COUNSELING THE PRESIDENT
National Review asked 12 distinguished contributors—not all of them American, not all of them conservative—two questions: What did they think were the most important problems facing the new President, and what should he do about them?
What is the definition of a “pragmatic Communist”? It is a Communist who has run out of money. By definition, the Soviet Union is pragmatic in a big way. And this fact is revolutionizing attitudes in Western Europe.
My first advice to President Bush, therefore, is to brush up his German and learn the expression “Wandel durch Handel” because in plain English it spells out one unmitigated disaster for his Presidency.
The actual translation of the phrase is something like “change through trade,” or “trade produces change. The idea itself is not terribly new: you pay the “good guys” and the “bad guys” don’t come round to loot your shop. This idea might not work in Chicago any more, but sure does work in Europe. Current Soviet borrowing has reached a staggering $2 billion a month, mostly in untied loans. Overall Soviet-bloc debt has increased 55 per cent since 1984—since the Communists promised to be “good guys,” that is, and report on their natural disasters. If Western trade changes them as much as predicted, then we might in a few years learn about the next Chernobyl before the local population does, or, perhaps, even in advance of the actual catastrophe.
But we are merely at the beginning of a new era. Recently, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl brought another $11 billion to Moscow as a Christmas gift from Santa Claus, while his Foreign Minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, shuttled between European capitals trying to launch a new Marshall Plan for the Soviet empire. Rumor has it that the ruble will soon become convertible, with West German banks underwriting its value.
In short, the crisis might be in the Soviet Union, but the trouble is in Western Europe. At long last a peace offensive is bringing the Soviets tangible results. All they need to do is to cut a few more tank divisions, offer more hints about the possible reunification of Germany, display their “new thinking” a bit longer, and there will be no more NATO to speak of. Trade produces change, indeed.
However, if the crisis is in Moscow, and the trouble is in Europe, the problem is certainly in Washington. Some naive outsider might think that there is only one President the United States, with the power to conduct foreign policy, at any one time. In fact, there are 535 of them all over the country. They might not know exactly where Germany is located, but each has a grand idea about international affairs. The resulting American foreign policy is always inconsistent, short-sighted, and uncertain — which can only add to European anxiety. The most vivid example of such inconsistency was the American attempt to block European involvement in constructing the Soviet natural-gas pipeline, while the U.S. still sold grain to the Soviet Union. What else could that achieve but a growing European resentment?
Bearing in mind all these limitations, how much can the President do? I suggest he start with a bit of glasnost. Surely, if this device could help Gorbachev, there is no reason why it should not help a democratically elected leader of a democratic country. All Soviet-bloc borrowing from all Western financial institutions, all transactions conducted with the Soviet-bloc countries should be tracked and publicized. Indeed, why is this information kept secret now? And from whom? The Soviets, after all, know it, and so do the institutions conducting such transactions. The public is kept in the dark. Where then, is our “right to know”? if the transactions are truly in the Western countries’ interests, and there is nothing to be ashamed of, the businessmen and bankers should be proud to report in some detail. If they are not, we are entitled to be suspicious.
Needless to say, the political atmosphere created by such awareness will make further loans and transactions with the Soviets much more difficult. Active campaigning by the U.S. Government against them might well be sufficient to slow them down. The threat of American withdrawal from Europe might prove effective in forcing the Europeans to abandon their dreams about Marshall Plans Moscow, After all, one cannot seriously expect Americans to spend billions on protecting Europe, if Europe spends billions on strengthening the very same enemy it is protected from.
We have to be prepared for a protracted crisis of the Soviet empire, with its inevitable cycles of detente and war succeeding each other. So we need a common long-term strategy for the Western Alliance, if we want it survive. In the final analysis, history will judge President Bush by his success in halting the epidemic spread of the German disease.
Bukovsky is President of Resistance International and author of, among other books, To Build a Castle and To Choose Freedom.
National Review, February 10, 1989.