Letters to the Editor: Russia's Power Play

Conflict in the Caucasus
If Russia is seen as upping its ante in the international arena, then the West, particularly the United States, has to share the blame ("A Respectable Russia," Sept. 1). Russia was pushed to the edge and left with no other choice to salvage its self-respect. Had the Georgian president adhered to the principles of good neighborly relations, this situation would not have arisen. It is ironic that America now wants to label Russia—a country that went along with it in matters of international significance, even to the extent of not opposing the invasion of Iraq—as a pariah nation. The United States rarely misses an opportunity to belittle and demean Russia. Take, for instance, its eagerness to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, and in establishing the missile defense system in the Czech Republic. The belief that the West alone defines the international system of values smacks of sheer arrogance on the part of its proponents. Russian leaders should realize that by rolling their tanks into Georgia, they have made their point. Now it's time to move out. Abkhazia and South Ossetia can't survive as independent countries, nor should Russia be creating puppets. It is imperative that Vladimir Putin act not only diplomatically but also show statesmanship in the matter.
R. K. Sudan
Jammu, India

While reading your cover story on the fighting in the Caucasus, I couldn't help but see certain double standards at work on all sides. Since the United States and some of Western Europe recognized the independence of Kosovo despite strong Russian opposition, how can it be worse if Russia supports or even unilaterally recognizes the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? On the other hand, after the events in Chechnya, everyone knows how Russia reacts when someone in its landscape longs to be independent. So, would North Ossetia (located in Russian territory) fare any differently if it were to aim for unification with—according to Moscow—newly independent South Ossetia in another new nation possibly called Greater Ossetia? At the same time, it seems disturbing that the need for people in the Balkans and the Caucasus to split into ever smaller, though not viable entities is bigger than their ability and willingness to overcome past grievances and work together for a common good. The people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should beware of what they wish for with "protection" from Russia. There is a lesson to be learned from the experiences of nations of the former Warsaw Pact and the now independent republics of the former Soviet Union. They had good reasons to want to leave Russia's orbit of influence, and Russians are not well liked there now.
Gerd Will
Ludwigslust, Germany

To understand Russia's motivations in regard to its neighbors, we have to look deep into Russia's past. For centuries, Russia was besieged by just about everyone: the Mongols, the Turks, the Swedes, the Japanese and various Continental Europeans—all of whom have sought to gain a piece of Russia in one way or another. Thus, Russian paranoia of outsiders is ingrained in the Russian psyche. In the 20th century, the country sought to minimize these fears by surrounding itself with a ring of lesser states—a hegemonic buffer, so to speak—something the United States has historically failed to truly grasp. Russia is not an aggressor. Over the past nearly 100 years, Russia has not waged a single war with anyone, something we cannot say about its past aggressors or the United States. Afghanistan was not a war, but simply an effort to close a gap in the ring on Russia's southern frontier. So, do Russia's neighbors have cause to be nervous? Definitely. Does America have cause to worry? Not at all. Let a contented, sleeping bear lie. As Russia's foreign minister has said, the United States is just going to have to choose between its Georgia project and good relations with the Russian state. There is no other way.
Claude Brickell
New Orleans, Louisiana

Should Russia take the blame for attacking Georgia? It was obvious that Georgia made the first move and provoked Russia by invading South Ossentia. If Georgia hadn't been lulled into believing that the United States would rush to its aid like a big brother, would it have been so bold to do what it did? Not surprisingly, some Georgians are blaming George Bush and Mikheil Saakashvili for their torment. If Georgia bit into a Russian trap, maybe Georgia lured America into one.
Poch Peralta
Manila, Philippines

Never underestimate the true intention and the vested interest of the all-powerful Vladimir Putin. The Georgia crisis is only the beginning of Russia's overreaching plan to restore the former glory that was the Soviet Union. Ever since Putin became president, he has longed to restore his country's status. As the nation's economy was near collapse at the time, his hands were tied, and he had to befriend the West. But in the past several years, Russia has grown very rich, thanks to its massive abundance of oil and natural-gas resources. With this heaven-sent wealth, Putin boldly moved to confront the West, while stealthily reviving his military to be prepared for any possibility of military engagement. Having dealt a big blow to Chechnya, Moscow is beginning to dictate terms to much weaker neighboring states in the former Soviet Union. The world might have forgotten the dirty cold war, but Putin wants to remember. Do not be surprised if the cold war returns with a vengeance, much sooner than one would have thought.
Boon Tee Tan
Hong Kong

