Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Distrusting the Russians

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Distrusting the Russians

Article excerpt

Should we trust the Russians? That's the central strategic question of our time.

If your answer is yes, then it follows we should send Moscow aid and credits; we should cluck-cluck about the savagery in putting down the Chechen reach for independence but discourage any secession from the vast Russian federation.

And not only should we not expand NATO eastward, we should respond to our allies' abandonment of Bosnia by bringing home 110,000 American troops now defending Europe.

But if your answer is no - if you believe that a resurgent Russia will someday again seek to dominate or reabsorb the nations of Eastern Europe - then you, as a realistic distruster, should logically support a different strategy.

The distrusters would tie American trade and aid to Russian economic and foreign-policy behavior; would lend vocal moral support to peoples within the world's largest empire that want to separate from the huge federation; and would swallow NATO's failure to respond to Serbian aggression for the sake of building collective security against a future threat from the East.

After much thumb-sucking, cognitive dissonance and cussing out of the Europeans for their Balkan shame, I have come down hard on the side of distrust.

That means supporting the expansion of the NATO alliance while we have the chance - now, with Russia preoccupied. If we wait until the bear regains both strength and appetite, the most vulnerable nations will never be protected - because at that time, faint hearts would see expansion as "provocative."

President Bill Clinton is waffling on this central issue. He talks the talk of protecting Poland and other states at potential risk, but walks the walk of not offending Boris Yeltsin by failing to set out a timetable for new membership. His amorphous "Partnership for Peace" muddies the waters and tootles an uncertain saxophone.

What about the new conservative leadership of Congress? Does the old tug of distrust of the Russians outpull the older tug of isolationism?

Evidently so. In a bill labeled HR 7, "to revitalize the national security of the United States," the shock troops of the Gingrich movement - after heaping ritual scorn on the United Nations - assert "it should be the policy of the United States . …

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