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Friday, February 18, 2005

A test principles

This Weekly Standard article about Bush's upcoming meeting with Putin is well worth reading:

Words are especially meaningful when they are hard to say. The first big test of Bush's commitment to his liberty doctrine will come when he meets Russian president Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, on February 24. Calling for freedom's advance on Inauguration Day is one thing; saying the same to Putin a month later is another, and a much more difficult, thing. In previous meetings, Putin and Bush seem not to have spent much time discussing liberty. Before the recent inauguration, this omission had a strategic justification, however flawed. Throughout Bush's first term, 'realists' on his team claimed that Russian-American relations were best served when we checked our values at the door. Our relations with Russia, so the argument went, were so important to our vital security interests that President Bush should avoid talking about freedom and democracy when meeting with his Kremlin counterpart and instead focus the dialogue on the global war on terror or nonproliferation. This argument was shortsighted and flawed. In the long run--even in the medium run--coddling dictators backfires. Only a democratic Russia will be a reliable partner for either U.S. foreign policymakers or American businesses. Only a democratic Russia will be able to build a legitimate state capable of fighting terrorism on Russian soil and thereby contributing to the global war on terrorism. Only a democratic Russia will stop threatening young democracies nearby in Ukraine and Georgia.
While I am a firm believer in democracy promotion in the Wilsonian tradition, I am also sympathetic to realist arguments to a certain extent. We cannot compel Russia and we might be unable to convince Putin at this time. Certainly it seems obvious that too much pressure could simply backfire. What seems to me to be most important though, is although we may make deals with undemocratic countries and totalitarians it is important that we never deceive ourselves about the nature of such allies. We can be true friends with other democracies. Everyone else can at best be considered an ally of convenience or a hired hand. Our policies and our rhetoric at should reflect this underlying fact.


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