I agree with Clifford G. Gaddy's Sept. 1 essay, "How Not to Punish Moscow." Gaddy writes, "It appears that Russia will have its way with Georgia and that the West is powerless to do anything about it." Remember that Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. Although it gained independence, as far as Russia is concerned Georgia remains a vassal state. Russia will not tolerate positioning of weapons of destruction in its vassal states under the guise of NATO or other security arrangements with the West. What Russia did to Georgia is reminiscent of America's quarantine of Cuba when the Soviet Union placed missiles there. Thus, Russia feels justified in teaching a lesson to Georgia—a country viewed as too pro-America and beginning to feel that its independence is a license to test Russia's patience. Vladimir Putin is no ordinary leader. Being an ex-KGB man and proud of his Russian blood, he's prepared to go all the way to redeem Russia's pride after the unexpected loss of rich territories that have become nation-states in their own right. Georgia learned a lesson in ethnic politics. When Putin gave the order to invade Georgia, it was done with careful calculation. It will not be in America's or NATO's interest to retaliate militarily unless they are prepared for Armageddon. Russia is not Iraq, and Putin is not Saddam Hussein. The United States and NATO should not pour salt over wounds by making disparaging remarks, but must endeavor to look at the issue from a wider perspective in the name of peace, love and humanity.
Hassan Bin Talib
Selangor, Malaysia

Debating the New Democratic Ticket
Before I read Jon Meacham's expertly crafted feature on Barack Obama ("On His Own," Sept. 1), I used to roll my eyes at the mention of Obama's name. No longer. The man I once thought a vacillating softie has proved himself to be every bit the contender: family man and fighter, academic and all-around achiever. I am sincerely impressed. Obama, you've earned my vote.
Aaron Hunt Warner
Federal Way, Washington

Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate seems like a letdown after all the ridiculous hype. I just can't see many young Obama supporters checking their text messages, then jumping up and down, shouting, "Yes! He picked a 65-year-old white guy!" And doesn't Biden outshine Obama on the issues? If you compare the résumés and accomplishments of both senators, exactly where does Obama come out better than Biden?
Drew Kerin
Littleton, Colorado

As Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden adds a tremendous quality of "everyman" to the campaign—a quality I observed firsthand in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at a grass-roots meeting in 1976 attended by Senator Biden. Even though it was pouring rain, he talked to each of us for several minutes. When he learned we shared the same birthday, university and heritage, he made a big deal out of it and made it a memorable event for me. Now he will be doing that all over the country.
Anne Mahoney Robbins
Rockville, Maryland

I utterly reject Jacob Weisberg's flawed logic that we should vote for Barack Obama to demonstrate our political maturity to the rest of the world ("What Will the Neighbors Think?" Sept. 1). In condemning the racist remnant that remains in the country, Weisberg totally ignores the fact that significant numbers of whites in many states voted to give Obama a chance—a fact that alone illustrates our political evolution. Now it's time for us to decide what we know of the candidates' judgment, experience and overall qualifications. The silly argument that we should elect a candidate on the basis of race to prove anything to our neighbors is almost as bad as the thinking of those who might reject him on that basis.
John Siedlarz
Easton, Maryland

Jacob Weisberg makes an interesting point: George W. Bush has wreaked havoc both at home and abroad, and the GOP nominee promises more of the same. The nation is reeling. Barack Obama would be soaring in the polls if it weren't for prejudice, but in that regard he has two strikes against him. Not only are some Americans reluctant to vote for a person of color, some also seem suspicious of anyone intelligent enough to actually lead. How else to account for having to endure a second term of Bush? God spare us from a third.
Michael Steely
Medford, Oregon

I was relieved to read Jacob Weisberg's clear report on the pre-electoral situation in United States, describing what we inhabitants of the rest of the world think and wish for America. But I also felt frightened by the thought that "older white voters" could throw all of us into another Bush-like period by electing John McCain. It is hard to understand why it's so difficult for the older WASP community to get used to the possibility that there might be a wider truth than the small one they believe in. As a European, I feel much closer to Barack Obama's experience and beliefs, longing for an encompassing world where inclusion, education and cooperation can do so much to bring peace to the planet and reduce fear in people's minds. Fear and violence go together. Military superiority is transitional and always gives way to retaliation, resentment and hate. That's Bush's world, and many Americans seem to share these beliefs with him—he was re-elected! Building a safe world requires negotiation, compassion and empathy with our neighbors. Both parties must be willing to give something in exchange for a common ground. Obama represents the new America all the world is waiting for.
Francisco Rodolfo Pesserl
Curitiba, Brazil

As I read Jacob Weisberg's excellent essay, I was struck by the enormous responsibility U.S. citizens face when they go to the polls this November. Rarely has the world held such a stake in the outcome of America's presidential election. Weisberg correctly opines that a win for Barack Obama would "see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror," but that his defeat may signify that "our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth." Obama's defeat for the wrong reasons may also demonstrate that the tragic deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were in vain. These brave and visionary men charted an end to segregation and brought dignity, justice and hope to Americans regardless of color. When Americans go to the polls, I hope they vote for the best man to lead America back to its pedestal of honor and respect around the world while leading its people to a fairer and happier time. No one should reject Obama because he is black, just as they should not vote for him simply because he is black. And they shouldn't reject the decent John McCain simply because of his age. He might make great contributions by sharing his life experiences and hope for the future. American voters need to think carefully and objectively because the outcome is important not only to America but to the rest of the world.
Liam Kenny
Sydney, Australia

