Why Are We Baiting Putin?

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“(N)o legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply management or attempt to monopolize transportation,” thundered Vice President Cheney to the international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“(N)o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements.”

Cheney’s remarks were directed straight at the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, who is to host the G-8 Conference in July.

Cheering Cheney on is John McCain, front-runner for the GOP nomination, who has urged President Bush to snub Putin by boycotting the G-8 summit. What the GOP is thus offering the nation right now is seven more years of in-your-face bellicosity in foreign policy.

What does McCain think we would accomplish — other than a new parading of our moral superiority — by so public an insult to Putin and Russia as a Bush boycott of the St. Petersburg summit? Do we not have enough trouble in this world, do we not have enough people hating us and Bush that we have to get into Putin’s face and antagonize the largest nation on earth and a co-equal nuclear power? What is the purpose of this confrontation diplomacy? What does it accomplish?

Eisenhower and Nixon did not behave like this. Nor did Ford or Bush’s father. Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” once. But the Soviet Union we confronted in those years was hostile. Until lately, today’s Russia was not. Yet the Bush boys are in their pulpits, admonishing the world’s sinners every day.

What is their beef with Putin’s policy?

In January, Putin decided to stop piping subsidized gas to Kiev and start charging the market price. Reason: Ukraine’s president, elected with the assistance of U.S. foundations and quasi-government agencies, said he was reorienting Kiev’s foreign policy away from Russia and toward NATO and the United States.

If you are headed for NATO, Putin was saying to President Viktor Yushchenko, you can forget the subsidized gas.

Now this is political hardball, but it is a game with which America is not altogether unfamiliar. When Castro reoriented his policy toward Moscow, Cuba’s sugar allotment was terminated. U.S. diplomats went all over the world persuading nations not to buy from or sell to Cuba. Economic sanctions on Havana endure to today. We supported, over Reagan’s veto, sanctions on South Africa. We have used sanctions as a stick and access to the U.S. market as a carrot since we became a nation. What, after all, was “Dollar Diplomacy” all about?

Cheney accuses Moscow of employing pipeline diplomacy — i.e., using its oil and gas pipelines to benefit some nations and cut out others. But the United States does the same thing, as it seeks to have the oil and gas of Central Asia transmitted to the West in pipelines that do not transit Iran or Russia.

“(N)o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor,” declared Cheney in Vilnius. How the vice president could deliver that line with a straight face escapes me.

Does Cheney not recall our “Captive Nations Resolutions,” calling for the liberation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which, though free between the two world wars, had long belonged to the Russian empire? Does he not recall conservative support for the breakup of the Soviet Union? Does he not recall conservative support for the secession of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, and more recently Kosovo, from a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia?

What concerns Cheney is Moscow’s support for the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. Georgia’s president was also elected with the aid of pro-democracy NGOs, mostly funded by Uncle Sam. All these color-coded revolutions in East Europe and Central Asia bear the label, Made in the U.S.A.

When Cheney says, “No one can justify actions that … interfere with democratic movements,” he is hauling water for Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, and similar agencies, which Putin wants shut down or kicked out of Russia for interfering in her internal affairs.

We Americans consider the Monroe Doctrine — no foreign power is to come into our hemisphere — to be holy writ. Why, then, can we not understand why Russia might react angrily to our interference in her politics or the politics of former Russian republics?

The effect of U.S. expansion of NATO deep into Eastern Europe, U.S. interference in the politics of the former Soviet republics, and U.S. siting of military bases in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia has been to unite Russia and China, and undo the diplomacy of several successive U.S. presidents.

How has this made us more secure?

If we don’t want these people in our backyard, what are we doing in theirs? If we don’t stop behaving like the British Empire, we will end up like the British Empire.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire.

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