My grown children often bring off-the-wall topics to my door as topics of conversation. Yesterday, my youngest daughter called me from a Southwest state where she lives with her soldier husband. She chattered on about how to get rid of their Christmas tree, since their garbage service doesn’t pick up trees. She mentioned something in their local paper about a project of feeding Christmas trees to elephants, which prompted my response, ” I don’t think there’re any elephants where you live, perhaps a long lost camel might still be roaming about, but I doubt it” Before I had filled in only the briefest details of Jefferson Davis’ US Army Camel Corps (here), she interrupted with “it says the horses were afraid of the camels, and she added, “that elephant story is in Berlin (here). Such is the nature of discussions in the internet age. Later one of my sons brought up a continuing discussion we’ve had for a long while now and finally I think he sees my point of view. When I first mentioned to him that if it came to picking Vladimir Putin vs Barack Obama for a hypothetical geopolitical competition , I’d pick Putin in a heartbeat. When this conversation began a year or so ago, my son would list off all the “evils” that are Putin, such as the alleged polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (here) and his KGB past. The following is my reasoning for picking Putin.
Often our policymakers and the media present foreign policy whereby it sounds like they are reading from the pages in a tabloid magazine , with all the details focusing on gossipy details rather than on articulating some clear strategic interests. I will never forget the highly sensationalized images of Saddam Hussein, that turned him into some larger-than-life nemesis rather than just an average tyrant with a military, whose ability was grossly exaggerated. This same trend plays out often, where we seem to have no clue of who we’re dealing with. Here are some of the things I considered. This all goes back to something I mentioned in a previous post that I think knowing people always trumps knowing “about” people. Years ago, I read a book that I had signed out from our local library that was Putin’s first lengthy interview with a western reporter. His answers provided clues to how he thinks about being a leader of his country and what his hopes and aspirations are for Russia. Luckily for us, most of the worlds leaders fall into the camp of rational actors. I harbor doubts about say North Korea, but I thought Saddam was a rational actor, Qaddafi – rational actor, Ju Jintao – completely rational. Now, Hillary’s friend in Argentina, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, makes me pause to wonder what the heck she’s thinking, but truthfully there are very few totally, what can only be called “batshit crazy” leaders. But Putin is supremely rational and a geopolitical adversary worthy of respect.
Taking “a walk a mile in their shoes approach” puts us on firmer strategic ground than all this suspect psychobabble our assessments often contain. To understand Putin all it takes is to view Russia from where he stands. George Friedman does this best (here). While Putin’s actions do remain diametrically opposed to ours and most assuredly will produce future friction points, his actions make perfect strategic sense from the Russian viewpoint. He aggressively has secured energy resources and engaged the US in nuclear arms wrangling where he certainly pushed and received the things that are advantageous to Russia.
Then we have Barack Obama where he refused to sign the Keystone Pipeline deal, he gave away too much in the nuclear arms dealing and he and Madame Secretary have made one after another terrible missteps, stabbing our allies in the back, while bowing and scraping to our adversaries. He’s put us on the path to not only universal healthcare, but to being a universal third-rate bit player on the world stage. If I were assessing how the strategic plane looks from others’ vantage points, I would wonder, “those stupid Americans, they don’t even have the national will to promote their own interests”. And truly, any administration that utters a phrase like, “leading from behind” is worthy of only supreme contempt, in my opinion.
The ill-mannered TV reality urchin, Honey boo boo can keep Barack Obama, but as for me I’d pick Putin by a mile.