The G8 summit and the threat of Islamic radicalism

Politicians should acknowledge that the Cold War mindset we have inherited from the 20th Century is blinding those who bear responsibility for the outcome of the new century’s wars: wars fought in entirely different regions and against different enemies.

For the second year in a row, radical Islamic terrorists almost managed to hijack the agenda at the Group of Eight summit of the world’s leading nations. Last year, the Gleneagles summit in Scotland was overshadowed by the July 7 London bombings. This year brought a double provocation: the Bombay train-bombings which killed over 300 people, and Hezbollah’s attack on Israel. Russian official sources even report that if “chief terrorist” Shamil Basayev hadn’t been killed in time, he would have led an attack on the G8 summit.

Russia, this year’s summit host, was undeterred by these events and managed to play its game to the end. But the problem is that the entirely Iranian-controlled Hezbollah has not only established de facto control of the Lebanese state, but essentially held hostage the summit of the eight leading industrialized democracies plus China, India, Brazil, and Kazakhstan, which also attended the St. Petersburg meeting.

And if you think that Iranian religious leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t know about this operation – which took five months to prepare, according to Hezbollah leaders themselves – then I’d like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge (unless the Islamists blow it up first).

Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to turn this summit into a truimphant celebration symbolizing Russia’s return to the world arena. He prudently chose energy security as the G8 summit’s key topic, enabling Russia to present itself in a maximally favorable light.

The images of Russian imperial splendor, from the recently-renovated Constantine Palace to the fountains of Peterhof, were indeed impressive. Putin and his team succeeded in providing tight choreography for a meeting of world leaders, especially-invited youth activists, and a huge media corps. Putin also managed to persuade the United States that the G8 summit’s final statement should not openly accuse Syria and Iran of inciting the Middle East’s most acute conflict in decades. The UN Secretary General and France joined Russia in blaming border attacks and abductions on both Israeli troops and mysterious “extremist” civilians. Nevertheless, the G8 did call for the release of Israeli soldiers seized in the Gaza sector and Lebanon, and an end to rocket attacks, even before a truce.

There were some other unresolved differences between Russia and the United States: the long-awaited agreement on Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) wasn’t signed after all. The official story is that further work is required to clarify regulations on Russia’s imports of American pork and beef. But US Administration sources say that the delay on WTO accession might be due to political differences between the United States and Russia, particularly with regard to methods of stopping Iran’s military nuclear program. Meanwhile, US economic interests are being hit hard. American companies won’t be able to join Gazprom in developing the gigantic Shtokman gas field, which will supply natural gas to the American market. Aeroflot’s purchase of 22 Boeing jets is likely to be postponed.

President Bush made every effort to ensure that Russia, the summit host, should not have to justify itself or respond to accusations about the lack of democracy in Russia. All the same, the example of democracy he cited – Iraq – was extremely ill-chosen. Putin was quick to parry the remark, saying that Russia would never agree to Baghdad-style “democratization.” Russian nationalists have been scaring their fellow citizens for years with the prospect of horrors like an American invasion, occupation, and forcible democratization. Some Russians are even assuming that Bush’s comparison of Russia to Iraq means that the United States preferred the political structure Russia had in the 1990s not because it bore a greater resemblance to democracy, but because it weakened Russia. Given this approach, the Russian public can only agree with its president, who stated that Russia will build democracy in its own way.

We have yet to find out about the real results of the G8 summit. The participants should direct their efforts into solving the problems associated with Iran’s nuclear program, not being distracted by the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, which Iran is inciting. G8 members should find the strength to deploy peacekeeping forces in South Lebanon after Hezbollah is disarmed, rather than entrusting this task to the United Nations – which would turn its peacekeepers into a cover for Hezbollah, as the previous UN peackeeping mission in Lebanon did.

Russia should persist in working to improve its image as a reliable energy supplier – and actually become one. Western companies should be permitted to participate in large-scale energy projects in Russia. Russia should conduct its 2007-08 election cycle in such a way that neither its own people nor international observers will doubt that it is transparent and democratic.

Politicians should acknowledge that the Cold War mindset we have inherited from the 20th Century is blinding those who bear responsibility for the outcome of the new century’s wars: wars fought in entirely different regions and against different enemies.

The Middle East and the whole world are threatened by a growing wave of Islamic radicalism. Under the circumstances, the G8 should mobilize its resources and work out agreements to facilitate a united defense against terrorism. The forces which regard the developed world – the G8, now including Russia – as the enemy are active worldwide, skillfully causing discord, intimidating and bribing their potential victims.

G8 summit participants came to St. Petersburg planning to discuss matters of peace. Instead, the winds of war blew through the windows of the Constantine Palace. Unfortunately, most of those who gathered on the Baltic Sea shore don’t want to understand this.