Putin and Obama, the Bobbsey Twins
For half a millennium the Russian Tsars proudly proclaimed themselves to be guardians of Christian civilization against barbarian invasions from the Asian steppes and the Muslim Middle East. Although the Tsars generally excluded Catholics from their benevolent protection, their claim to protect European Christianity was not totally wrong. Just as the Pope of Rome traces his legitimacy to the Apostle Peter, so the Russian Orthodox Church, the established church of Tsarist Russia, traces its lineage to the Byzantine Empire, beginning three centuries after Jesus of Nazareth. For all its faults, Tsarist Russia buffered the West against worse threats.
This history is important today because Putin is trying to reclaim the Tsarist legacy. Rumor has it that he likes to be called “Tsar” by his inner circle. He has regular photo ops with the Patriarch of Moscow, surrounded by the glittering bling of the Byzantine past. The choral music of Russia -- often magnificent -- can be traced to Constantinople.
Fast forward a thousand years, and you can now see Putin’s presidential website at the Kremlin, trying to look modern, peaceful, and enlightened. The regime has gone to great lengths to show the world a smiling face.
And yet, Putin has totally blown his PR campaign by his bloody actions in the Ukraine. This at a time when Europe desperately needs a protective power, because it is once again at the mercy of a hyperaggressive Islamic war theology, the faith of ancient desert pirates.
The very idea of Europe was formed historically in a war of resistance against North African Muslim invaders of Spain and France. The first European epic is the Song of Roland, which celebrates the martyrdom of Knight Roland against the treacherous Saracens. The Crusades were arguably a prolonged defensive war against Muslim invaders, who were inspired by exactly the same thinking we see today from Hamas and ISIS.
Islamic reactionary cults are carbon copies of their forebears a thousand years ago. Those ancient warrior cults have kept the Muslim world mired in the dysfunctional past. Every so often a leader like Ataturk attempts to modernize one country or another, only to be reversed several decades later. Today we are living in the Greatest Islamic Reversal, as modernist Muslims everywhere feel besieged by the self-destructive barbarism of the past.
Putin is a lifelong expert on Western Europe, beginning from his years as KGB rezident in East Germany. The KGB ran spies all the way into the West German prime minister’s office. They penetrated the UK with the Cambridge spies, and scattered spies and agents of influence in American media, government agencies, and universities. Putin knows the West like the back of his hand. He knows our decadence, and he respects our power -- when we show the will to exercise it.
Today, Europe desperately needs a protective power, and under Obama, America is walking away from its former allies. A new modernist Russia could have filled the role of a reasonable protector of the wobbly nations of Europe, with all the benefits that would accrue -- but Putin has just blown his chance. He has proven that he can never be trusted.
With the rise of a self-proclaimed terrorist caliphate in Iraq and Syria, right next door to an equally mad near-nuclear power in Iran, we are seeing a predictable WMD race spreading to the whole Middle East. Those nations are practically next door to Russia.
Vladimir Putin seems to think he is somehow immune from trouble from the south. Well, ISIS now has 88 pounds of radioactive metal, enough to make a dirty bomb. Saudi Arabia has a standing order for advanced nukes and missiles from Pakistan. Nobody so far has devised a convincing defense against a nuclear attack from a maniac regime.
And yet -- instead of protecting his threatened southern flank from nuclear-armed maniacs, Vladimir Putin is destroying his credibility in the West, which is no threat to him. Putin is living in the Soviet past, a fatal error for any would-be statesman.
His shrewd strategic sense that we saw in play only months ago has now yielded to a primitive urge for emotional revenge against the West.
None of this makes any sense, because Putin has a commodity much more precious than oil and gas: Of all the nations of Europe, only Moscow is ready, willing, and able to fight Islamic aggression. It has shown as much in Chechnya. The whole world is therefore running precisely the risk predicted by Bush and Cheney: Suicidal terrorists with space-age weapons. That horse is now out of the barn, thanks to Obama’s deliberate inaction. Recent news indicates that Obama and Qatar (a truly primitive regime) have backed the new Al Qaida “Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria. In typical Obama fashion, he picks the most barbaric and destructive players to secretly support. We can see the same pattern of behavior at our southern border, where the Sinaloa Cartel now controls more than the U.S. Border Patrol. Obama always makes things worse, and in that respect, Putin is his long-lost twin brother.
Ten years from now Russian oil and gas will be a drug on the market, with fracking and other new extraction methods turning a third of the world into energy exporters. Ten years from now Russia will have no economic advantage left, and Putin knows that. But somehow the Kremlin still doesn’t realize that a renewed Russia could once again become the protector of civilization against barbarism. Putin’s emotional need for revenge upsets all rational calculations.
When Putin outmaneuvered Obama on Assad’s chemical weapons, he demonstrated a strong strategic capability. But now a different, more primitive Tsar has blown it in the eyes of the world. He has done it so brutally, cynically, and sadistically that he no longer looks smart or civilized. Putin is engaged in a shadow-play of his own imagining. This is not smart. In Russian, it’s nyekulturniye -- uncivilized.
Like Obama, Putin follows a revenge narrative. Obama’s Third World Socialism is an ego-satisfying emotional rampage against Western imperialism, which spluttered out sixty ago, long before Barack Obama was even born. The British Empire is gone, but Obama has an irrational need to refight the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. That is why he constantly needs to show the fickle finger of fate to mainstream Americans. In his mind, America still needs to be punished for slavery -- which Abraham Lincoln abolished in 1865.
Obama’s obsession with exacting revenge for European imperialism is a little bit mad, to say the least.
Yet, in their latest brutalities, Putin and his agents echo the same revenge motive. There is no strategic rationale for sending Russian Buk anti-aircraft missiles to the trigger-happy rabble of phony Ukrainians serving Putin’s cause. Today, Putin’s henchmen have shot down, not just the Malaysian airliner, but also two Ukrainian air force jets, defending their internationally recognized sovereign territory. Russian artillery is now bombarding Ukrainian soil. Therefore Putin, too, is being drawn into a cesspool of ancient resentments, the remote echoes of causes that no sane person supports anymore.
All this is shortsighted, emotionally driven, and self-damaging. Russia is deeply in debt, and desperately needs more trade and investment. But Europe has been scared into looking for other sources of oil and gas, thereby undermining Putin’s high-priced product.
Moscow has just blown a chance to reduce American influence in Western Europe. The new Tsar has inadvertently strengthened NATO, and even bolstered the weak-kneed Europeans. If a Republican administration is elected in time, NATO will almost surely send “tripwire” contingents of troops to the Ukraine and surrounding nations. At some point the West will call his bluff.
If God has a sense of irony he is surely chuckling at two world leaders, both immensely ego-driven, unable to control their emotions, in love with themselves, and defeating their own purposes. The Chicago pol and the KGB colonel are making nasty faces at each other in a funhouse mirror.
Serious nations need clear-thinking, mature, down-to-earth leaders. Somehow America and Russia have blundered into extremely risky leaders who can’t think straight.
Here’s hoping that sensible people will throw the bums out, both here and there.