Transitions on Line, Czechia
Nov. 1, 2004

Time for a Change

by TOL
1 November 2004

George Bush talks of the `transformational power of liberty.' The
post-communist world needs a U.S. leader who would help liberty more.

Everywhere you go in our region there is an unprecedented interest in
the U.S. elections. Some commentators find the interest out of
proportion, arguing that the two presidential candidates' foreign
policies do not differ vastly.

Their surprise is bizarre and their interpretation of the candidates'
foreign-policy differences probably too narrow. What would be more
amazing is if the world were not so interested. After all, the key
themes of the Bush presidency has been a global `war on terror' and an
invasion underpinned by a belief in the `transformational power of
liberty' - and if anyone over the past 15 years has been testing the
`transformational power of liberty' it is the post-communist world.
Inevitable, then, that these elections are being viewed as crucial. And
for many, the candidates' utterly different personalities and
approaches make not just for compelling viewing, but ultimately also
for different policies.

Since, in our own way, we monitor the strength and weakness of liberty
in 28 countries, we feel it worth taking this opportunity to consider
the approach and the man best suited to meet our hopes. Those hopes are
for the promotion of democracy, better governance, and accountability,
and for greater security.

Our region, of course, barely featured in the campaign. But in most
other respects, we are making a judgment in the same way as the
American people, based on the candidates' personalities, approaches,
styles, credibility, and records. And while Bush, as president, has a
bigger record, the senator too has an interesting and important record.

BUSH'S RECORD

John Kerry would of course come to the presidency without a history of
executive power. But that isn't much of a handicap. Because George
Bush's list of achievements or policy initiatives in our region is not
very long, and some of it is distinctly disturbing.

The shortness is partly understandable. There is the war in Iraq to
attend to. In Clinton's time, it was the war in the Balkans that
consumed attention. The United States no longer bears the main
diplomatic burden in the Balkans. Instead, it is the International
Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the European Union that
are forcing the region to deal with the past. It is Europe that can
offer a vision of the future (EU membership), and, militarily,
increasingly it is Europe that is taking responsibility.

In the `wider Europe' - Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova - the Bush
administration has held the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus
accountable and promoted cooperation with NATO. Zbigniew Brzezinski, an
adviser to ex-President Jimmy Carter, recently wrote that Bush's
National Security Council has `studiously ignored' Ukraine `while
na´vely courting' Russia's President Putin. That may be true, but the
vision deficit in this area is primarily Europe's fault. (If Turkey
deserves special status in the EU's eyes, so does Ukraine.) There are
question marks, too, over the State Department's approach to Moldova,
but, overall, in Eastern Europe there has been nothing especially
notable about American activity these past four years.

It is in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia that Bush has left his
mark and, occasionally, earned some points. In Georgia, Washington was
right to put President Eduard Shevardnadze under intense pressure
before and after fraudulent elections that eventually led to the rose
revolution. But it did dismally in Azerbaijan after rigged elections
and feebly in Armenia after deeply flawed votes.

After 9/11, we had expected a major inflow of cash and attention to
Central Asia (thanks to its proximity to Afghanistan) and to the
Caucasus (as a near neighbor of Iraq's). But, outside the military
sphere, neither the international community nor the United States has
dedicated much in the way of cash or manpower. That is not entirely
their fault (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan do not even yet allow the
World Bank to help gather statistics), but they have failed
intellectually to grapple with Central Asia's problems, to push hard
enough for more economic development, and to uphold moral standards. To
be fair, the State Department has made a few good noises in public,
warning that crackdowns on dissent are counterproductive. It has also
said it will withhold a token amount in aid to Uzbekistan ($18
million). But that barely compares with inviting Uzbek President Islam
Karimov to Washington, the centrality of military concerns, and the
lawless example set by Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in a region where
the term `war on terror' has been ritually abused and overused. All of
that, and the United States' new military interests in the region,
leave us skeptical that the United States is working hard enough behind
the scenes to promote a more open society.

Perhaps we should we give Bush more benefit of the doubt. But in the
alacrity of its recognition of Azerbaijan's `elections,' Washington
showed how readily national interests - in that case, oil and gas - can
supersede national values. It has also been slow to see and worry about
anti-democratic tendencies, most importantly in Russia. When Bush
looked into Putin's eyes he famously found love. Over these four years,
when we have looked at his actions, we have found an
authoritarian-in-waiting. Our judgement looks more accurate by the
month. That also strengthens our view on the greatest successes of the
Bush-Putin relationship: Putin's relatively easy acceptance of NATO
expansion to the Baltics and the war in Afghanistan. Where some saw
great successes for Western diplomacy, we saw a man making a virtue out
of necessity. Putin deserved respect and appreciation for being
realistic but not love and accolades.

In short, in these four years the United States has maintained a
relatively low-key diplomatic approach, quietly completed the landmark
effort to expand NATO to the Baltics, made questionable progress with
Russia, and set a disturbing moral example. More should be expected
from the world's leader.

Americans should also expect more. Looked at more broadly, Bush's
presidency has fueled anti-American sentiment, increased cynicism, and
offered people with bad governments and an ugly past - chiefly in the
Balkans--an unhelpful type of comfort: if, in Iraq, the leader of the
greatest power in history can behave cynically and unaccountably (as
they see it), we do not have too much to feel ashamed about after all.
America needs to produce an antidote to such sentiments.

