By Jeremy Biane, Staff Writer A new soldier has entered the war on terror. In response toescalating terrorist attacks within his country, Russian PresidentVladimir Putin is tracing the footsteps of America’s war on terror byadopting the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive attack, resolving todestroy insurgents and promoting reforms that centralize power andundermine democracy. It is nice to see – after all ourprevious disputes and quarrels – Russian and American leadersfinally embracing a similar ideology. And yet, in a move thatexemplifies the doublespeak and hypocrisy so typical of the WhiteHouse, the Bush administration has condemned Putin for his actions.
Days after the recent tragedy in Beslan, Putin announced plans toimplement extensive political reforms, ostensibly to combatterrorism. According to CNN, this restructuring would abolish theelection of local governors by popular vote. Instead, these positionswill be filled by candidates nominated and elected by the government.Putin’s reforms also call for a federal commission with diversepowers in the volatile Northern Caucasus in Southern Russia. Thesepowers include the ability to intervene militarily whenever deemednecessary.
These measures, which The Economist claims “enhance the Kremlin’spower and make life harder for dissenting voices,” have drawn sharpcriticism from the White House. According to the San DiegoUnion-Tribune, Bush expressed his concern by remarking, “Asgovernments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold theprinciples of democracy.” An interesting choice of words, consideringhis administration has worked hard to undermine democracy and freedomsince taking office.
However, unlike the overt seizure of power being pushed through inRussia, the U.S. government has consolidated power through subtletyand deception. One popular method used to suppress oppositionincludes relegating protesters to secluded free-speech zones duringpolitical rallies. While these free-speech pens preserve the illusionof democracy, those who choose to voice their dissent where someonemight actually hear it face the risk of arrest. Next, there is theubiquitous Patriot Act. This legislation allows federal officials toinfiltrate and intimidate opposition groups, and even gatherextensive personal information about innocent Americans. Mostrecently, the 9-11 Commission has proposed extensive reforms thatwould drastically strengthen the jurisdiction of the federalgovernment; perhaps this explains Bush’s sudden praise of theCommission despite initially opposing its creation.
Given the record of Bush and his administration, it is obviousthat Russia’s move away from democracy creates no moral qualms forU.S. officials. However, because freedom and democracy are therhetorical foundations of American policy, when a prominent countrysuch as Russia takes obvious steps to undermine these ideals,Washington has little choice but to speak out against them. That iswhy Putin’s reforms are being challenged by Washington; their attackon democracy is simply too egregious. The trick Russia must learn isto wrest power away from the public without them being aware of it.Only then will Putin have truly embraced American values.
Considering the response of Russian and American governments toterrorist threats, the war on terror presents one of the mostsignificant challenges to democracy in recent history. According towww.nytimes.com, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin hascommented, “Strangling freedoms and curtailing democratic rightsmarks, among other things, the victory of terrorists.” If the UnitedStates and Russia are serious about winning the war on terror, theymust unite to support democracy, not suppress it.
During the Cold War, the world witnessed a battle of ideologies:Capitalism versus Communism, Democracy versus Totalitarianism. WithAmerican and Russian leaders now adopting similar doctrines, it’ssafe to say the Cold War is over. While capitalism has undoubtedlycome out on top, it may be too early to say the same about democracy.
– Jeremy Biane is a biology and psychology senior.
– This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of TheDaily Aztec. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.Anonymous letters will not be printed – include your fullname, major and year in school.