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Obama’s Stubborn Refusal to See Putin for What He Is

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt

Obama’s Stubborn Refusal to See Putin for What He Is

A reader asked, “What on earth is [John] Kerry thinking? We can’t work with Russia.”

Diplomats never want to admit they can’t work with someone, because then they’re admitting they failed. So they pretend to get along, or that a workable compromise is within reach, just a few summits away:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a strained press conference alongside Russia’s Foreign Minister just hours after the country gave the U.S. an hour’s warning to remove its forces before beginning air strikes in Syria.

The two countries had faced off at the United Nations Security Council meeting over parallel air campaigns against Islamic State in Syria today – with Kerry telling the council Russia’s warning would be ignored.

Both sides claimed legitimacy for their actions, but differed over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Afterwards, in a tense address to the press after the meeting, both sides insisted the meeting had been ‘constructive’, but did not answer any questions from reporters.

Kerry said that the U.S. and Russian militaries could hold talks as early as Thursday to ensure that they do not inadvertently come into conflict in their respective air strikes in Syria.

But Kerry told the Security Council that, while coalition operations would continue, Washington would welcome Russian strikes if they were genuinely aimed at Islamic State or other militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

I know this will stun you, but Russia is not, in fact, hitting ISIS:

An analysis of the topography shown in the video by a team of Russian bloggers who honed their craft parsing social media evidence of the war in Ukraine suggested that the strikes had taken place in a part of Syria controlled not by the Islamic State but by rival insurgent groups that oppose both Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Islamic State.

The unwritten rules of diplomacy – at least as practiced by this administration – is that it’s considered rude to point out that another country is lying to their faces. We have to treat Russia’s intervention as if it might be a genuine effort to fight extremist forces, instead of clumsy, deadly effort to prop up a client regime through brute force. To confront them with the contrary evidence might worsen “the relationship” – a supposition that insists there is a working relationship to salvage.

Liberals weren’t always like this. Adlai Stevenson wasn’t afraid to call out Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin during the Cuban missile crisis with the whole world watching:  “Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don’t wait for the translation, yes or no?!” After Zorin declined to answer, Stevenson unveiled aerial photography demonstrating that yes, Russia was doing exactly what they had just denied doing.

Russia lies all the time. They insisted the Malaysian jetliner was shot down by a fighter jet. They lied about Russian forces in Ukraine. Putin boasted about how people believed his lies about sending troops into Crimea.

It’s easy to forget Putin spent his entire adult life in service to a regime that was willing to relentlessly repeat the biggest lies imaginable about the most important issues. The old Soviet Union didn’t say anything at all about the Chornobyl  nuclear meltdown for two days. Six days later, May Day parades and events went on as scheduled, including in Kiev, 90 miles from the still-burning, radioactive-cloud emitting plant. No warnings to the local population were made until nearly two weeks later. Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t mention anything about it in public for nearly three weeks. The number of radiation-related cancer deaths in Eastern Europe may reach the tens of thousands.

To Putin, these were the good old days. The men and women of the old KGB like Putin are ruthless liars who don’t care how many people get killed. The Obama administration has been in psychological denial about this since the “reset button” ceremony.

There is a longstanding American tradition of refusing to believe that hostile states and leaders are genuinely hostile, and insisting that they can be brought to reason if we just reach out to them correctly. There’s an oft-repeated anecdote of Sen. William Borah saying, in September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler —all this might have been averted.”

What’s fascinating is that foreign policy minds who have no problem seeing their country as the villain in the narrative – calling for “respect” and “empathy” for our enemies — somehow can’t believe that their opponents actually hate them.

Vladimir Putin hates us. I know, it isn’t fair. Most of us have never met the guy. But he thinks his country should be the biggest, baddest dog on the block, and up until recently, we held that title. He wants us taken down a peg at every possible opportunity.

Mitt Romney called it back in 2012, “This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.” Obama scoffed at the assessment as outdated Cold War thinking.

Wednesday, Daily Beast’s senior national security correspondent, Nancy Youssef, Tweeted, “Overheard at the Pentagon: “Right now, we are Putin’s prison bitch.”

It’s not that hard to get a sense of what Russia’s trying to do once you stop insisting that Putin is just like us. Here’s Marco Rubio at the debate, two weeks ago:

It’s pretty straightforward: He wants to reposition Russia once again as a geopolitical force. He himself said that the destruction of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Soviet Union, was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. And now he’s trying to reverse that. He’s trying to destroy NATO. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East. Here’s what you’re going to see in the next few weeks: The Russians will begin to fly combat missions in that region — not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad.

An unnerving prediction from Ralph Peters:

You bet President Obama’s afraid of Putin. Physically, tangibly, change-the-diaper afraid.

And as I wrote in these pages on Monday, the odds are good that Putin will order the shootdown of a US drone or even a manned aircraft, anyway. Why? Because he can.

And he enjoys it.

“Trust me, comrade. I’ve got this.”

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