Sunday, September 12, 2004

Russian Roulette

Consider Putin's dilemma after Beslan:

He can strike back at the Chechans; but the worst he can do is kill more of them, and that will harden the survivors. The ones who killed his children are beyond reach of his revenge now, and they already had embraced the cult of death. More violence against that people likely will breed more "black widows," who will go scuttling off into Russia with bombs strapped to their bodies.

But could he do nothing? That response seems to me inhuman. They kill your babies, and you just shrug and keep on walking? Passive resistance is a loving weapon of the strong against the weak; it is the way of an adult who suffers a child's rage. The victims of terror feel neither love nor strength in the presence of their killers. Even Gandhi advised, "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence."

Doing nothing would foster nihilism in Putin's own land as the thousands of grieving find neither justice nor peace while across the border the supporters of the vicious killers gloat. The perception of weakness, among an enemy who despises weakness, grows.

Or he can attempt to negotiate a settlement to the Chechen war. That would mean admitting, at least tacitly, that the past was a train of erring policies and over-reactions on Russia's part. But how can he now make the least concession to moderate Chechens (the majority, I read constantly, do not accept the Islamist rule) without the obvious appearance of caving in to terrorists?

If no concession was made before the hundreds of dead children in Beslan, and concession is made after, what else could be the reason? What but the staggering blow against the innocents will have changed the Kremlin and benefitted the Chechens?

If Russia buys its peace that way, even if it's a good peace brokered with honest people, it will have killed countless other innocents. Its example would teach death cult cells everywhere that, if you kill enough school children, you get your way in the end. You'll be the martyr hero of your people. This would do worse than the horrible example of Spain after March 11, and the Philippines in Iraq.

Consider Putin's dilemma, because, in spite of many differences of particulars, it also remains America's, on the fourth anniversary of 9-11.