#16 - JRL 7169
OPINION: Searching for the “Brave New World”
By Peter Lavelle, Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly e-newsletter “Untimely Thoughts."
MOSCOW, May 5 /Prime-TASS/ -- During the course of the entire Iraq saga, Russia and the United States have found themselves at odds. Both are still embedded in opposing camps as to how best to deal with the “regime change” in Baghdad. This has taken the air out of the sails of the “shock and awe” PR hype out the post-9-11 relationship between the two countries initiated by President Vladimir Putin with that famous telephone call to his U.S. counterpart. Since 9-11, Russia and the United States have been doing a lot of searching for ways to enhance the bilateral relationship — and much more.
Putin and George Bush have some things in common: Both are searching for ways to change the international order and the order at home. Both are looking in ways that represent departures from the policy agendas traditionally assumed within their respective political cultures. Both leaders desire to reinvent domestic politics and secure a commanding place in our fast-moving world. However, they are also both finding out that their quests for ways to change their worlds have their limits and dangers. The attempt to create a “Brave New World” does not appear to be easy as either would have hoped.
Seeking out and eliminating the sources of terrorism around the world is clearly a theme that Russia and the United States both riff on. Russia has been dealing with the problem for much longer than the United States has, and the former's search for a friend — and powerful ally — to confront this grave security issue came to an end on 9-11. Since that tragic day, the United States has tried to pursue the sources of terrorism to the point of radically changing the international political order.
Russia certainly desires to see the world order changed in order to root out forces bent on destruction and hate, and its search for a recognition that international terrorism is a clear and present danger has succeeded beyond its greatest expectations. Not unlike in the case of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the awakened giant has proven to be a formable force. Putin’s foreign-policy alignment with the United States on 9-11 turned out to be much more than he bargained for, and he is having a difficult time coming to terms with its consequences. Bush, after all, is having hard time understanding why his friend from St. Petersburg is making such a fuss about going after the bad guys. After all, Bush, echoing Putin’s avowal back in 1999, has gone to the outhouse and beyond to challenge terrorism.
Searching for change both unites and separates Russia and America. The focus on finding a solution to problems at home and abroad has its limits — and both Bush and Putin are slowly and painfully starting to realize it.
For Bush, the most glaring problem when it comes to searching for the solution to his political woes and hopes for changing to world is the inability to produce Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, something his administration went to great lengths to use to legitimize the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Obviously, the United States will not “un-invade” Iraq, but explaining why American armed forces are there will increasing strengthen the claims of those who opposed the war as well as cast doubt on the legitimacy of new doctrine called “preventive war.” Bush has long searched for evidence that would legitimize his actions. He certainly still has a lot of searching to do: After all, he is still looking for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein — and a whole lot of weaponry that was said to be threatening the United States and the world.
Putin’s own quests for a solution to Russia’s international woes are of a somewhat different nature, but they are still reminiscent of Bush's. Putin came to power on the back of the popularity of his search for those who committed the crime of the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings. He came to power with a mandate to end the conflict in Chechnya by declaring another war to wipe out terrorists — but is still searching for the people who killed hundreds in Moscow.
His search to make Russia a "normal country" continues faces daunting problems. Who killed Sergei Yushenkov and the others who have been victims of political hits? There is little hope, given the precedents, that we will ever know. The phrase “dictatorship of law” rings very hollow three years on for other reasons as well: A disgraced governor was not only given a federal job, but now has been elected to a position with the country's national security apparatus. Talk about going after corruption sounds as empty as the "dictatorship" slogan itself. Instead of keeping the oligarchs at arms' length from the Kremlin, some oligarchs appear to be are at least a little bit closer to Putin's breast.
Searching for ways to legitimize stumbling domestic and foreign-policy agendas is a substitute for genuine politics that so smacks little of convictions based on meaningful visions of the future. Both Bush and Putin should be advised to stop reacting to events and then trying to spin what happens to their advantage. This is a dangerous stratagem for both countries. Shortsighted politics also does not create a solid foundation for a meaningful bilateral Russian-American relationship. To date, searching for reasons why the two counties should work together has ended only in acrimony. More interest should be given attention to what the two countries have in common — one does not have to look far to find it.