Bush could now seize the moral high ground


March 17, 1992|By Georgie Anne Geyer

INTO the spurious moralizing of this unfortunate political season, there suddenly has been thrust a genuine moral issue. Ironically, the president most often accused of the most cynically immoral behavior is the one who has placed it before us.

Richard Nixon has long been a serious practitioner of the art of the memo. Mr. Nixon has again written a memo, which was circulated among political friends, and it has galvanized even those parts of Washington that usually despise him.

We face one of the great historic opportunities in history, argues Mr. Nixon, and we are missing it: "What seems politically profitable in the short term may prove costly in the long term. The hot-button issue in the 1950s was, 'Who lost China?' If Yeltsin goes down, the question 'Who lost Russia?' will be an infinitely more devastating issue in the 1990s."

Then he makes six very specific proposals: provide humanitarian food and medical aid; create a "free-enterprise corps" to send thousands of Western managers to Russia to advise and teach; reschedule Soviet debt; allow greater access to Western markets for Russian exports; work with other Western countries for ruble currency stabilization; create a single Western-led organization to coordinate all aid.

Now, all of these are sound, workable ideas. But the first problem is that President Bush immediately dismissed them with his usual demurral that the United States simply doesn't have the necessary money to invest so much in Russia.

A bigger problem -- for all of us -- is that the administration is caving in to election opportunism without understanding that real "aid" to the post-communist Russian and related states could be done on a moral level; and that would help Russia and also answer many of the growing Bush critics at home.

What are the real problems in the Soviet Union? They are moral ones. What underlies the real problems in America today? Moral issues. Yet, the Bush administration, with all of its bright men and women, cannot see the potential link.

Start with the axiomatic rule that good diplomacy operates on many levels. In America, in any truly operational foreign policy, the moral level has always been among the top factors, alternating with the political, the economic, the military and the psychological. Such a diplomacy does not necessarily require a great deal of money; it requires a lot of vision and some small amount of courage.

Now consider the fact that the people of the former Soviet Union today are going through a singular and humiliating psychological experience. Not only did their ideology and their empire lose, they themselves, in order virtually to survive, now need to adopt "the enemy's" system. But they were not conquered, so they have to do it on their own, without the faintest idea of how.

Russians actually tell American journalists repeatedly that they wish they had been conquered by America; over and over on my recent five-week trip to the new republics, people asked repeatedly, "Where is Bush? Where is America?"

The president thinks there is nothing more he can do, but he is wrong. He does not understand how to use the moral dimension of foreign policy. And there are so many tools he could use.

He could give regular broadcasts to Russia and the new republics; he and his people could employ the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, our embassies, the new Russian newspapers, etc., to instruct the former Soviets in the system that we have, to help them make it work, to explain democracy and free enterprise.

Moreover, in addressing them, he would also be addressing America and its need for a moral compass. By confirming the moral worth of our system to the Russians, he would be confirming it to Americans. He also would be saying to Americans, "Hey, I know I am criticized for spending too much attention abroad, but I am your leader for now, and I am not going to lose this gigantic, historic opportunity."

This is what a secure leader would do, and in so doing, he would also lift his own people's comprehension of the historical importance of their lives to a new level.

This is what George Bush, unquestionably a moral man, is not doing; and this is what Richard Nixon, who unquestionably has a streak of deceit, would do.

But, then, stranger things have happened.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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