#10 - JRL 7217
June 10, 2003
Bush: the Most Pro-Russian President
By Nikolai Zlobin
Nikolai Zlobin is the Director of Russian and Asian Programs at the Center for Defense Information, Washington, DC
The case of Martha Stewart, the queen of interior designs, is the center of America's attention. Remarkably, the reason for her indictment is not the fact that, using confidential insider information about upcoming devaluation, she sold four thousand shares of ImClone stock (which, as a matter of fact, would not have greatly affected her personal savings). Rather, the nine criminal charges filed against one of the wealthiest women in the world accused her of lying to the prosecution and the FBI, and thus obstructing justice. In other words, it is the lying that has produced graver consequences than the crime itself, which is yet unproven. Obstruction of justice is considered one of the most serious crimes by not only the legal but the moral realms of the United States. While crime can result from honest mistakes, misperception, negligence or carelessness, hiding the truth is always intentional. Bill Clinton was not accused of having an affair in the workplace, but of lying about it.
This characteristic of American mentality is pervasive, manifested in all aspects of personal and political relations, including international affairs. For example, if George W. Bush has misinterpreted the information provided to him by intelligence agencies regarding WMDs in Iraq, this will hardly affect his public image. If, however, the president and his administration have secretly "edited" this information to accommodate their military plans, his political reputation will be significantly undermined. If the intelligence agencies provided the White House with apparently faulty information, we can expect a number of careers at the Pentagon and Langley to end in disgrace. It is the fact that Saddam Hussein lied to everyone made him a criminal in the eyes of Americans, not the fact that he might have possessed chemical weapons. Based on that same logic, many in Washington are struggling to understand the inadequate response by Russian intelligence to the war in Iraq. Was this a simple miscalculation, or was it an intentional manipulation of facts, designed to urge the Kremlin toward certain political decisions?
The notion that Washington should punish the French, ignore the Germans and forgive the Russians for their respective stances in the Iraqi war, so concisely articulated by Condoleezza Rice, is not based on the importance of these countries to the United States nor on their military and economic potential. At its foundation is the American preoccupation with morality and truth. This is made all the more clear by the fact that such actions are not directed at the countries, but at their governments. Both European governments were deliberately vague about their real intentions toward the Iraqi issue.
French leaders tried to regain their badly damaged international influence; the German government was bent on winning the elections and holding on to power. The fate of Iraq and its WMD, the war against terrorism and anti-Americanism functioned as a distraction and created a convenient political momentum. Washington viewed the Russian position, not as traitorous but the result of a simple misunderstanding and misplaced trust in the weapons inspection process - this despite Russia's certain realization of the dangers of terrorism, the criminal character of the Iraqi regime and the necessity of its removal. While Washington and Moscow argued over whether the regime of Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat, Paris and Berlin took advantage of this situation to solve their individual issues and problems. Thus, Washington felt that it was betrayed and even worse, lied to.
George W. Bush, a person of deep religious convictions, stresses the fundamental importance of moral postulates in politics. At the G8 Summit in Evian, his verbal and nonverbal behavior conveyed his anger at Jacques Chirac, whom he decided to punish. Nevertheless, he expressed his appreciation to France for her support in the fight against Al-Qaeda and noted that the next meeting with the French will be at the United Nations this fall. Bush was far more obvious in his disgust for Schroeder, in whom he has lost all confidence. Schroeder did not even rate a display of Bush's ire, but instead ignored altogether. Gerhard Schroeder received no invitation, no appreciative gesture; Bush simply refused to meet him during the Summit. At the same time, Bush clearly did not feel any resentment toward Vladimir Putin. He visited Saint Petersburg, and invited President Putin for a return visit to US. Once again, the Russian leader's morale stance was put to the test, and he passed.
The utter lack of personal trust between the US President and his European colleagues will continue to complicate their relations, although not to the extent that Russian-American relations would have suffered had Putin lost Bush's trust and sympathy. Bush's affection for Putin transcends the political relations of the two countries. Clinton appreciated the positive relation he had with Yeltsin, but always with an eye toward bringing democracy to Russia. Bush's attitude toward Putin is based on personal factors and does not rely on an ongoing evaluation of political processes in Russia. Bush is the most pro-Russian US President in modern history. The absence of cultural or political unity, and laudable economic cooperation between these two countries, do not endanger the mutual trust of their presidents. Washington sees the honest disagreement as a lesser evil, when compared to the covering-up of real intentions. This must be understood by the Russian President, and particularly by the subordinates who provide the essential information for his decisions.