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Keeping Russia From Sliding Toward Abyss : No mistaking the disaster for West if democracy fails

March 01, 1992

Aggressive leadership turned Iraq, a small, technologically backward state, into an international menace. How much greater, then, would be the danger from the return of the same kind of leadership to a state that, just yesterday, had military power on par with the United States. It is not raw power but political will that makes Saddam Hussein the menace he continues to be. For him, as for Stalin, no domestic sacrifice is too great to ask in the name of military might. A new Stalin ruling Russia alone--leave aside, for the moment, the rest of the former Soviet Union--could clearly pose a serious military threat to the West.

One response to this fact of international life says that as military force brought the United States to its current status as sole remaining superpower, so force must keep us there. Go with an all-out "Star Wars," some would say, and hang the expense. We favor a different response. Russia is flat on the canvas, to be sure, but these days the United States sometimes seems all but on the ropes; and unless there can be a peace dividend, unless American society can have some respite from the pummeling of 50 years of uninterrupted military mobilization, then this country too might end up on the canvas. But the only way to gain this respite is for the American fighter, bruised as he is, to help the Russian fighter to his feet, and for the two of them to make their way from the ring together.

In less metaphorical language, we call on President Bush and Vice President Quayle--and in no less forceful terms on all the Democratic presidential candidates--to take thought without delay for those who from inside Moscow and even inside the Kremlin have been U.S. allies in ending the Cold War. The United States cannot preserve the exceedingly fragile victory without them.

"There are still threats," Bush said in his State of the Union address; "But the long drawn-out dread is over." No, Mr. President, it is not over yet. Speaking to an American columnist at a meeting in Germany, Vice President Quayle said: "We knew who was behind Gorbachev. It was Yeltsin, who was committed to a reform agenda. We don't know what the forces are behind Yeltsin." What is disturbing about this remark--and the rest of the Administration's policy reflects it--is the unwarranted belief that the United States has the luxury to wait and see.

This nation does not have that luxury. It is true that America cannot wipe away every tear in the world. Starvation in Somalia, cholera in Peru--the list is long and resources have never seemed more meager. But the months between now and November cannot safely be given over to the domestic agenda alone. Russia secured "not as a mere partner but as an ally," to quote Boris N. Yeltsin, is a bargain at any price. The choice is some billions now for economic stabilization or the threat of many more billions later for rearmament.

It isn't temperament alone but, in all fairness, history that has made George Bush an internationalist President. He must muster the political courage to stay that very course in the closing months of his term in office. And his challengers must muster the political courage not to attack him for doing so.

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