Politics & Policy

Bush Derangement Syndrome: Russia as a Strategic Partner

The president must withdraw the U.S.-Russia civil nuclear-cooperation pact.

It was a relief to see President Bush take some meaningful action in response to Russia’s aggression against Georgia on Wednesday — something beyond looking sternly into Vladimir Putin’s soul between beach volleyball serves in Beijing. Thursday’s announcement that U.S. missile batteries will be installed in Poland is also welcome. More telling, though, is the step the president hasn’t taken: a necessary step, but one tantamount to a concession that the administration’s Iran policy has been a farce.

The president must withdraw the U.S.-Russia civil-nuclear cooperation agreement, submitted in all its naïveté to an appropriately hostile Congress back in May.

The episode marks one of the innumerable foreign-policy lowlights of the second Bush term. It proceeds logically from the worst of these blunders: the failure to confront Iran as it developed offensive nuclear capabilities, evolved its ballistic missile arsenal, murdered Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and colluded with other terrorist factions plotting to kill Americans everywhere — all with direct or tacit Russian encouragement.

The nuclear cooperation pact is premised on the fantasy, subscribed by the president and the Russian dictator in a joint declaration on April 6, that the United States and Russia have struck a “strategic partnership” — a fantasy to which, one hopes, the lie was finally put when Red Army tanks rolled toward the central Georgian city of Gori even after the supposed “ceasefire.”

The deal would involve providing Russia with American advanced nuclear know-how, the joint global promotion of nuclear power for peaceful civilian uses, and expanded energy commerce (including nuclear commerce) between our nations. It would also help pave the way for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which is kind of like welcoming the Gambino Family into the Chamber of Commerce.

For here is the problem: Putin, for whom “strategic partner” is just a side-line from his full-time gig as Capo di Tutti Commie, has all the while been arming and protecting our most determined enemies.


In small compass, Russia tells the sorry story of Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s Carteresque turn at the State Department. The President Bush of the first term — you remember, the guy who announced the Bush Doctrine, smashed al-Qaeda, isolated Arafat’s nascent terror state, ousted Saddam, inspired Qaddafi to forfeit his nukes, squeezed Kim Jong Il — strongly condemned Russia’s facilitation of the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. With good reason. Purportedly dedicated to peaceful civilian energy development, Bushehr gives the oil-rich Khomeinists all the cover they need to build atomic weapons.

Let’s consider for a moment only the low enriched uranium Russia delivers to Bushehr every 12 to 18 months. In June, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told a House committee that, at the start of the fueling cycle, Iran could divert the fresh uranium to feed its centrifuge enrichment plant. If they did, they’d have “a bomb’s worth of weapon uranium” within about eight weeks. Alternatively, if Iran waited until refueling is next due in 2010, it could seize the spent fuel and “gain access to 30 crude bombs worth of near-weapons grade plutonium to make plutonium weapons.”

Would the Russians really tolerate such a thing right across the Caspian Sea? At the right price, Putin would tolerate anything.

Like any sensible person living in the real world (so we are not talking now about American and European diplomats), the Russians know it is a virtual flip of the atomic switch to go from civilian to military capabilities. Yet they’ve pressed zealously ahead. As Sokolski details, there are about 1300 Russian nuclear technicians in Iran, a number that will soon surge to over 2500 (if it hasn’t already). And we know the Russo/Iranian nuclear cooperation encompasses more than the Bushehr camouflage. No one but the Russians and the Iranians know exactly what the technicians are up to, and Russian “entities” already have a history of assisting the mullahs’ plutonium production and uranium-enrichment efforts.

And then there is missile technology. Sokolski cited a British Daily Telegraph report (first noted by the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen) that

former high ranking members of the Russian military have facilitated a multi-million 2003 missile technology transfer agreement between Iran and North Korea,” and that Russia has exported to Iran “production facilities, diagrams and operating instructions so the missile can be built in Iran, as well as liquid propellant (to fuel the rockets).” The British paper goes on to detail how “Russian specialists have also been sent to Iran to help development of its Shahab 5 missile project.” The Shahab 5 is a system that is designed to be capable of delivering a crude nuclear warhead to nearly any target in Europe.

Just this February, moreover, Iran launched a rocket modeled on Russia’s single-stage SS-4 intermediate-range ballistic missile. That is, thanks to Russia, Iran may already have the capacity to visit on Israel, Europe, and its own neighbors the same sort of intimidation the Russians are now visiting on former Soviet satellites.

None of this is a surprise. Indeed, in March 2007 (i.e., before the U.S. troop surge kicked in), when it appeared that Iranian terror would likely cause a humiliating U.S. defeat in Iraq, the Director of National Intelligence warned the State Department: “We assess that individual Russian entities continue to provide assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile programs. We judge that Russian-entity assistance, along with assistance from entities in China and North Korea, has helped Iran move toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles.”


The administration responded to this stream of provocation by asking Congress to ignore it, proceeding in its delusion that Russia is a friend rather than an enemy.

In 2000, the Republican Congress had succeeded in enacting the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which specifically targeted Moscow, cutting off funding to the space-station project NASA runs jointly with the Russians. President Clinton — who, like the current administration, foolishly believed courting the Russians was the key to taming the Iranians — had vetoed the bill in 1998. But he finally acceded in the face of GOP persistence (and Al Gore’s election-year need not to appear weak on Iran). In 2005, the Act was expanded, becoming the “Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act” (INKSNA). It forbids various dealings with the Russians absent a presidential certification that Moscow is not assisting Tehran’s nuclear and weapons programs.

At the time of course, President Bush was in no position to provide one. Yet, despite Bushehr and the other intelligence, the administration cajoled Congress into granting a three-year waiver of the certification requirement, enabling us to pay the Russians for the space-station while they helped the Iranians build missiles and enrich uranium.

