- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

George W. Bush may be on the verge of making history. No, not for his tax cut that is already being torn apart in the legislative sausage factory. No, not for cutting spending his 4 percent limit has already been consumed by the congressional porkers. It certainly is not for his education policy to please Teddy Kennedy, that will end up worse than Bill Clintons.

The surprising answer is foreign policy. The State Department announced recently that President Bush will meet with Russia´s president, Vladimir Putin, at the end of his five-nation trip in June and, again, in July at the economic summit. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with Mr. Bush May 18.

With domestic policy blocked in an evenly divided Congress, Mr. Bush has wisely turned to America´s strategic position in the post-Cold War world. As Richard Nixon went to China to block the Soviets, the new president will go to Russia to contain China. An American tie to Russia not only stops China´s planned alliance with Russia and India but answers the question of who will supplement a weakened Europe in the U.S. alliance structure. It is not irrelevant that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, just visited India, too.

A source within State tells me, "This administration is full of people who want a rapprochement with Russia." It is at least conceivable that Russia might confront historic opponent China over, say, Taiwan; it is inconceivable that Europe (with the possible exception of Britain) would. A generation or two hence, Europe will not have enough population even if somehow it regained the will. Europe might regain its soul the International Social Survey Program finds that most people there still hold traditional Western beliefs such as in God and in a life after death and there is an awful lot of praying going on (more than in the much more religious U.S.). Church attendance even if irregular might even be up a bit.

Other interesting things are happening too. The big victory of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy is a blow to left-wing control of the European Union. Both Belgian and French ministers threatened before the vote to sanction Italy if he was elected, as they did with Austria. A pre-election New York Times story labeled Mr. Berlusconi a "Reaganite," and he calls himself "an American-like success story," to explain his rise to wealth from modest roots. He is for tax cuts and for radically federalizing power to Italy´s regions, slimming the bureaucratic center. Austria, itself, became tougher in response to its isolation. Ireland is still smarting after being widely criticized for its "low" taxes. Denmark rejected the euro as its monetary unit in a referendum, against all of its political parties. Switzerland voters just rejected plans to join the EU, 77 to 23 percent.

A revived Europe, however, is chancy at best and it is wise to look to additional allies. At the moment, Europe only taunts little guys and holds the coats, while the U.S. does the fighting even in its Balkan backyard. It also makes mischief. On a trip to South America in 1997, French president Jacques Chirac told them the future of Latin America was not with the "north" (i.e. us) but with Europe. While President Bush is pursuing a free Trade Area of the Americas, Europe is infringing in the U.S. backyard. A mission to Moscow, would be a healthy wake-up call.

Bill Clinton tried to cosy up to the Russians too but he and his crowd were so moralistic (not to say moral), they could never say anything nice without hectoring them to be good liberal Americans, "or else." Like the left-Europeans, anyone not like them is a "fascist" and must be sanctioned. In fact, the respected Freedom House ranks Russia as "partially free." But foreign policy is not a liberal popularity contest. The question is, can Russia and the U.S. act in common for mutual gain? Mr. Putin has made it clear to American diplomats that he wants to be friends. He will play along on missile defense. He wants to contain China. He is very concerned about fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. How about making Russia America´s main, non-strategic weapons supplier with an exclusive contract forbidding sales that we do not approve and a pledge to keep hands off the Baltic and Ukraine? That is a good deal for both.

The right needs to rethink Russia too. Moscow was the enemy during the Cold War; but that is ancient history. George Bush could make the United States secure throughout the 21st century with this bold, historic move. It would be a tragedy if conservatives become the stumbling block to the kind of secure world they waged the Cold War to gain.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.


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