperative.
And as coincidence would have it, terrorist attacks on Russia fell off markedly at just around the time Putin finally decided to:
(a) accept Beijing's 'invitation' to take a greater role in the Shanghai Cooperative
(b) do more oil business with China
(c) forgive much of Syria's debt to Russia and seal an arms deal, and
(d) give Tehran pretty much everything they want with regard to transfer of nuclear technology.
Well, perhaps Pundita reads too much into her haphazard following of news about terrorism attacks in Russia.
In any case, we extract two issues from your question. The most serious issue for the United States is drift toward the Ostrich School of foreign policy.
How is yelling at Putin about Syria and Iran going to convince France and Germany not to sell weapons and dual-use technologies to Syria and Iran? How does huffing at the Kremlin bring the British Foreign Office to cease their Appeasement Initiative toward Iran? And what does upbraiding the Russian arms industry have to do with the fact that the US is currently overrun with Chinese industrial spies?
The key issue is somehow always lost in the shuffle of the day's war and diplomacy news. The issue is that oppression and innovation don't go together.
China defends 'authoritarian' government, but you don't find China sending armies of industrial spies to Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea. No, they send the spies to the US and other democratic countries, where creativity flowers. The spies steal the innovations that come from the brain sweat of peoples who live in freedom. Then the Chinese make cheap knockoffs and sell them at a steep discount. Then they say, "See? You don't have to be a democracy to be a modern trading power!"
Then China gets invited to lunch at the G7 meeting.
If it ended there, we might take it in stride. But US soliders are getting shot at and blown up in Iraq with weapons that have Made in China stamped on their parts--when the stamp doesn't read Made in France or Made in Germany.
Meanwhile, US officials yell at the Saudis for helping to fund terrorist organizations. But selling weapons and WMD technology to the governments who run terrorist armies is a far greater problem.
Show me the Saudi who can operate a wrench and I'll show you a Yemini you've mistaken for a Saudi. The Saudis have a horror of physical labor. So where are the weapons factories in Saudi Arabia? Show them to Pundita.
No. The weapons factories and booming weapons industries are in Britain, Germany, Russia, France, Israel and China. They're in America also but during this era, at least, the American defense industry makes you steal the designs before you sell them to terror-sponsoring governments.
When we call out our allies on the issue, they come up with excuses that wouldn't get past any parent of a three-year old. Some perennial favorites:
"Where is the grand jury indictment showing evidence that X government sponsors terror?"
"We don't recognize those acts as terrorism. They are legitimate protests against oppression."
"Look, you can make a weapon out of toaster parts if you can read the computer code."
"We sold them stuff we dug up from a World War Two bunker."
"I'm a capitalist, not a moralist."
And the ever-popular, "Don't worry, they can't figure out how to detach the rocket launcher from the tank."
The Israelis came up with a creative way to deal with the problem of being attacked by the very weapon designs they sell to governments who turn around and sell them to Israel's enemies: They declared that Israel is perpetually at war.
However, Pundita awards her Ostrich Prize to Germany. To deal with the problem of terrorist attacks launched with weapons that the German defense industry sells to terror sponsoring governments, Germany is readying to become a police state:
Pay for your visits to the wine bar with EFT. No more cash payments for anything, just in case you're thinking of laundering money for a terrorist cell. Retinal scans at the dentist's office, in case you steal cavity filling material and convert it to a bomb. Computer chips inserted in your arm and pet cat, in case you and your cat turn out to be plotting a terrorist act against German wildlife. Minature cameras inserted under every toilet seat, in case you flush WMD down the can during a police raid.
That's just our allies playing ostrich. Now we turn to trading partners who are not allies. China only wants lunch invitations to the G7 meetings because acknowledging their true trade status means they can no longer trot out their favorite excuse.
Whenever you call out China over anything, they lapse into cute pidgin English: "Oh we just poor developing country. We can't wead patent and copyright law. Any weapons we sell is from 1916."
Whenever you snap at the Russians about their customers for arms deals, you get the same excuses our allies trot out. But if you back a Russian into a corner, you learn why it's possible to ace a test in Russian literature by answering, "The deathbed scene" to every question.
Russians are among the world's best storytellers and they don't believe in leaving a dry eye in the house. So Pundita will give everyone a moment to collect their Kleneex box before she lists the litany. Ready?
