"(N)o legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply management or attempt to monopolize transportation," thundered Vice President Cheney to the international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.
"(N)o one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements."
Cheney's remarks were directed straight at the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, who is to host the G-8 Conference in July.
Cheering Cheney on is John McCain, front-runner for the GOP nomination, who has urged President Bush to snub Putin by boycotting the G-8 summit. What the GOP is thus offering the nation right now is seven more years of in-your-face bellicosity in foreign policy.
What does McCain think we would accomplish -- other than a new parading of our moral superiority -- by so public an insult to Putin and Russia as a Bush boycott of the St. Petersburg summit? Do we not have enough trouble in this world, do we not have enough people hating us and Bush that we have to get into Putin's face and antagonize the largest nation on earth and a co-equal nuclear power? What is the purpose of this confrontation diplomacy? What does it accomplish?
Eisenhower and Nixon did not behave like this. Nor did Ford or Bush's father. Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" once. But the Soviet Union we confronted in those years was hostile. Until lately, today's Russia was not. Yet the Bush boys are in their pulpits, admonishing the world's sinners every day.
What is their beef with Putin's policy?
In January, Putin decided to stop piping subsidized gas to Kiev and start charging the market price. Reason: Ukraine's president, elected with the assistance of U.S. foundations and quasi-government agencies, said he was reorienting Kiev's foreign policy away from Russia and toward NATO and the United States.
If you are headed for NATO, Putin was saying to President Viktor Yushchenko, you can forget the subsidized gas.
Now this is political hardball, but it is a game with which America is not altogether unfamiliar. When Castro reoriented his policy toward Moscow, Cuba's sugar allotment was terminated. U.S. diplomats went all over the world persuading nations not to buy from or sell to Cuba. Economic sanctions on Havana endure to today. We supported, over Reagan's veto, sanctions on South Africa. We have used sanctions as a stick and access to the U.S. market as a carrot since we became a nation. What, after all, was "Dollar Diplomacy" all about?