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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush's Sellout on Chechnya

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Once upon a time, George W. Bush was outraged at the Russian government's hellish, brutal and stupid rape of Chechnya. Listen to his ire:

"[T]he Russian government attacks civilians [in Chechnya,] killing women and children, leaving orphans and refugees ... "

-- November 1999



"CONTACT: Ari Fleischer, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2000. ... The following is a summary of Governor Bush's [foreign policy positions]. ... Governor Bush ... will not turn a blind eye to the Russian brutality in Chechnya. He will not permit American taxpayer dollars to be stolen or wasted through corruption in Russia. George W. Bush can be entrusted with managing the U.S.-Russian relationship in a tough-minded way ... "

-- Campaign literature from candidate Bush

TV NEWS ANCHOR JIM LEHRER: On Chechnya and Russia, the U.S. and the rest of the Western world has been raising Cain with Russia from the beginning, saying 'You are killing innocent civilians.' The Russians have said essentially 'We're fighting terrorism, and, by the way, mind your own business.' What else -- what else, if anything, could be done by the United States?

GOVERNOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we could cut off IMF aid and export/import loans to Russia until they heard the message loud and clear, and we should do that. It's going to be a very interesting issue to see how Russia merges [sic], Jim. This guy, Putin, who is now the temporary [sic] president, has come to power as a result of Chechnya. He kind of rode the great wave of popularity as the Russian military looked like they were gaining strength in kind of handling the Chechnya situation in a way that's not acceptable to peaceful nations. [uh, sic?] ... .

LEHRER: But on Chechnya, specifically, you think we should not -- we should hold up International Monetary Fund aid. Anything else we should do?

BUSH: Export/import loans.

LEHRER: And just cut them off?

BUSH: Yes, sir, I think we should.

LEHRER: Until they do what?

BUSH: Until they understand they need to resolve the dispute peacefully and not be bombing women and children and causing huge numbers of refugees to flee Chechnya.

LEHRER: And do you think that would work?

BUSH: Well, it certainly worked better [sic] than what the Clinton administration has tried.

LEHRER: You mean, just using words, you mean?

BUSH: Yes.

-- From the PBS "News Hour" of Feb. 16, 2000.

In the three years since the obscurities Putin and Bush rose to world prominence, things have only gotten worse in Chechnya. Long-time observers of the region in fact are predicting a "Third Chechen War" -- all-out civil war, to erupt sometime after this Sunday, when the Kremlin's hand-picked puppet regime will hold, and win, an "election."

(Hmm: Self-styled superpower invades Muslim lands to "liberate" them, is shocked to find self pinned down in viciously bloody guerrilla war with ingrates; grits teeth, declares this is a key front in the war on terror; throws away billions on "reconstruction" efforts in which federal cash fattens war profiteers; doggedly, against all evidence, insists the looming Lebanonesque civil war can be averted and democracy cemented by drafting a "constitution" and holding "elections." Eerily familiar, yes?)

Here, in fact, is testimony from Bush's own State Department, delivered to Congress just last week:

"[Since 2002], the daily reality for the people of Chechnya has been bleak and deteriorating. The present phase of the armed conflict there entered its fourth year this summer. The toll of casualties, both Chechen and Russian, combatant and civilian, continues to mount. ... [C]redible human rights organizations -- Chechen, Russian, and international -- continue to report atrocities, disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings committed by Russian federal forces ... as well as by terrorist elements. ... Night raids by what are alleged to be Russian forces, using military vehicles, persist. ... Chechens picked up in these raids disappear, most often permanently; in some cases corpses are later found. Detainees who return to their families commonly report the use of torture in interrogations and other mistreatment. ... [C]redible reports estimate that disappearances continue on virtually a daily basis. ... Individuals seeking accountability for abuses have themselves become targets for reprisals by government forces."

The Kremlin's response? It's tidying up loose ends, it thinks, by repatriating Chechen refugees back into the war zone. In time for "the vote."

So how exciting that Bush and Putin were able to meet and hold a summit this past weekend. Surely, you're thinking, the U.S. president told the Russian president -- in no-nonsense, Texas style -- exactly what he thinks of a man who for years has tolerated federal death squads that "disappear" and kill his own citizens; who has the incredible gall to sit down in the U.S. White House while his government is moving into refugee camps, denying the people there water and electricity, removing latrines, pistol-whipping women -- all to drive them back into the maelstrom of Chechnya, with the rest of their kind. After all, what kind of American could smile and pal around with the leader in charge of such atrocities? With a man who's war has made the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Genocide Watch List?

What kind of Christian, for that matter, could know this story as well as Bush does, and speak out on it as ardently as he has -- and then, when it serves his ends to do so, shrug and pretend it doesn't matter?

So, are you ready for Bush's big stern lecture? Here it is, delivered at Camp David standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin:

"Russia and the United States are allies in the war on terror. Both of our nations have suffered at the hands of terrorists, and both of our governments are taking actions to stop them. No cause justifies terror. Terrorists must be opposed wherever they spread chaos and destruction, including Chechnya. A lasting solution to that conflict will require an end to terror, respect for human rights and a political settlement that leads to free and fair elections."

Yep, that's it: A vague call for "respect for human rights" -- couched in such a way it could easily be interpreted as a rebuke to Putin's opponents, and not to the Kremlin's death squads. It's terrorists spreading all the chaos and destruction, not Russian carpet-bombing or death squads. And as a bonus, there's even an implicit endorsement of this weekend's rigged election, which Bush's own State Department says will be a tragic farce.

Oh, there was a little more of this "managing the U.S.-Russian relationship in a tough-minded way."

"I'm proud to welcome my friend, Vladimir Putin," Bush said, and, "Because we've got a trustworthy relationship, we're able to move beyond any disagreement over a single issue [like Iraq]," and, "Plus, I like him, he's a good fellow to spend quality time with." And, at the end of a press conference that clearly demonstrated who has a clue in the Bush-Putin relationship and who does not have a clue, a patronizing pat on the back from Bush to his colleague, who he has nicknamed Pootie-Poot: "Good job!"

Bush used to complain that those awful Clintons never did anything except talk. But after seeing Bush's brand of "tough-minded" moral clarity, I'm starting to miss the old half-hearted Clintonian rhetoric.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, covered the war in Chechnya for the Los Angeles Times. This comment first appeared in The Nation.