1. The Russian government has been broke since the Romanovs were overthrown.
2. During the UN embargo of Iraq the Russian government scared up cash to keep the lights burning in the Kremlin by (a) reselling oil they bought at a steep discount from Saddam Hussein and (b) selling Saddam every outdated weapon in the Russian arsenal going back to catapults and pitch arrows.
3. Those avenues of revenue-raising were shut down by the US invasion of Iraq.
4. That's why the Kremlin finally did what they should have done years earlier: go after tax-cheating oligarchs and wrestle back control of their energy sector from the oligarchs before it was sold piecemeal to US and European energy companies acting as fronts for Western banks.
5. Because the Kremlin dealt with reality only after the US invaded Iraq, they confronted their tax problem all at once and in a big hurry. That translated to highly questionable methods in going after the big-bucks tax cheats.
6. That's how two oligarchs with an Interpol warrant out on them ended up at a prayer breakfast at the White House the other week. When oligarchs on the lam from Russian justice are not in Washington sucking up to Republicans they're using Israel and Europe as a bunker for their war against the Kremlin.
7. If all the above sounds vaguely familiar, Beslan was Russia's 9/11. It was the inevitable consequence of many years of the government playing ostrich and not tending to gathering threats that were as plain as day to anyone who cared to look. That might be why Bush and Putin felt a kinship. They had both inherited a national security mess--a mess consisting of layers upon layers of neglect.
8. The big difference between the Putin and Bush presidencies is the advantage that a stable, wealthy democracy confers on America's leader. That meant Bush didn't need to build up a nation and a central government at the same time he declared war on terror.
The democracy that Yeltsin oversaw was a stage show--a carefully managed media event to please the West, in order to draw development/private bank loans. Behind the stage props was a ruin. Putin is trying to forge a Russian nation out of the ruin.
9. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has to scare up vast quantities of cash to keep the lights on and outspend the oligarch clans in order to remain in power. The clans have provided the only real stability Russia has known since the Soviet Union dissolved but they are also the greatest obstacle to Russia becoming a truly sovereign nation, not to mention a healthy democracy.
10. Putin's defense policy must be viewed against all the above considerations and Russia's place on the world map. He has the same policy as Roadrunner. The policy is to survive the day and make sure not to look down while running from one cliff edge to another.
11. With regard to foreign policy, Putin is taking the paths of least resistance that open up. Is that the right thing to do? No. It's dangerously shortsighted. But to take actions according to the long view would require a militarily powerful nation at Russia's back. Any hope Putin had that he might depend on America for back-up in dealing with China's 'invitations' was dashed when he saw American actions in Ukraine. The actions fully supported and encouraged the Yushchenko tactic of demonizing Russia and Putin.
12. So, even if Bush somehow convinced Putin that notwithstanding US actions in Ukraine and Georgia, America would be at Russia's back--the Russian military would not accept Bush's assurances. As with all military, they don't get paid to live on hope.
13. But even if the Russian military trusted Bush to stand by assurances to Putin, Bush is only in office four more years. Who knows what kind of defense/foreign policy will evolve from the next US administration?
14. And even if the Russians could be assured that Bush policy carries forward, geography is still the most important factor in Russia's foreign policy. Russia must find ways to get along with the European trading bloc, China, and Iran.
Now that we've all had a good cry, it's time to run the story through Pundita's handy pocket-sized Malarkey Translator:
Putin doesn't want to rumble with Washington any more than he wants to rumble with Beijing. But what Russia's weapons industry lost in sales to Saddam's regime, they can make up for with weapons sales to Syria. And what they lost from black market oil deals with Saddam, they can make up with sales of dual-use nuclear technology to Iran.
That bottom line brings Russia up against the US-led war on terror. But delivering threats to Moscow is delivering threats to the wrong address. Or rather, Russia should not be near the top of the address list. In their dealings with Iran and Syria, Russia is simply following the lead set by the European Union's most powerful nations. These very same nations are members of NATO--our dear allies.
This said, the US has a war to fight. So Pundita hopes President Bush reads the riot act to Putin over weapon sales to Syria and nuke technology to Iran. We hope even more that Bush trots out the same riot act for every head of state he meets with this coming week.
For their part, Moscow would be within their rights to lodge a formal protest with the US government over the White House inviting oligarchs on the lam to a prayer breakfast, and over the recent "testimony" before Congress by Yukos and Menatep officials.
The latter incident is so outrageous that Pundita, who is rarely at a loss for words, is speechless. Thus, we allow Peter Lavelle at untimely-thoughts.com to outline the situation: Yukos' Double Standard.