February 20, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East
With the United States and Iraq moving closer to war, America is
finding out who its friends really are.
Dozens of countries have lined up alongside the United States, including Great Britain, Spain and the Czech Republic. More can be expected to get on board if war breaks out.
The case of Russia is particularly fascinating. Recently, Russia's been more a pain in the neck than a friend at the United Nations, opposing U.S. efforts to use force against Saddam Hussein. But our long-time Cold War enemy has the potential to be a great ally in a post-Saddam Middle East and the continuing global war on terror.
Mind you, Russia could be a great friend. Its recent track record of cooperation with the United States is mixed. On one hand, Russia sided with Germany and France to block military action against Iraq, continues to build a nuclear reactor in Iran and recently held talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.
On the other hand, it is allied with America in the war on terrorism. After the Sept. 11th attacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the United States against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He overruled his defense minister and let the U.S. military deploy troops and fly over Russian territory. Russia also supplied and trained forces for the Northern Alliance, which overthrew the Taliban. Finally, it permitted the re-supply of U.S. forces in Afghanistan through its ports and railways, greatly cutting U.S. costs.
There are many reasons why Putin did this, but here's the main one: Osama bin Laden's taped remark that the attack on civilians at a Moscow theater last October was part of his jihad against the West. This proved Putin's belief that Russia is also a terrorist target and is vulnerable to Sept. 11-style attack. And Putin, a former KGB chief, doesn't like being vulnerable.
It's true that Moscow and Washington differ fundamentally on Russia's relations with Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In the debates over the U.N. Security Council resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq, for example, Russia opposed language that would have explicitly authorized the use of force.
But Moscow's ties to rogue states are driven primarily by economic motives. Russia seeks to profit from multi-billion-dollar oil, gas and nuclear power deals -- and arms sales -- to pay off billions in Soviet-era Iraqi debt. As the resolution was being crafted, Baghdad disingenuously claimed that it might sign a $40 billion, 10-year trade agreement with Russia.
The Bush administration should work closely with Russia to develop alternative policies for dealing with rogue states -- policies that would threaten neither country's security interests. As noted in The Heritage Foundation policy guidebook, "Agenda 2003" the United States should:
Russia and America were allies in World War II. Now, in this new
world war against terrorism, we have an opportunity to be allies
again, but with a twist -- friends not only because we have common
enemies, but because we have basic, common democratic and economic
values that include a world free of terrorism. To borrow a line
from Hollywood, this could be the start of a beautiful
Ariel Cohen is a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire