Putin Out and Proud
The Wall Street Journal recently showed Vladimir Putin in Crimea. There was the saturnine Slav in an unusually ebullient mood. He was standing in front of a banner ostensibly celebrating the victory of the USSR in what Russians still call “The Great Patriotic War” against Hitler in 1945.
Of course, some would argue that the only reason Vladimir Vladimirovich appeared before the large red banner with its Communist hammer-and-sickle insignia is for historical accuracy. Those victory banners from 1945 have a long history in Russia.
Defenders of Putin’s public association with the symbols of Soviet power might say it is rather like us celebrating America’s victory at Fort McHenry in 1814 with a fifteen-star, fifteen-stripe “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Or we might see all this for what it is. Vladimir Putin is a KGB agent who thinks the collapse of the USSR was an historic tragedy. During the champagne-fizzy euphoria of the 1990s, Russia had a new flag and a new hope for democracy. Then the woozy President Yeltsin charmed Westerners with his courage and his willingness to confront Russia’s grim Communist past. The Russian Orthodox Church even was allowed to recover the remains of the last Tsar and his family and re-inter them in sanctified ground.
In those heady days, the Moscow statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky was torn down. “Iron Felix” was the founder of the CHEKA. That was the predecessor of the KGB, where Putin trained. Earlier in this decade, however, Putin reportedly had a bust of Iron Felix restored to the Lubyanka, the main prison whose entrance was called, for generations of Russians, “the Gates of Hell.”
On New Year’s Eve, 2000, when the rest of the world was popping champagne corks and welcoming the New Millennium, Prime Minister Putin eased the bibulous President Boris Yeltsin aside and assumed full powers. Since that moment, he has been carefully rebuilding a Russian state based on the secret police.
President Obama must want this. He told Putin’s junior partner, Dmitri Medvedev, at a Seoul, South Korea G-8 Summit in 2012: “Tell Vladimir I can be more flexible after the election.” And his first-term national security advisor, Gen. James Jones (USMC, Ret.), spoke to his Russian counterpart, The Washington Post told us, on an almost daily basis.
We can almost see Russian analysts painstakingly mining the tapes and transcripts of those conversations for every nugget of information they can glean about America’s sources and methods. Clearly, Vladimir Putin and his comrades want a resurgent Russia restored to power, prestige, and influence. They want to be supreme in their sphere and to play a superpower role in the world.
Against them we have a secretary of state, John Kerry, who fecklessly bleats about the Russians being on “the wrong side of history.” And we have other high administration officials who scold the Russians, saying their seizure of Crimea is not in keeping with the enlightened standards of the twenty-first century. Perhaps so, but it seems carefully calibrated to the realpolitik of the previous twenty centuries.
This is, after all, an administration that believes in, that revels in, “Soft Power.” Mao Zedong liked Soft Power, too – for our side. He said you advance with a bayonet until you feel cold steel. Only then do you pause.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will busy himself with integrating “transgenders” into his rapidly disintegrating military. And he will alert all commanders to the inconvenient truths of global warming – even as the globe undoubtedly warms up in a dozen diplomatic hotspots.
In all this, President Obama is succeeding. He told a New York audience this week that it was deplorable that the United States “invests” half of what Europe spend on infrastructure, renewing bridges, tunnels, and highways. He wants us to focus on domestic concerns, his real priority – arguably his only priority.
Europe can afford high-speed rail only because the United States has protected Europeans from the Russians for sixty-five years. All that is about to change with Mr. Obama’s massive cutting of U.S. military capability. The globe will warm indeed.
Mr. Obama came into office intending to repeal Reaganism. And he is doing his best. Reagan’s visionary yet realistic approach to U.S.-Russian relations produced a miracle of American resurgence after a decade of “malaise.” The Obama record is one of retreat, retrenchment, and reflection.
No one should call for “boots on the ground” in Ukraine. Reagan never invaded the USSR, or even Poland or Rumania. Better than that, he created the conditions for the Evil Empire to collapse because of its own internal contradictions.
Reagan provided clarity of purpose: “My idea of U.S.-Soviet relations is this: We win and they lose.” In Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address to the Nation, in January 1989, he expressed his hope for better relations with Soviet Russia, but he wisely warned us: “Do not be afraid to see what you see.”
Mr. Obama’s circle is not afraid to see what they see. Unfortunately, they are wearing idealistic blinders that prevent them from seeing what is obvious: Putin is out and proud.