George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia two weekends ago.
The outcome of the meeting is now clear. Bush trusts the Russians and Putin
concedes that George W. is “a normal person.” Tensions between Russia and
America are now on the decrease.
It is useful to reflect on how the Russians have played President Bush
to their own advantage. Their approach was simple. They took a chapter out
of Bush’s own book. They intentionally created low expectations for the
summit. But all along they were planning a new “peace offensive.” A new
warming of relations was needed so that the next round of U.S. disarmament
measures could advance without complications. The time for blustering was
past. The Democrats had taken control of the U.S. Senate. The new
Republican president didn’t want to deal with a new Cold War. The time had
come again to make a deal with the suckers in Washington.
In order to propel their effort forward, the Russians did something
more than downplaying the summit in advance. They purposely (and visibly)
underestimated Mr. Bush. Of course, this is what Bush expected. And by
doing what Bush expected the Russians hit upon the best way to flatter him.
In the end they turned around and praised Bush as a smart and agreeable
How could they lose?
Before the mid-June summit Putin had judged Bush as “a bad listener”
and a shallow individual. This was the criticism of Chinese President Jiang
Zemin. So imagine the impact when Putin turned 180 degrees after the summit.
Speaking of President Bush, Putin said, “He was attentive to everything. He
listens with a critical ear. A very trusting relationship developed from the
Trust is easy, isn’t it? You are a former KGB lieutenant colonel who
continues to celebrate the KGB’s birthday. In 1999 you addressed an assembly
of security officials after the communist fashion, referring to them as
“comrades.” You are the butcher of Chechnya who delights in tanks, warplanes
and submarines. You have strengthened your country’s ties with every
communist dictatorship and rogue state on the planet. In short, you are a
hardliner. Your hero is Felix Dzerzhinsky and your nickname is “little
Andropov.” And all you have to do, after admitting your own low
expectations, is praise the new American president to the skies and the White
House will melt with gratitude and relief.
That’s how the diplomatic game is played, Russian style.
George Bush trusts Vladimir Putin. He looked into Putin’s eyes and
saw the salt of the earth. What anyone sees, to be sure, is skin and hair.
One sees the facial expression of a trained spy. Wink and nod however you
please, the Putin you see is not the inner man. The American president has
no right to this inner man. He has no passage. The deeper person has
suffered more, has thought more, and has escaped greater dangers. There is
no equality here.
The question is thus posed: How does a lesser intelligence comprehend
a greater intelligence?
I am not saying that Bush is stupid. Yet every mind has inherent
strengths and weaknesses. Bush has many strengths, but his American nature
and his American experience ill prepares him to face the KGB. Of course,
Putin is friendly. He admits that Russia has an anti-American bureaucracy.
Not to worry, Mr. President, if you will fight your country’s hardliners, I
will fight my country’s hardliners.
So says Putin, the lifelong creature of Russia’s anti-American
And what about Russia’s 500 chemical weapons sites and ongoing
biological warfare activity in violation of treaty commitments? What about
Russia’s sly ABM system?
There is no problem, Bush is told, because President Vladimir Putin is
trustworthy (even if his underlings are not). By using personal friendliness
to win over the American president, Putin has won a great victory. Yet Bush
is the one who thinks of himself as winning the great victory.
Putin’s arguments and suggestions were clever. He educated Bush about
the high price Russia has paid for democracy. (Of course, Russia paid this
high price by borrowing American money, but Putin did not go into this aspect
of the affair.) Bush was eager to credit Russian democracy. He was eager to
One is reminded of President Franklin Roosevelt’s meeting with Stalin
at Yalta. “The Soviet Union has made great sacrifices for the cause of
democracy,” said the Soviet dictator. Roosevelt acknowledged this and the
results were catastrophic.
Bush’s attitude toward Russia is similar to that of Roosevelt. In
some respects Bush’s personality can be compared to Roosevelt’s. The British
naval historian, Captain Russell Grenfell, said that Roosevelt was “in a
state of infatuated hallucination regarding the virgin purity of Marshal
Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and saw a “straight shooter.”
In the case of Bush and Roosevelt, a lifetime of manipulation through
charm can lead to false expectations and perceptions. Whatever Bush thinks,
he has not charmed Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader is a serious person.
He is not a clown who guides his country according to the winks and smiles of
the American president. Putin watches the strategic equation. “Add more
strength to our Pacific forces,” he told the Russian generals last year, “We
are under pressure from that side.”
Is Putin worried about China?
Bush suggested that Putin ought to worry. After the failed style of
Richard Nixon, Bush said that China would challenge Russia in the future.
America was not the real threat. “You’re European,” said Bush, playing the
race card at the same time. “NATO has been good to you, not bad.”
Good or bad makes no difference in the strategic calculus, Mr.
Putin and the Russian strategists have carefully weighed their
relationship with China. Their logic is infallible: Russia and China are
the weaker powers. America is the stronger power. In order to displace the
stronger, the weaker must come together. If the American president does not
understand this, who will enlighten him? Not the Russians and certainly not
the Chinese. Why educate him? If a simple balance of power equation is
beyond his understanding, then he is beyond hope. Let him fall on his face.
Let him be taken for all he is worth.
The logic of power supersedes the non-logic of touchy-feely
diplomacy. If President Bush trusts Putin, if he wants Russia to join NATO,
the writing is on the wall. The United States under George W. Bush is sowing
Putin’s smile is made up of dragon’s teeth.