Putin’s Patsy?

July 8, 2009


Putin’s Patsy?


Diplomacy: Russia’s nondemocratic rulers over the years have shown an uncanny knack for detecting weakness in their foes. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is continuing the tradition.

Related Topics: Europe & Central Asia

President Obama no doubt believes he was dealing with honest brokers when he agreed with Russia’s leaders to cut U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads to about 1,600 each. For the U.S., that’s a cut of about a third.

But please read the fine print. This is a “preliminary” agreement. In order for it to go into effect, Russian leaders say they want the U.S. to give up its plans for a missile defense system.


To do so would, in effect, be a unilateral disarmament by the U.S. against the most feared weapons on earth — nuclear missiles. It’s an abandonment of our allies, including Poland and the Czech Republic. It’s not an acceptable bargaining chip.

It’s reminiscent of the time in 1961 when President Kennedy — like Obama, youthful, attractive, intelligent, well-spoken — met with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During that meeting, Khrushchev quickly sized up Kennedy as a foreign-policy lightweight.

Within months, he tested Kennedy’s mettle — erecting the Berlin Wall, and, the following year, sending missiles to Cuba to challenge the U.S. just 90 miles off its own coast.

In public, Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev; behind the scenes, he caved, trading our missiles in Turkey for the ones in Cuba. Kennedy, in interviews, later regretted his own callowness.

Compare that with President Reagan’s 1986 showdown with Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. That came on the heels of a U.S. deployment of missiles in Europe, Reagan’s refusal to sign a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and his 1983 “Star Wars” speech. He was negotiating from strength — the only thing Russians get.

In 1985, Reagan had told Gorbachev bluntly during Geneva arms talks: “We won’t stand by and let you maintain weapon superiority over us. We can agree to reduce arms, or we can continue the arms race, which I think you know you can’t win.”

In Reykjavik, with the world’s media egging him on to make a deal, any deal, on nuclear arms with the USSR, Reagan said, “Nyet.” Why? He wouldn’t give up U.S. missile defense. With that stand, the Soviet Union’s demise was assured.

By contrast, Obama on Tuesday called Russia, a country that’s falling apart, a “great power” and reassured the nondemocratic Putin he’ll keep Russia’s interests in mind while crafting U.S. policy.

“As I said in Cairo,” the president said, “given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. That is why I have called for a ‘reset’ in relations between the United States and Russia.”

This implies an equivalency between Russia and the U.S. that simply doesn’t exist. Russia comes up short on any measure of civilizational success you might want to use. Indeed, we have elevated a country that has invaded a neighbor, uses energy as a weapon against our democratic allies and refuses to help in our effort to halt Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.

Russia is not a “great” power. It’s a Third World nation with First World nuclear weapons. It’s in a downward spiral due to its collapsing population, shortening life-spans and shrinking economy. It might not even survive this century as a nation.

This has been the U.S.’ biggest mistake: to give Russia respect it hasn’t really earned. Maybe, as it turns out, Putin, a former top KGB operative, is more clever than Gorbachev. He knows our president needs a foreign affairs success.

Before President Obama signs off on anything, he’d do well to review the presidential history of dealings with the Soviets. He can learn from both Kennedy and Reagan.


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