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Bush should not forget Reagan's take on 'trust'



Published: Tue, June 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Although he stopped short of describing Russian President Vladimir Putin as his soul mate, President George W. Bush's gushing review of his meeting with Putin -- "I was able to get a sense of his soul" -- brings to mind Ronald Reagan's advice about the former Soviet Union: "Trust but verify."

What did the Great Communicator mean? "It means keeping our military strong. It means remembering no treaty is better than a bad treaty. It means remembering the accords of Moscow and Washington summits followed many years of standing firm on our principles," Reagan said.

Thus, while Bush, a foreign policy neophyte, and Putin, the wily ex-KGB official, are reveling in their newfound relationship, the leader of the sole superpower in the world should take care that his eagerness to be accepted in the international arena isn't perceived as a sign of weakness.

To his credit, Bush performed admirably during his five-day visit to Europe, standing firm on his administration's decision to proceed with a missile defense system, reaffirming the United States' support for NATO expansion and singing the praises of those former Soviet Republics that have embraced democracy.

Light touch: But the meeting with Putin attracted the most attention because it presented the most risks, not only for each man but for the stability of Europe. Perhaps that is why Bush opted for the political light touch rather than the heavy-handed approach embraced by some of his predecessors.

However, the president must know that his assessment of Putin-- a family man, a patriot -- will come back to haunt him if the Russian president continues his iron-fisted policy toward the Chechen rebels, turns a blind eye on the crime and corruption that now seem to fuel Russia's economy and continues to undermine democratic reforms with his crackdown on the press.

Bush has invited Putin to his Texas ranch, which would be an ideal setting for some straight talk about Russia's decision to sell $7 billion worth of weapons to Iran, which continues to view the United States as its arch enemy and remains a haven for terrorist groups.

There is nothing wrong with the U.S. and Russia strengthening their ties and even attempting to find a compromise on the missile defense system, which the Russians view as upsetting the nuclear balance that has existed so long between the two countries. But in his dealings with Putin, the Republican president should "trust but verify."




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