Bush will go to Russia very shortly.
Especially if the hostage situation there ends badly, with scores or hundreds of children murdered by terrorists.
This is shaping up to be Russia’s own 9/11 wake-up call, far more so than the October, 2002 Moscow Theater siege. Here we’ve had two jetliners blown out of the skies and a subway suicide bombing just within the past week, and now this horrific school hostage situation.
Russia is about to formally join the War On Terrorism. Putin has no choice; he must direct his country’s anger against an identifiable enemy, lest that frustrated anger turn against him and his government.
For Bush, this is his opportunity to redraw the geopolitical map of the world. He can go to Russia and express his condolences and proclaim his solidarity with the Russian people in the common battle against terrorists. He and Putin can declare a formal alliance between the United States and Russian in this war.
Putin can adopt the Bush Doctrine as Russian foreign policy: No nation on earth will be allowed to harbor or support terrorist groups, and any nation which does so puts itself at risk from pre-emptive action by Russia and the United States. Putin may be willing to halt nuclear assistance to Iran and back the U.S. demand that Iran foreswear the development of nuclear weapons. In return, Putin gets a free hand (and U.S. military assistance if he wants it) to employ whatever force he wants against Chechnya and neighboring states which harbor anti-Russian terrorist groups.
The political advantages to Bush are enormous. Major terrorist attacks anywhere in the world are a reminder to U.S. voters that the danger remains very real. A trip to Russia by Bush would highlight and further dramatize the threat to children that terrorism represents. Every parent can empathize with what the parents of those school children are feeling. Every parent trembles at the thought that the same evil could someday touch their neighborhood school, and that their own child could become a hostage or dead victim.
If the 2004 election is framed as a choice between a Presidential candidate who promises to strike back after an attack on our children versus a Presidential candidate who promises to act pre-emptively to prevent such an attack in the first place, there’s little doubt which way most parents will vote.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether a terrorist attack within the U.S. just before the election would help Bush (with a rally-around-the-Commander-In-Chief effect) or hurt him (by undercutting the implicit claim that his Administration has successfully prevented additional attacks since 9/11 and hence is winning the war). The attack in Russia, if sufficiently publicized, can give Bush a major political boost without the political downside that would have accompanied a similar event within our country.
Furthermore, a trip to Russia can’t be successfully painted as political exploitation if it ends with a tangible alliance against terrorism. It is a logical and reasonable response to events; Bush can’t suspend doing his job as President until the election is over. The Kerry campaign will reflexively oppose whatever Bush does, which will backfire badly.
A trip to Russia is a surprise move which sucks all the oxygen out of the Kerry campaign. It focuses media attention on Bush and his battle against this world-wide monstrous evil of terrorism, and it freezes the Presidential race in the post-Republican-convention-bounce condition. The timing meshes perfectly with our own 9/11 anniversary remembrance events.
There's a certain irony in contemplating a partnership among the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia to oppose terrorism, with Germany and France effectively aligned on the other side. Who could have imagined that after 60-plus years, the old World War II Grand Alliance might be resurrected with pretty much the same cast of European characters, both allies and enemies?