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The second chance the United States cannot afford to pass up

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted September 17, 2001

A quiz for those of you who follow public policy: Which world leader made the strongest statement of outrage at what happened to America on September 11th and which same leader called for a worldwide effort to combat terrorism?

Take your pick from the following choices:

A.) The Prime Minister of Great Britain.

B.) The Chancellor of Germany.

C.) The President of France

D.) The President of Mexico.

E.) The Prime Minister of Canada.

F.) The President of Russia.

Tony Blair

Many of you probably answered A: The Prime Minister of Great Britain. After all, the United States and Great Britain have long had a special relationship. And it hasn't seemed to matter whether a Conservative or Labor government was in power in London or whether a Republican or Democratic administration was in power in Washington because Britain and the United States always seemed to work in tandem.

A few of you might have chosen B: The Chancellor of West Germany. Ever since the United States helped to peacefully rebuild Germany after World War II, again it hasn't mattered much whether the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats were in power because Germany has often followed the lead of the USA.

Vicente Fox

A few might have picked D: The President of Mexico. Vicente Fox Quesada and President George W. Bush have been acting like political Siamese twins of late, each trying to outdo the other in expressing solidarity with one another.

Even a very few of you might have selected E: The Prime Minister of Canada. While the current Liberal government is not that keen on George W. Bush, nevertheless what has happened to New York and Washington could easily happen to Ottawa and Toronto. Like it or not, the government of Canada more or less has to march in lock step with Washington at least on a matter such as terrorism.

I know none of you picked C: The President of France. Somehow Paris finds a way to be out of step with Washington regardless of which party is in power.

Vladimir Putin

Well, if any of you picked any of those choices, you were wrong. That's right. THE strongest statement against what happened to this country has come from F): Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. Moreover it was Putin who first suggested a coordinated worldwide response to this attack on the civilized world.

Putin understands what is at stake here. He is confronting this kind of extremism in his own back yard. That is what Chechnya is all about. When the first civil war was fought, Chechnya was demanding independence. Boris Yeltsin vowed to crush that effort. The public was vehemently against Yeltsin and sided with the people of Chechnya. Yeltsin eventually gave up the war and gave Chechnya much of what it wanted. But the radical fundamentalist leadership of Chechnya wasn't content with running its own affairs. No, the leadership announced that it was going after Dagestan, a neighboring province. By then Vladimir Putin had just assumed power in Russia. He drew a line in the sand and said nothing doing. His stance, unlike Yeltsin's, was wildly popular. And even though he has been unsuccessful in delivering on his pledge to end the war swiftly, he remains extremely popular precisely because the Russian people understand what the threats from the leaders of Chechnya mean to Russia as a whole. Putin recently suggested, by the way, that only a revival of Christianity in Russia would permit his nation to meet the threat from fundamentalist extremists.

Remember, one decade ago the Soviet Union fell. The goodwill toward the United States at that moment was extraordinary. The Russian people finally learned that they had been lied to for decades and they were eager to hear and believe anything we had to say or sell. But the first Bush Administration (Number 41) was not keen on the breakup of the Soviet Union. Only months earlier then-President George Herbert Walker Bush had gone to the Ukraine and delivered what we called his "Chicken Kiev" speech in which he pleaded with the Ukrainian people not to opt for independence. As soon as the Ukrainian people had the chance, they voted for independence by a margin of 90 per cent to 10 per cent. So Bush in the waning days of his Administration did little to take advantage of the window of opportunity that a newly independent Russia provided.

Then came Bill Clinton. He made about every mistake one could make in handling Russia. First he made all sorts of promises and never delivered on most of them. In that respect he was no different from the elder Bush who also made unfulfilled promises. More importantly, instead of backing the democracy movement as a whole and supporting the development of democratic institutions across the board, Clinton put all of his eggs in the Yeltsin basket. Thus, as Yeltsin's popularity sunk to single digits by the end of his tumultuous second term, so did America's popularity go crashing down too. It was a tragedy beyond measure. Anti-Americanism was revived to heights not seen since the height of the Cold War. Only this time that view represented the genuine sentiment of the people rather than the forced sentiment dictated by the Communist party.

Well, President Putin, having been handed the power by Yeltsin, ran and won the Presidency in his own right. Although he has done some things that make Western observers wince, he nevertheless remains a remarkably popular figure in Russia.

He and George Bush have hit it off. Bush says he knows he is a man who can be trusted. It appears that because of that relationship the United States and Russia will be able to work out some sort of arrangement that will permit the US to withdraw from the l972 ABM treaty with Russia's approval, and to develop a missile shield, perhaps in co-operation with Russia.

In any case, the United States is being given a second chance. The events of September 11th may bring about consequences that the terrorists could not have imagined. Given the passionate views of President Putin on what happened to the United States, it may be that Russia and the United States can again become allies.

Then if George W. Bush is smart, he will not make any promises he does not intend to deliver upon. But he may well be able to deliver on a wide range of initiatives that will strengthen Russia while at the same time helping the United States.

History seldom affords a nation another chance. This is truly an historic opportunity.

Let us hope and pray that George W. Bush seizes the moment. ESR

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

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