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Putin's criticism of U.S. is reality check for Bush

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

If President Bush needed a jolt to reassess his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it came Saturday when the man Bush once described as "my good friend Vladimir" delivered a double-barreled attack on U.S. foreign policy.
Putin told a security forum in Munich, Germany, that America's "almost uncontained" use of force is prompting other countries to acquire nuclear weapons to counter this flexing of muscle.
" ... we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations," the Russian president said, adding, "one state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way."
And then he delivered what amounts to an indictment of the Bush administration: "This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure any more because nobody can hide behind international law."
To its credit, the Bush administration responded quickly, but as it has done in previous situations in which Putin turned out to be a disappointment, the words were carefully parsed. That's a mistake.
"His accusations are wrong," said Gordon Johndroc, President Bush's national security spokesman.
No, Putin's statements were offensive -- considering that he knew his accusations against the United States would draw worldwide attention because of his highly publicized relationship with Bush.
There is also a great deal of irony in the Russian president's use of the words "uncontained hyper use of force" given how he has governed his nation.
In the past several years, Putin has stripped his political rivals of any power, has stepped on the press and has hamstrung the ability of non-governmental organizations to help the people of Russia.
Putin also has been playing hardball with former Soviet republics such as the Ukraine.
He has, in effect, reversed the course of democracy in Russia, a course that the United States helped chart and that Bush touted as an example for all countries that still are under dictatorial regimes.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Putin and Bush strengthened their relationship, but since then tensions have mounted over the Russian leader's criticism of the United States and his hardline policies that harken back to the days of Soviet-style communism.
Putin's latest verbal assault against the U.S. deserves a stern response from President Bush. He should use this opportunity to deliver a strong critique of the direction Putin is taking Russia and of his willingness to do business with sponsors of global terrorism, such as Iran.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Moscow has completed deliveries of 29 sophisticated Tor-M1 mobile anti-aircraft batteries to Iran, and an official has "hinted that Russia might also supply S-300 long-range air defense weapons."
This comes at a time when the Bush administration has accused the government in Tehran of supplying armaments to the Shiite militants in Iraq.
The Monitor noted that Russia does arms business with over 70 countries, including China and Venezuela, and yet Putin has the temerity to lecture the United States about "hyper use of force."
It's time for Bush to sit his old friend down for a heart-to-heart.