When it comes to his friend Vlad, President Bush always seems ready to forgive and forget
Tuesday, March 28, 2006; Page A22
YOU’D THINK that evidence that a supposedly friendly country had delivered detailed military intelligence to an American enemy at a time of war would quickly provoke a reaction from the U.S. government: at the least, a demand for a full explanation, followed by a reassessment of relations with that country. But that’s not how the Bush administration handles Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
For some time the administration has been in possession of captured Iraqi documents describing how the Russian ambassador in Baghdad supplied Saddam Hussein with information about U.S. troop movements before and during the invasion of Iraq, including the critical intelligence that U.S. forces planned to bypass Iraqi cities and press through the "Karbala Gap" to Baghdad.
Yet it was not until they were questioned about the documents on national television over the weekend that senior national security officials offered that they would ask the Russian government about them. And even that was qualified.
"I do think we have to look at the documents and look very carefully," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "But I don’t want of jump out ahead and start making accusations about what the Russians may or may not have known." Fair enough, but a Pentagon study has already been through at least part of that exercise. It found no reason to doubt the documents’ authenticity.
The news that Moscow would have helped Saddam Hussein fight U.S. forces might be unwelcome to those administration officials who still try to portray Mr. Putin as a partner of the West and a worthy host for the next summit of the Group of Eight nations. But it shouldn’t be surprising. As has been well documented, Russia did its best to weaken and then break the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq, and then to prevent the 2003 invasion. In exchange it reaped lucrative economic concessions from Saddam Hussein, including the payment of large bribes to senior officials and politicians.
Moreover, Mr. Putin has done his best to undermine or defeat U.S. policies in much of the rest of the world. He has fought President Bush’s efforts to promote democracy in the Muslim countries of Central Asia, rushing to embrace the autocratic president of Uzbekistan when his massacre of opposition protesters led to a rift with Washington and the closure of an important U.S. air base. He welcomed the Islamic movement Hamas to Moscow just as the Bush administration was trying to arrange its international isolation. He is propping up the dictator of Belarus even as the United States and European Union impose sanctions on him for staging fraudulent elections.
Ms. Rice and other Putin apologists ignore all this in part because they believe Russia will be helpful in stopping Iran’s nuclear program. But Russia hasn’t been helpful. Since its compromise offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russian facilities failed to gain traction, it has dedicated itself to blocking concerted action by the United States and its European allies in the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile it is discussing the sale to Iran of surface-to-air missiles. As Mr. Putin knows, Iran wants those weapons in the event its drive to obtain nuclear bombs eventually leads to a military confrontation — with the United States. But the possible consequences of bolstering the defenses of a U.S enemy may not deter him. After all, he has suffered none for Russia’s actions in Iraq.