Saturday, July 8, 2017

When Donald Met Vlad

When a nation hosts a grand international convocation it tries to put its best face forward. Not so, Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Perhaps she chose Hamburg because she knew that it would attract a motley band of violent anarchists and other assorted leftists, but choose it she did. And the G-20 meeting she hosted was framed by violence in the streets. If we had any moral sense we would know that she had embarrassed herself and her nation.

Undoubtedly, Merkel was trying to threaten the world leaders. Look what happens, she might have been saying, when you refuse to declare war on climate change. Perhaps inadvertently, she was showing what a nation whose leader has allowed her nation to be destroyed by marauding bands of violent criminals.

As for yesterday's pourparler between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, armies of Trump detractors are already denouncing him for not being tough enough with Vladimir Putin. Tough enough over the supposedly rigged election, as though that is the leading danger the world faces today. They have even trotted out pictures of a tough looking Barack Obama, glaring Putin in the eye. As though a tough look and tough talk could somehow make up for the fact that Obama kowtowed to Kremlin policy on every occasion… beginning with a decision to cancel Poland’s anti-missile defense.

The Wall Street Journal has it right in an editorial this morning:

In Mr. Putin’s world, such a meeting has one purpose: to discover if he will be able to press Russian interests forward without significant pushback from the U.S. President.

Mr. Putin concluded that Barack Obama would pose minimal resistance, and so he seized Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine and adopted Syria’s Bashar Assad. He’s still in all three places.

So much for tough, glaring looks.

Vladimir Putin has been holding a weak hand. He played it masterfully against Barack Obama to elevate his statute as a leading figure in world politics. This does not mean that Obama was a strong leader.

Even today, the constant chatter about how the Russians influenced our elections, topic purportedly addressed by Trump and Putin, tends to make Putin even more powerful. The Democrats have seized this meme, as though it is a dogmatic truth, but do not understand that by elevating Putin they diminish America. I trust that they do not care.

The New York Times was thrilled at the prospect of Trump losing the first mano-a-mano encounter with Putin. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal:

Whatever the outcome of the encounter on Friday — which will be on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, but is expected to overshadow it — the Kremlin is betting that Mr. Putin can stage-manage the event so that he comes out looking like the stronger party.

If nothing much emerges from the meeting, analysts said, the Kremlin can repeat the standard Russian line that Mr. Trump is weak, hamstrung by domestic politics.

But if Mr. Trump agrees to work with Mr. Putin despite a list of Russian transgressions beginning with the annexation of Crimea and ending with its interference in the 2016 presidential election, he will also look weak while Mr. Putin can claim that he reconstructed the relationship.

The Times seems especially enthralled by the sexual politics of it all. James Freeman of the Journal suggests that we step back, take a deep breath and recognize how weak Russia really is:

While some journalists may focus on images of Mr. Putin on horseback, it’s useful to remember that he presides over an economy that is less than one tenth the size of ours. Precisely because it is run by Vladimir Putin, Russia is a chronic economic underachiever despite its highly educated population. Mr. Putin’s KGB training under the old communist regime may be useful in weakening other countries but it doesn’t enrich his own. Like a number of backward regimes that don’t respect the rule of law and therefore have trouble encouraging entrepreneurial creativity, Russia is heavily reliant on oil as its principal export. And lately Mr. Putin and his cronies have been losing their shirts.

It’s always useful to examine a few facts.

As for the meeting itself, one happily shares the analysis that Stephen Cohen offered on Tucker Carlson Tonight last night. As you know Cohen is anything but a Republican or a conservative. But, he is an expert on Russia and he tends to offer a perspective that is both intelligent and original. He counts among those on the left who can examine a situation dispassionately and can offer an analysis that actually adds something to our understanding. We do not know whether he is right or wrong. But, at least he is thinking.

If you like, pay close attention to Carlson's facial expressions. They area mixture of highly respectful and gobsmacked. Considering the noise that the media has been throwing around, Cohen's view comes as something of a shock.

[Addendum: For some scenes from Hamburg's violence, here is the Sun's account.]


Ares Olympus said...

At first glance Putin would seem to be a most unlikely unofficial richest man in the world. Someone has to own a country, so it might as well be it's leader for life.

And like Trump he's a lady's man, willing to let himself be playfully pinned by a woman in a judo match. Putin shows off his judo skills with team Russia in Sochi

And a great hockey player too, or if only he could convince the other players they won't be poisoned or disappear for making him look bad, his 64 year old skills could really be tested. Nobody tries against Vladimir Putin at hockey

Overall it's easy to see why anyone would prefer Putin to Trump as president, while Trump prefers to never break a sweat, rides golf carts over walking, and thinks exercise will make you die earlier.

Sam L. said...

Ares left out the part about Putin being KGB-trained.

Ares Olympus said...

Thanks for the addition Sam. For more background, there's an excellent Frontline program about Putlin from 2.5 years ago. Russia certainly is on a upward path lately.

Trying to judge corruption and criminality in leadership looks always tricky, and there's probably always more going on than widely known, but maybe less than the conspiratists imagine, i.e. more coverups of embarrassment than coverups of criminality. But when you try to expose one corruption that is swatted down easily, it risks demoralizing and encouraging more lower down, since "everyone else seems to be doing it".

Anonymous said...

Ares Olympus has an acute case of TDS. I am growing tired of his comments here. They are little more than bitching and moaning, with hyperlinks to the chorus of hysteria.

JPL17 said...

Leave it to Ares Olympus to prove Stephen Cohen's point about the irrationality of the attacks on Trump for trying to establish an anti-terrorist partnership with Russia.

I'll take seriously Stephen Cohen's analysis over Ares's any day.

Freddo said...

That Wall Street Journal quote is funny: "Mr. Putin concluded that Barack Obama would pose minimal resistance, and so he seized Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine...". It is like stating that WW II started when England and France declared war on Germany. Technically correct, but presenting a very misleading angle on the situation.

Russia/Putin must have seen the slide of the Ukraine to the EU bloc as worrisome. Interfering in the Ukrainian revolution and handing Putin an excuse to start a military intervention in Crimea will probably go into history as one of the biggest foreign policy errors of this century.
If only Obama/Merkel would not have been looking for a quick political victory but would have taken a more long-term view and given Ukraine another 4-12 years to integrate into the EU the current political scene might look very different.

A Russia with strong economic ties to Europe is much preferable over an ostracized Russia that is forced to partner with Iran and China. As a hard negotiator Trump knows to not give anything away for free (such as lifting sanctions), but he lets Putin know there is room to negotiate.