A New President in Pakistan
I was flabbergasted to read Asif Ali Zardari's interview ("Second Chances in Pakistan," The Last Word, Sept. 1). He replaced Gen. Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan, and I'm afraid that after coming out of the shadow of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, he is the wrong choice to do things better than Musharraf. Pakistan has been plagued with power plays and intrigue between the political rivals Nawaz Sharif and the Army generals and Inter-Services Intelligence. Needless to say, the Army would grab power if the present coalition fell apart due to power play between the two leading political parties, leading the country into instability and lack of law and order. Democracy is a luxury that Pakistan cannot afford under these corrupt leaders, who have had their chances before and failed on all counts.
Syed Rashid Ali Shah
Vroomshoop, Netherlands

With Asif Ali Zardari as president, a new era has begun in Pakistan's history. This president will have a great impact on the lives of the people and on the region. I am not his biggest fan, but this is not the time for personal likes and dislikes. It's time to unite with the politicians and work to take this country out of its downward spiral. As a politician, Zardari has had success so far. But the real test has begun, and I cannot say whether he will be successful as a president. He must take each step with great care, as there's no room for mistakes.
Haris Shahid
Karachi, Pakistan

President Zardari has all the blessings of his late wife. The huge sympathy for Benazir Bhutto finally catapulted him to the pinnacle of power. The economy of Pakistan is bleeding from every corner and is near collapse. The political scene appears no better. Incessantly hit by bombings and bloodshed, the nation is almost out of control. The situation in the border region with Afghanistan worsens by the day, and the fluid truce in Kashmir could be shattered at any moment. Combine that with his equivocal background, and Zardari holds a virtually impossible task in his hands. It will be a miracle if he can eventually unite the conflicting political and ideological groups and revive the ailing economy in his country. If he does not measure up to his job, the "victory for democracy" may well be short-lived. Let's hope for the best.
Munn-Zie Chan

As the intensity of U.S. involvement in Iraq is winding down, President George W. Bush appears to be opening a new front in the war on terror: unauthorized incursions into Pakistan, purportedly to attack Qaeda strongholds. Notwithstanding any legitimate need to target those who would harm us, Bush is courting another disaster with these operations. Imagine what our reaction would be if Canada sent troops into the United States to go after those it deemed a threat. We would be enraged, and would ensure that the effort was squelched. I'm not sure Bush cares that we are fomenting war with the sovereign nation of Pakistan and reinforcing the idea that we are an imperialist nation that operates as if it has carte blanche to perform military operations anywhere, for any reason it deems compelling.
Oren M. Spiegler
Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania

Nuclear Energy for Germany?
Your article on Germany's challenge to match climate-change objectives with energy-security concerns is both timely and relevant the world over ("The Radioactive Energy Plan," Aug. 18/ Aug. 25). But it was misleading for you to state that the International Energy Agency has called for "a triple-pronged strategy" to fight climate change involving efficiency improvements, a switch to renewable energy and nuclear power. While the IEA acknowledges that all these options will be needed, it also emphasizes the vital role of carbon-capture-and storage (CCS) technology in tackling CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The head of the IEA, Nobuo Tanaka, has stated that the "deployment of CCS should be a 'litmus' test for the seriousness of environmental negotiators dealing with the climate challenge." IEA research has also revealed that trying to tackle climate change without CCS is much more expensive, with the potential to cost an additional $1.28 trillion annually by 2050. CCS must be part of any serious climate-change strategy. A "triple-pronged strategy" is not nearly enough.
Milton Catelin, Chief Executive-world coal institute
London, England

Many aspects of life are cyclical. Fashion, for instance, is constantly being reinvented by reintroducing an old idea in a different or more appealing way. Today there is nothing more fashionable than energy—clean energy. The uncertainty about future prices and reserves of fossil fuel and the skyrocketing demand for energy have resurrected interest in an old fad, nuclear power. It has the lowest CO2 emission when compared with fossil fuels, and safety has significantly improved with the construction of modern plants. But what about the infamous nuclear waste? Fresh in my memory are the debates about the disposal of this scary residue and Greenpeace protests against dumping it in the ocean. However, until now I haven't seen any information about projects to handle the radioactive leftovers, just the miracles of this almost-zero-emission energy. It seems we are not looking for a solution, but postponing the problem. Nuclear energy can help ameliorate the greenhouse effect that is now so urgent, but we still have an extremely hazardous byproduct that lasts for centuries. In the future, we might be facing not only global warming, but famine due to radioactive contamination of our crops and oceans. We already have the technology and knowledge necessary to efficiently generate real clean energy. It is time to think about the future of our world and look for more than temporary solutions.
Plauto E. Beck
Adelaide, Australia