That apparently not being enough appeasement, Secretary Rice eventually persuaded the president to reverse course on Bushehr. The party line is classic State Department hocus-pocus. Bushehr is now good: It shows the mullahs they don’t need to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes because those scrupulous Russians will do it for them. Of course, everyone knows the Iranians are not really enriching for peaceful purposes. Indeed, that has always been the core of the administration’s case. So we are pretending the Russians are an honest broker, earnestly persuading the Iranians not to do something we know full-well they are not doing.

There is no stomach to honor the administration’s promise that Iran will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. To avoid acknowledging that embarrassing truth, no exercise in self-delusion can be ruled out. Thus, besides the Bushehr turnabout, the Rice Capades have also featured a “diplomatic offensive” that banked on the Russians (and the Chinese) using their Security Council muscle to coerce the mullahs into capitulation. (And Obama thinks he’s the Hope guy!)

The “offensive” was a pathetic goody-package: a futile effort to buy the mullahs off in exchange for an unverifiable promise to stop enriching uranium … with no requirement that Iran refrain from promoting terror. It began as a European initiative, but Secretary Rice was keen to join it, despite decades-old American policy against direct, official negotiations with Tehran’s terror regime. It was prayer masquerading as policy, patently designed to impress the “international community” that those cowboy days of the first term were over.

Naturally, it infuriated many Americans, including the President’s staunchest supporters. Iran was then waging (and continues to wage) a proxy war against the United States in Iraq while underwriting the one Hezbollah and Hamas were (and are) waging against Israel. But in announcing the new diplomatic turn in May 2006, Rice aides insisted that “the deal also commits China and Russia to a long list of specific steps to punish Iran if it refuses to halt its enrichment program.”

Dream on. Even as State was braying about sticks, the Russian foreign minister calmly explained that there were only carrots: his government had given no assurances on sanctions. By late summer, with the Russians snickering as the Iranians worked on their nukes, administration officials ruefully conceded that they’d been reduced to seeking inconsequential U.N. penalties (such as travel restrictions on Iranian officials) because Russia and China would veto any real sanctions.


Through all this humiliation, as Iran continues its mischief in Iraq, backs the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and moves ever closer to becoming a nuclear power, the administration has eschewed a policy of regime-change or a military attack on Iranian nuclear sites. Again and again, the president and his Secretary of State have reaffirmed their commitment to a diplomatic process that is critically dependent on Russian cooperation.

Notwithstanding that we’ve gotten the opposite of cooperation, the president leapt headlong into his “strategic partnership” with Putin in April. If you’re keeping score, that would be after the years of abetting Iran, after the murders of Russian journalists, after the Kremlin’s brutal expropriation of private industries, and after Putin scalded the United States in February for purportedly provoking a new arms race and undermining global stability. (A White House spokesman sniffed that the president was “surprised and disappointed” by the remarks.)

To add insult to injury, President Bush also asked Congress for another INKSNA waiver. After all, why shouldn’t we keep paying the Russians and encouraging all this outstanding cooperation we’re getting even though we can’t certify that they’ve stopped giving nuclear and military aid to a regime whose motto is “Death to America,” led by a jihadist who says a world without America and Israel is attainable.

And the Bush administration submitted the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement for congressional approval on May 13.

There is no way it’s going to be approved. Bipartisan opposition was vigorous even before Russia’s Georgian adventure. Sokolski recounts that in 2007, long before the pact was finalized, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill which promised there would be no approval of a nuclear cooperation agreement unless the president certified that no entity under Moscow’s control is assisting Iran’s conventional defense, missile or nuclear programs. John McCain and Barack Obama, along with 71 other Senators, co-sponsored a similar Senate bill.

Moreover, just a few weeks after the administration submitted the pact anyway, 14 House Republicans, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote the president to request that he withdraw the pact. The lawmakers pointed out the obvious: The administration’s claim that Russia’s Iran record is now satisfactory flies in the face of its own request to be relieved of the duty to certify that Russia is not assisting Iran’s weapons programs.

The administration has ignored the House Republicans, but it won’t be able to ignore them anymore. Not after Georgia. Not after Russia has invaded a sovereign, American-allied democracy: one that stood with the U.S. in Iraq; one that President Bush was recently grooming for NATO-membership and all the security guarantees that implies — or at least used to imply, for whether Russia’s belligerence has conclusively exposed the alliance’s obsolescence is an urgent question.

It is the height of folly to regard the Putin Family as though it were a normal regime, protecting the vital interests of a normal country. This is the fiction that says one of these years the Russians will surely come around because, in the long-term, they shouldn’t want a nuclear Iran either.

Just as radical Islam’s transnational, sub-sovereign nature befuddles an international order based on nation-states pursuing their self-interest, so too is that order defied by the Klepto-Kremlin. Yes, we’ve seen many a rogue regime before, and this one may crave its former imperial status. But it’s an epigone. We should see it more like a mob crew which has taken over a legitimate business. Sure, if they were content with modest payouts they could try to run the company with an eye on its long-term growth. That, however, doesn’t interest them. Their purpose is to loot the joint.

If Putin makes a lot of money while Iran gets nukes, Putin is not going to worry about Iran one day threatening the Russian people. Putin doesn’t give a damn about the Russian people now — he and his cronies in the workers’ neo-paradise care only about lining their pockets.

We can’t be in a strategic partnership with a thug. Not on anything, much less nuclear power. Acknowledging this, which simply means opening our eyes, entails conceding that our Iran policy is also a dangerous delusion. But is there an open eye that hasn’t figured that out already?

— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy chairs FDD’s Center for Law & Counterterrorism and is the author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.


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