- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Last week, two Russian jets were blown up almost simultaneously, killing 90 people. Earlier this week, a suicide bomber killed 10 people at a busy subway station in Moscow. On Tuesday, terrorists killed and injured scores of people on two Israeli buses. Yesterday, armed militants, some strapped with explosives, stormed a schoolhouse near the border with Chechnya and corralled hundreds of hostages, including children. This is a dangerous world, and the issue is central to the question of whether President Bush or John Kerry should be commander in chief.

As the news networks alternated scenes from Russia and the Republican National Convention, the images raised leadership questions to another level. Also driving the issue is that, for years, experts have largely said the problem is Russia’s to solve.

While the people of Chechnya have suffered human-rights violations by Russian forces, the Kremlin has sought to pacify Chechnya through sham elections, such as Sunday’s presidential election, which U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described as having “serious flaws.” Given those flaws, he said, Moscow’s anointed president, Alu Alkanov, “now faces the difficult task of… finding ways to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.” Mr. Boucher added, “We also call for an end to human rights abuses in Chechnya by all parties, and urge that those who committed such abuses be held accountable.”

Mr. Boucher’s statement hit the right points. In the past, those statements have traditionally been seen as principled, but not pragmatic, positions. According to Sarah Mendelson, senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, that isn’t the way to look at the problem today. One Chechen militant already has expressed an intention to strike at the broader international community, given its silence on Russia’s human-rights abuses. Also, Russian defense forces have been badly corrupted through their activity in Chechnya, and that poses a broader risk, noted Ms. Mendelson. Already, Russian troops sell armaments to Chechens. Some day, Chechen terrorists could buy a weapon of mass destruction. The human-rights abuses by Russian forces, she added, have given rise to greater extremism in Chechnya and has not made Russia more secure.

The Bush administration should continue condemning terrorism and supporting Russian efforts to counter it. Stand-alone images of terrorists destroying lives and severing limbs are terrible sights to behold. The American people must examine the anti-terrorism performance of Mr. Bush during the past three and a half years as president. They must look no less carefully at Mr. Kerry’s voting record, statements and behavior dating back more than 30 years, and ask themselves whether he is capable of standing down terrorists as Mr. Bush has.

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