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Jewish World Review
August 19, 2008
/ 18 Menachem-Av 5768
The potential of mutual destruction
The best advice to President George W. Bush on how to
conduct foreign affairs with Russia is still the comment of Teddy
Roosevelt, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Regrettably, the
Washington, D.C. crowd, including the President and Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, are instead speaking harshly. They seem unaware that
we no longer have a big stick in hand.
Our armed forces of nearly 200,000 are bogged down in Iraq
and Afghanistan and we literally are without reserves that could fight a
war with Russia, that must, in any event, be avoided at all costs.
In the meanwhile, we have to make a decision. Do we want to
engage Russia as a full partner in our efforts to keep the peace or do
we want to humble them as we have for a number of years when we were
aided by their declining economy. Their economy is no longer in
decline. Instead, it is now booming based on oil and natural gas
wealth. Russia now supplies European countries as a whole with
two-thirds of their energy needs. The Russians have chafed for years as
a result of the U.S. including the Baltic states and Poland in NATO and
proposing NATO membership for Georgia and the Ukraine. The Russians
have made clear that they see the installation by the U.S. of radar in
nations on Russia's borders to guide antiballistic missiles to their
targets as a threat to Russia's missile system, notwithstanding the U.S.
assurance that our ABM installations are intended to deal only with
rogue nations such as Iran. The Russians recall how determined we were
- successfully - to keep Soviet ballistic missiles out of Cuba. That
crisis in 1962 was resolved with the removal of the Soviet missiles from
Cuba in exchange for a commitment - which we carried out - to remove
American missiles from Turkey, Russia's neighbor. Clearly, they are as
distressed as we would be if Russia were to include Venezuela and
Bolivia in a military alliance.
What we are doing in lieu of speaking softly is having
Condoleezza Rice denounce Russia, comparing it with the former Soviet
Union when it invaded Czechoslovakia to put down the "Prague Spring" in
1968. It is important to remember that it is almost universally agreed
that it was Georgia that commenced the current hostilities. This after
the Georgia President Saakashvili was, according to the Times, "warned"
by "Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried against escalating the
conflict." Having ignored the advice, Saakashvili launched an attack on
the Russian forces ending with Russian forces overwhelming the Georgian
army which retreated to southern Georgia. The Russian forces in hot
pursuit were asked by France's President Sarkozy to end the hostilities.
They agreed, but demanded and got the right to engage in military
activities under certain circumstances, which by most accounts they have
abused. Georgia started the hostilities, but we know that Russia was
waiting for the opportunity to smash Georgia's military forces to serve
as a lesson to states that were part of the Soviet empire and now want
to join the West and NATO.
President Bush is compounding all the errors made to date by
delivering humanitarian aid to Georgia with U.S. military personnel and
with counterproductive rhetoric. An example of such rhetoric is the
Pentagon's statement in The Times on August 14th: "On a day the White
House evoked emotional memories of the cold war, a senior Pentagon
official said the relief effort was intended to show to Russia that we
can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will,
whenever and wherever we want." Surely we want to avoid at this time a
physical conflict with Russia that could occur by accident or design.
In my view, these are the steps that we need to take:
First, President Bush should meet with the leaders of Congress, and
Senators Obama and McCain, to map out an agreed bi-partisan approach.
Whatever actions are required legislatively and executively to upgrade
and enlarge our Armed Forces to deal with the situation should be taken
and we should make sure that all of our American leaders in public
office agree to speak with one voice and that is the voice of the
president who under the Constitution conducts the foreign policy of this
country, presuming there is an agreed upon policy.
The NATO nations in Europe who deserted us when we needed
their military support in both Iraq and Afghanistan are now cowering in
fear that the Russian bear is back with a ravenous appetite. Relying on
our defense umbrella, they will now rush to join us and swear unwavering
support, which, sadly, we can never fully rely on again.
Second, an immediate meeting should be arranged between Bush
and Putin to afford us an opportunity to convince Russia that we are not
their enemy. Our goal should be that we do for Russia what we would have
them do for us were the situations reversed. Threats by both sides,
physical and verbal, should immediately end.
In sum, the renewed hostility between Russia and the U.S.
over Georgia has the potential of leading to mutual destruction. This
is in no one's interest. The hostile rhetoric must be ratcheted down
immediately, and we need to explore ways to work with the Russians in
order to enhance global security, rather than undermine it.
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JWR contributor Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, can be heard on Bloomberg Radio (WBBR 1130 AM) every Sunday from 9-10 am . Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, Ed Koch