American Ineffectualism
Every American ally is cringing with embarrassment at the amateurishness of the last month.

Russian president Vladimir Putin


Mark Steyn


This is diplomacy for post-moderns: The more you tell the world that you have to bomb Syria to preserve your credibility, the less credible any bombing raid on Syria is going to be — especially when your leaders are reduced to negotiating the precise degree of military ineffectiveness necessary to maintain that credibility. In London this week, John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, capped his own impressive four-decade accumulation of magnificently tin-eared sound bites by assuring his audience that the military devastation the superpower would wreak on Assad would be “unbelievably small.” Actually, the problem is that it will be all too believably small. The late Milton Berle, when challenged on his rumored spectacular endowment, was wont to respond that he would only take out just enough to win. In London, Kerry took out just enough to lose.


In the Obama era, to modify Teddy Roosevelt, America chatters unceasingly and carries an unbelievably small stick. In this, the wily Putin saw an opening, and offered a “plan” so absurd that even Obama’s court eunuchs in the media had difficulty swallowing it. A month ago, Assad was a reviled war criminal and Putin his arms dealer. Now, Putin is the honest broker and Obama’s partner for peace, and the war criminal is at the negotiating table with his chances of survival better than they’ve looked in a year. On the same day the U.S. announced it would supply the Syrian rebels with light arms and advanced medical kits, Russia announced it would give Assad’s buddies in Iran the S-300 ground-to-air weapons system and another nuclear reactor.

Putin has pulled off something incredible: He’s gotten Washington to anoint him as the international community’s official peacemaker, even as he assists Iran in going nuclear and keeping their blood-soaked Syrian client in his presidential palace. Already, under the “peace process,” Putin and Assad are running rings around the dull-witted Kerry, whose Botoxicated visage embodies all too well the expensively embalmed state of the superpower.

As for Putin’s American-exceptionalism crack, he was attacking less the concept than Obama’s opportunist invocation of it as justification for military action in Syria. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans alike took the bait. Eager to mend bridges with the base after his amnesty bill, Marco Rubio insisted at National Review Online that America was still, like, totally exceptional.

Sorry, this doesn’t pass muster even as leaden, staffer-written codswallop. It’s not the time — not when you’re a global joke, not when every American ally is cringing with embarrassment at the amateurishness of the last month. Nobody, friend or foe, wants to hear about American exceptionalism when the issue is American ineffectualism. On CBS, Bashar Assad called the U.S. government “a social-media administration.” He’s got a better writer than Obama, too. America is in danger of being the first great power to be laughed off the world stage. When the president’s an irrelevant narcissist and his secretary of state’s a vainglorious buffoon, Marco Rubio shouldn’t be telling the world don’t worry, the other party’s a joke, too.

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin has cast a long shadow over international affairs in recent months, first at the Sochi Olympic Games and now with his aggressive moves against Ukraine. Here’s a look at some recent social-media missives on Putin and his dealings with president Barack Obama.
Putin's behavior at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games came in for some razzing.
President Obama's response to Putin's incursion into Crimea seemed feckless and weak to some observers, and fed the feeling that he was no match for Russian strongman Putin.
THE ODD COUPLE The showdown over Ukraine is only the latest chapter in the chilly relationship between Presidents Obama and Putin, a relationship Obama’s much-vaunted “reset” has done little to thaw.
The strained relations between the two leaders has been a bit of a throwback to Cold War rivalries. And given the outsized personalities involved, it has been fodder for caricature from the Photoshop commentariat.
THE NEW RUSSIAN BEAR: Russian president Vladimir Putin is a bit of a throwback: A strongman leader who aggressively confronts the West in international affairs, making himself a thorn in the side of American foreign policy.
Unlike previous Russian leaders, Putin is also a bit of a media celebrity, with a penchant for indulging in tough-guy activities. Here’s a look at Putin the international action star in recent years, and some Internet mockery of his extreme-sports trappings.
Did Putin steal a Super Bowl ring? After New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft let Putin try on the ring back in 2005, Putin reportedly pocketed it. At the time Kraft claimed the $25,000 ring was a gift, but he recently said he wanted it back. According to the NY Post, the ring is now kept in the Kremlin library.
Horseback riding in the Tuva region of Siberia, 2009.
Hunting in Siberia, 2009.
Swimming in Siberia, 2009.
Race-car driving in Leningrad, 2010.
Skating at the “Golden Puck” youth tournament in Moscow, 2011.
Practicing judo in St. Petersburg, 2009.
Flying a firefighting plane in Ryazan, 2010.
Driving a tank in Nizhny Tagil, 2011.
Diving for treasure in Greece, 2011.
Arm-wrestling at a summer camp at Lake Seliger, 2011.
Hunting tigers in Primorsky Krai, 2008.
Target practice at GRU headquarters in Moscow, 2006.
Eyeing some prey in Kamchatka, 2010.
Striking the iron in Siberia, 2009.
Biking in Novorossiisk, 2011.
Chatting with the “Night Wolves” bikers in Novorossiysk, 2011.
Meeting a topless feminist protester in Germany in April.
Tickling the ivories in St. Petersburg, 2010.
On horseback in Khakassia, 2010.
Whispering with horses in Siberia, 2010.
Feeding a bay moose in Moscow, 2010.
Frolicking with dogs in Moscow in March, 2013.
Hugging a Bulgarian shepherd dog, a gift from Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, in Sofia, 2010.
DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN: Larger-than-life figures can’t help but attract some creative commentary. Here’s a sampling.
Updated: Oct. 07, 2014