THE NEXT PRESIDENT'S AGENDA

Inevitably, our region has been of secondary importance to Bush. That
will remain the case. But an agenda filled with important issues is
beginning to form for the next president. The European Commission's
recommendation to invite Turkey to become a member adds weight to the
cross-party U.S. desire to promote the Black Sea as an area of greater
stability. If the United States is serious about that (and, with an oil
pipeline due to run from the Caspian to the Black Sea, it should be),
it will need a more stable Caucasus. With a determined president in
Georgia, it will need to pay more attention to Georgia's frozen
conflicts, which could in turn focus attention on Nagorno-Karabakh and
Transdniester (Bruce Jackson, chairman of the U.S. NATO Committee, said
on 21 October, that Transdniester is likely to be higher up the next
administration's agenda). To deal with these issues, the United States
(and Europe) will have to challenge Russia over its role in these
areas.

And if it is serious about security in Central Asia, having beheaded
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan during the war in Afghanistan, the
United States will have to look deeper at the social and political
problems that fuel unrest and at the drug trade that finances
criminals.

If any of that is to happen, more engagement, a willingness to address
some long-standing problems, a willingness to challenge some difficult
leaders, and a more sophisticated understanding of the `war on terror'
are all required. And since the EU is critically important
diplomatically and economically in the Balkans, the `wider Europe,' and
Russia, a good relationship with the EU would help.

In other words, a broader understanding is critical, style is a major
tool--not just some embellishment--and a good partnership with Europe
serves U.S. interests.

THE SENATOR'S RECORD

Both style and approach are a problem for Bush. In the days before the
U.S. elections, Bush received a `ringing endorsement' that he could
have done without--from Putin. The Russian president's principal
reasoning is that, if Bush is not re-elected, international terrorists
`will celebrate a victory over America and over the entire anti-terror
coalition.' That endorsement, of course, does not mean the two fully
agree on how to fight the `war on terror': they disagreed on Iraq and
on Putin's twisted logic that the Beslan tragedy somehow meant there
must be no local elections in Russia. What it more probably means is
that a man who turned Grozny into Stalingrad and allows his soldiers to
do anything in Chechnya feels happier with Bush's record, personality,
and attitudes toward him, terrorism, and Chechnya. Not a desirable
commendation.

Kerry offers a better approach and a more promising record. In his 1997
book The New War, Kerry emphasized non-state actors as a source of
instability. As a district attorney, he is credited with major
successes against the local mafia. As a senator, he played a key role
in uncovering the Iran-Contra affair and in efforts to clamp down on
money-laundering and drug-trafficking. All that makes it possible that
he will understand some of the atypical security threats in Central
Asia, Transdniester, and the region as a whole. And with a record of
interest in these issues, there is more chance that he will be
interested in this region. All this also happens to make it likelier
that he will hold some leaders more accountable.

Leaders around the region might, then, not like him much. Russia, for
example, might not take easily to Kerry's commitment, in a presidential
debate, that he would press Russia to secure its nuclear weapons. But
he also said he would ditch a new nuclear program that Bush is
developing. He has other things to offer as well: a greater willingness
to cooperate, to sign up to international agreements, and - critically - to
work closely with Europe. He would, too, suffer from less of a
credibility gap than Bush. When recently asked in the United States
whether he would send troops to Iraq knowing what he knows now,
Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski, so often cited by Bush in
this campaign, simply replied, `Next question.' Not a ringing
endorsement from a president whose endorsement is coveted.

A more multilateral approach would, intrinsically, make the United
States more accountable. Whether Kerry would sign up to the
International Criminal Court is another matter. But even if he is
unwilling to hold U.S. troops accountable internationally, he would be
more likely than Bush to bring them to book domestically. As a senator
he criticized the U.S. military's actions in Vietnam and government
agencies' relationships with drug-traffickers and gun-runners. Compare
that with a president who brought us Guantanamo Bay and never punished
the man ultimately responsible for the disgrace at Abu Ghraib, Donald
Rumsfeld.

THE VISION THING

Of course, the region will be competing for attention with more
pressing concerns in the Middle East. We do not expect too much (partly
because both houses of Congress may be controlled by the Republicans).
But that is also why we place an emphasis on an appreciation of the
importance of a more multilateral approach, a more nuanced view of
security, and a record of interest in these issues. Moreover, look
again at the agenda we see for the next president and it is clear we
see a problem that needs to be recognized (and that is not too distant
from the problems the United States faces in Iraq): the transition away
from authoritarianism is in trouble and needs help.

Despite a father who was a Cold War head of the CIA, Bush has failed to
recognize that problem - or, at least, to do much to help. Whether Kerry
has or will notice it is open to question. But, as the internationalist
son of a Cold War diplomat who spent a childhood in Europe and a
senator with an interesting record, there is at least a fair chance he
will.

In any case, over the past four years, in this region Bush has given us
little reason to commend him and much to worry about. Kerry offers a
promising alternative and less reason to worry. If Americans opt for a
change, we will be glad.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress