Saturday, September 25, 2004

Separate Ways

The global war on terrorism has created an unusual sense of solidarity between Americans and Russians. Russia has received hard blows from terrorists who killed hundreds of children in Beslan, brought down airliners, and threaten the fabric of society. While Russia's war against Chechen separatists is unique from America's battles, fighting terrorism has connected the two countries with much mutual sympathy. In spite of newfound concordance we should be mindful that Russia is on a much different course than America, sailing a different sea.

President Bush told the UN last week that, "This young century will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad, we will build a safer world." President Putin delivered his own version of the speech addressing his nation on September 13th: "The fight against terrorism demands a deep reshaping of our policies... One of the main, most important issues is the weakness of state executive powers."

William Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute highlights the divergent paths and goals that distinguish Russia and America---Putin's Power Grab:
...Putin made breathtaking moves to centralize power in Russia and cut off support for his opponents. Russia's governors will no longer be elected. Putin will appoint them. And in elections for parliament, Russians will no longer be able to vote for candidates, only parties. That way, fewer Putin critics will get in.

[Putin's power grab] would appear to be a direct challenge to the Bush Doctrine. Bush might have responded by repeating what he said in 2003 to the National Endowment for Democracy: "In the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty." What Bush did say was more cautious: "I'm . . . concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia."

...Under pressure to offer his own response, Bush said the next day, "As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy."

The Russians, for their part, were dismissive of U.S. criticism. "The processes that are under way in Russia are our internal affair," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "And it is at least strange that, while talking about a certain 'pulling back' on some of the democratic reforms in Russia, as [Powell] put it, he tried to assert yet again the notion that democracy can only be copied from someone's model." Lavrov added, "We, for our part, do not comment on the U.S. system of presidential elections." Ouch.

What is happening in Russia may be the most ominous development in the world this year. Think of it this way: In the past, which has presented a greater threat to the United States--a corrupt dictatorship in Iraq, or a corrupt dictatorship in Russia?
Russia oversees a vast empire, even in its post-Soviet incarnation. Within her borders are many ethnicities yearning for national identity. If Chechnya’s bid for independence were to be won by a terror strategy, Russia would face an era of national dissolution. An independent Chechnya would be a signal that barbaric terrorism like the Beslan infanticide wins sovereignty for Jihad. Russia’s backyard is the frontier between the Christian West and Muslim East; the mountains of the Caucuses are one of many battlegrounds to stave-off Islamic expansion. While the enemy might be the same---Islamofascist terrorists---what America and Russia each seek, aside from preventing terrorism, is entirely different.

Russia’s war in Chechnya is wholly apart from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Chechnya’s terrorism is unforgivable, but it doesn’t change the fact that Putin came to power because he subjected the Chechens to a special ruthlessness---people who might have legitimate demands for limited autonomy. We should not believe that Putin and the United States are fighting for the same cause. Putin seeks to supplant Chechen self-rule with Russian imperialism; Bush seeks the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the establishment of democracy where none has existed before. While there are congruencies between our nations in the fight to contain global Islamic fascism, the goals of each nation are divergent.

Russian democracy, if it can be called that at this point, is thin and brittle. Russia’s reflex to terrorist catastrophes will reopen familiar doors to autocracy. We are seeing this now. At this early stage towards autocracy, Russia and America remain conditional allies, but evolution will reveal a growing distance in the goals of each nation, which have divergent, competitive interests. Russia is paving the way for socialism with a nationalist spine, as is China---a National Socialist revival. Europe is attempting socialism with a transnationalist spine, whose digits are yet disjointed and disharmonious. America is divided between its socialist edifice and the Jeffersonian foundation it was built upon. The vast world of moderate Muslims are on the fence, saying little and waiting to see which Western alternative succeeds, as their insane but brave Islamic radical fringe teases the West towards an unknown destiny.

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This essay can be found on Winds of Change.