- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Russian retrospective

House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, has been to Russia so many times during his eight terms in Congress that he says some of his best friends live there.

The congressman has just returned from his 29th trip there, having led a delegation of 13 lawmakers on a 10-day trek that first touched down in Moscow, where three days of high-level meetings were held.

Mr. Weldon this week discussed the improved U.S.-Russian relationship during a National Press Club appearance, particularly as it relates to the terrorist threat now facing this country. In doing so, the congressman tried not to "cast stones and lay blame," but he failed miserably.

"I would say that perhaps both the Congress and the White House were wrong in not having total coordination of what our policy could have been and should have been toward Russia during the decade of the '90s," he said.

"In fact, many of us in Congress were frustrated," he said, "as we saw effort after effort of technology being taken out of Russia And that technology, in the form of chemical, nuclear and biological technology, missile technology, was then transferred to nations like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea."

Unfortunately, said Mr. Weldon, U.S. policy in the 1990s was "dominated by this obsession" with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

"We didn't want anything to rise to the surface that would embarrass Yeltsin, so we pretended it wasn't happening," he said.

(Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state for seven years and architect of the Clinton administration's policy toward Russia, reveals in his just-published book, "The Russia Hand," that U.S. officials regularly tracked Mr. Yeltsin's alcohol consumption during U.S.-Russia meetings and actually adjusted their expectations for progress based on the number of drinks that went down. Mr. Talbott says President Clinton never seemed bothered by the Russian leader's conduct and inability to govern. Go figure.)

In May of 1997, Mr. Weldon said he met with Gen. Alexander Lebed, Mr. Yeltsin's national security adviser and candidate for president who recently died in a helicopter crash. The general warned the congressman that former Soviet military officials, who felt "betrayed by the motherland," were "selling off the technology that was built to use against you [the U.S.] in war. And they're selling that technology, illegally, to your enemies."

We can't help but recall that it was also Gen. Lebed who came to the United States in 1996 to warn Mr. Clinton, and anybody else who would listen, that Russia had lost more than a dozen nuclear suitcase bombs no bigger in size than a football, yet each capable of obliterating four square miles.

Baby Osamas

In his new Wyndham Hall Press book, "Osama Bin Laden: A Psychological and Political Portrait," author Anthony J. Dennis calls bin Laden "the model of the new, twenty-first century political figure."

"He holds no public office. He communicates his decrees over the Internet. He instructs his followers by cell or satellite phone. And he lives in a small room in an underground bunker. And yet he commands more influence and exerts more military muscle than some governments," the author says.

And as with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, he points out, people today in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other traditional Muslim countries now name their newborn children "Osama" after him.

"Bin Laden wants Muslims to perceive him as a modern-day Saladin the Great, who led the Muslims to victory over the Christian Crusaders during the Middle Ages," says Mr. Dennis, author of the 1996 book "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West."

"However, this dream of Muslim greatness founded upon the myth of military superiority is a fatal delusion in the nuclear age," he adds. "The Muslim world will only be great when it finally decides to put down the sword, not when it takes it up."

Still, the nuclear age can cut two ways, the author is quick to warn.

"We cannot assume that any aspect of American or Western society is safe from annihilation as long as the transnational Muslim fundamentalist movement still rages somewhere on the globe," he says. "Washington, D.C., and other large Western cities are obviously attractive targets for terrorists and will continue to be so until terrorism is expunged from the story of human progress and development."

No guarantees

You've already read where President Bush has appointed the equivalent of a "marriage czar" to strengthen relationships between husband and wife. Now, the Southern Baptist Convention, the second-largest religious body in the United States, is endorsing the advancement of a Federal Marriage Amendment through Congress.

The convention says tying the knot is "the foundation of our society," and "the benefits of marriage between one man and one woman [are] enormous, both for the individuals involved and the children that result from the union."

Still, the Census Bureau reports that nearly half of all first marriages today end in divorce.

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