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The Bush-Putin summit: Do we recognize its true importance to America and the west?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted May 27, 2002

The summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin bore little resemblance to the summits of the past between the U.S. and the old Soviet Union. Gone were the deep-seated tensions and suspicions that surrounded the previous summits.

Beginning after the Yalta disgrace of 1945, during which an ailing FDR sold out Eastern Europe to the Soviets, neither side ever trusted the other. The fact is that when it came to the Soviet Union, their word was never good. Liberals in this country were always pressing for more concessions to the Soviets than it would have been in our national interest to give. Conservatives never trusted any of the agreements we made with the Soviets and certainly opposed going any further than the various Administrations were willing to propose.

A number of American presidents of both parties believed that if you could just make friends with the Soviet leaders, all would go well, thus almost completely ignoring Communist ideology which dictated Soviet policy. Today, Communist ideology no longer dictates Russian foreign policy. Self-interest dictates their foreign policy. And for the first time in a long while we at last have an American president whose foreign policy appears to be dictated by American interests. At least we hope that is the case.

President Bush gestures as he answers questions from reporters about the conflict between India and Pakistan, as Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a tour of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 25. The two leaders answered questions as their wives, first lady Laura Bush and Lyudmila Putin look on
President Bush gestures as he answers questions from reporters about the conflict between India and Pakistan, as Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a tour of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia on May 25. The two leaders answered questions as their wives, first lady Laura Bush and Lyudmila Putin look on

The fact that Bush and Putin signed an unprecedented arms control agreement seems almost unimportant as the two nations move ahead toward a more normal relationship. What is critical for this country is that we do recognize the strategic importance of this moment. If we do, we will be arranging for Russia to join NATO, for example. If Russia is a member of NATO, it will change the whole dynamic of our relationship. In fact, it will mean a re-integrated Europe as well. Nothing could be better for the both the United States and the West if this were to occur.

We both have common enemies. The Moslem extremists who have kept the Russians tied up in Chechnya are the same Moslem extremists who have kept our troops tied down in Afghanistan for nine months now. They are the same Moslem extremists who have almost brought the Israelis to their knees. And they are the same Moslem extremists who require our troops to contain nationalist forces in Georgia and the Philippines and so on and so on and so on.

But a strategic relationship between the U.S. and Russia has so many more implications (as opposed to the tactical relationships the USA usually finds convenient, allowing us to become a partner when we feel that it is to our advantage to do so).

The Russians are a highly educated people. Back in Soviet times there were few means of entertainment. Television was often boring or spouting the party line. There were few well-produced Soviet movies that also didn't tout the party line. What you did to entertain yourself, if you had any brains at all, was to study. The average Russian has much to teach the average American in that respect.

Then there is the matter of religion. About a third of Russians are non-believers. Another third are fervent Orthodox Christians and the rest are up for grabs. Here again, Russian believers have much to teach Americans. And Americans should have free access to the Russians as well. Russians would be a lot better off with believers than with non-believers, even if the believers might not represent their brand of Christianity.

Then there is the matter of energy. Russia has enough oil reserves, coal and other strategic minerals to ensure that the United States need not be dependant on third rate blackmail artists ever again.

The U.S.-Russian Summit was rather quick and the focus was arms control. Arms control has its place, but let us hope and pray that for once the United States really means it when it suggests it wants a whole new relationship with Russia. History only provides very few chances in international relations. We have blown our relationship with the Soviets or Russia at least twice in the last century. In this new century, let us hope we won't miss this golden opportunity.

It may be our last.

Paul M. Weyrich is President of the Free Congress Foundation.

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