What do you do when a public figure with whom you don't often agree, a person you might not hold in high regard if and when you even think of them at all, starts to make a habit of doing things you do agree with, or things that do impress you quite a bit? Well, if you're like me you sit down and start to seriously revaluate your opinion of that person. That's the situation in which I've found myself since last year with regards to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.
The truth is, before last year, I knew only a little about President Putin. I knew he was a former KGB man and that he had a penchant for… unconventional shall we say, photo-ops.
I had heard the criticisms, of course, that his policies showed a marked tendency towards autocracy. But since a) this was Russia and thus autocracy would hardly be out of the norm and b) President Putin's most outspoken and public critics appeared to be a troop of anarchist female “musicians,” I put little stock in such criticisms. I thought of President Putin as a Russian strongman, nothing more and nothing less.
My attention, however, was grabbed last September when agents from the pseudo-environmentalist group Greenpeace attempted to force their way onto a Russian drilling platform in the Arctic Sea. In the process these zealots endangered their own lives, the lives of the workers on the platform, and even the local ecology they claimed to be there to "protect." President Putin's Russia impressed me greatly when it made a response that was immediate and forceful, but by no means unfair. The Russian Coast Guard was dispatched and the so-called "activists" were arrested and subjected to the full rigor of the Russian criminal justice system.
The resulting row was furious. The very idea that peace loving environmental "activists" might actually be held to account for their criminal antics like any other criminal was simply unheard of in the decadent West! President Putin apparently felt otherwise.
It was during this row that Greenpeace's propaganda arm attempted to make use of statements President Putin had made praising the courage of activists who confront the plans of corporations. Greenpeace saw this as a "gotcha!" moment and seized on his words. But I saw something different. I saw in President Putin a man who was willing to enforce the laws of his nation not merely in line with his personal sympathies, but despite his personal sympathies. I saw in President Putin a man whose commitment to justice, be it ever so harsh, did not falter when confronted with the wailings of Western special-interest groups like Greenpeace. What we all miss is the fact that the Greenpeacers broke Russian law. We might disagree with their law but then if you don’t like it, don’t break Russian law. It’s as simple as that.
But that was just the beginning of my re-evaluation of President Putin. Then I took a look at Syria. In August 2012 US President Barack “girl bike” Obama drew a red line and issued a warning to Syrian officials. He stated unequivocally that President Assad would face consequences if the US started seeing “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” So what did President Assad do? He started moving around and utilizing his chemical weapons – not once, but 14 times beginning in December 2012.
What was the US response? President Obama backed away from his declaration, saying, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” He then went to the world and asked it to join him in enforcing “their” red line. But the world would have none of it. The British Parliament voted a resounding “no” and NATO declined to step in. So President Obama decided to launch a strike to prove his point. But the US Congress would have none of it either.
So what happened then? When it became clear that President Obama did not have the votes President Putin swooped in to the rescue and saved President Obama from a humiliating defeat by offering a deal to have Syria disarm. Disaster had been averted.
It is a fact, like it or not, that the incessant flip-flopping of US national security policy has contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East beyond control. Just look at Egypt. Keeping a state weak is, no doubt, a strategy. But it is a dangerous strategy, and as long as you don’t have to live in a refugee camp in the harsh winter months (yes, in Syria they have serious snow in the desert - no sign of climate change there) you can sip your café latte in Starbucks and bitch about Kim Kardashian’s posterior and remain oblivious to real human tragedy. What is missing in this picture is that in the euphoria to topple the Syrian regime there was a failure to understand that the country is now a playground for known al-Qaida terrorists who blissfully hone their deadly craft.
I suppose I should give credit to President Obama for the one decisive and forceful operation he conducted: the takedown of Osama bin Laden. The US Navy SEAL operation that wiped the world’s most wanted man off the face of the planet was undoubtedly a shining moment for the United States. And as far as legacy goes, President Obama will surely go down in history for this one. But for some inexplicable reason President Obama let it go at just that – the takedown of one person and one person only. In the wake of his (and the US Navy SEALs’) stupendous victory what did President Obama do? A little more than seven hours after bin Laden’s demise President Obama, in an obviously pre-scripted speech, inexplicably told the world that bin Laden was dead. In doing so he shocked the worldwide intelligence community and in one fell swoop eliminated the element of surprise that would have allowed Special Forces to take down other al-Qaida leaders around the world. This begs the question: What would President Putin have done? My guess is he would have kept the victory to himself, at least for a time. The wicked demon was dead and that was the end of it. Life goes on. But instead of keeping secret operations what they really are, secret, we plastered the Navy SEALs all over book deals, movies, and Happy Meal toys.
Now we have the Crimea. Recently, when a coup d’etat ousted the Ukraine's staunchly pro-Russian President, what did Vladimir Putin do? Did he abandon a long-time ally to a street mob? Did he bow to the "inevitable" expansion of the European Union? Did he allow military assets vital to his nation's defense to fall into the hands of a hostile regime and their foreign patrons? No, no, and hell no! But neither did he push the world into a wider calamity. Once again President Putin's actions were as intelligent as they were resolute. After moving quickly to secure his nation's military assets as well as make it clear to the lesser leaders of the world that Russian interests WILL be put first in the Ukraine, President Putin began his characteristic efforts to defuse this crisis. President Putin’s actions were decisive, forceful, and focused on Russia’s interests. One should be not surprised at the Russian hegemony in the region since culture, history, traditions, and military assets of the Russian Federations are at stake.
Whereas the Western community is now up in arms trying to figure out how to deal with what is a policy disaster, the Crimean Parliament swooped in and called for a referendum to move back to Mother Russia. Everyone forgets that Crimea even being part of the Ukraine is only a recent phenomenon, dating from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I guess the natives are bit tired of others playing with their customary rights of self-determination and of the demo-crazy-ness of the Western NATO approach to the Ukrainian experiment in democracy. No Action, Talk Only. We must expect an exciting month of March since the region was semi-autonomous even under Ukrainian rule and now it wants to set the record right. Does Russia have a hand in all of this? You betcha. But then that is the price of playing with the grownups.
President Obama’s immediate response to President Putin’s actions in Crimea was to telephone him and tell him the US would stop preparing for the upcoming G-8 Summit in Sochi. He didn’t say the US would not be going; just that it would stop preparing. I’ll bet that threat scared the heck out of President Putin! Then, Secretary of State John “swift boat” Kerry fumed on a Sunday morning news show that, “Russia is in violation of its obligations under the UN charter, under the Helsinki Final Act. It’s in violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest agreement.” President Obama then deployed Secretary Kerry to Kiev, where he characterized the Russian invasion as not the act of somebody who is strong; rather that it was the “act of somebody who is acting out of weakness." Huh? Remember, this is the same John Kerry who has a string of diplomatic triumphs behind him, including alienating Egypt's new military-backed government, negotiating the aforementioned failed Syrian chemical weapons accord, and agreeing to give Iran six more months to maybe, just maybe, think about possibly agreeing to maybe stop its nuclear weapons program.
Hard-core KGB operators, not to mention decisive leaders, like President Putin are not deterred by pieces of parchment. They are deterred when the United States projects strength and resolve. Therefore, is it just a coincidence that the Russians’ aggressive action in Crimea took place mere days after President Obama announced to the world that he would implement drastic cuts in the US defense budget and take the US Army back to pre-World War II levels and the US Navy to World War I levels?
Apparently the US doesn’t think the Russians are such a threat anymore. That’s just has-been, Cold War nonsense. No… The US has much bigger threats facing it, such as global warming. Secretary Kerry said so himself when he announced that global warming “is perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” So much for chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, bio-terrorism, and a newly emboldened Russian military that’s been given carte blanche to do what it pleases.
It is interesting that Secretary Kerry’s blockbuster pronouncement was made in Jakarta, Indonesia, where it was accompanied with promises of gold and silver. However, despite the green spin doctors and Avon ladies of the environmental movement clapping in unison over the money troves accessible to them, the reality is that the United States, India, China, and Russia are the worst violators of the so-called greenhouse gases, not the developing world. But that’s an entirely different topic. This begs the question of whether President Obama’s administration has its priorities straight in its waning second term. My opinion is no; instead, the US looks to the rest of the world like a drunken sailor staggering around on shore leave in Bermuda (my apologies to any drunken sailors). The US economy remains on the verge of a melt-down and the Senate has yet to agree on the debt ceiling. Yet the Obama administration dedicates a disproportionate amount of time wailing at the precipice of an obvious Fiscal Cliff about the horrors of climate change.
Having the image of being a great power carries no weight with China and definitely not with Russia. Strength is derived not merely from possessing a formidable force of arms; it lies in both continuity and coherency of policy and having the gumption to act in national interests. But continuity and coherency are, as we have seen, two things the current US President’s administration is notoriously lacking.
This brings us to today. I can't say I made a "full 180" in my opinion of Vladimir Putin and the Russians because I was never anti-Putin or anti-Russian to begin with. To my shame, I never thought of them much at all. But I can say that now after almost a year of watching Vladimir Putin lead the Russian Federation in giving the self-professed "activists" from Greenpeace a lesson in the rule of law, defuse crisis after crisis provoked by shrill mobs and encouraged by the childish leaders of the decadent West, and steadfastly assert his nation's interests even when ivory tower elites in Europe and America would rather that he didn't, I am heartily, and proudly a Pro-Putin Russophile.
The message Russia and Vladimir Putin have for the rest of the world is clear to my eyes: the adults are back on the world stage, and this time they speak Russian. But so what? It's a complex and beautiful language.