Putin is a strongman at home and a bad actor on the international stage. He is also diabolically clever.
Yesterday, in an op-ed published by the NY Times, the Russian tough guy known for judo and shirtless horseback riding claimed the mantle of populist defender of peace and multilateralism. In fact, in several places he seemed to be channeling Senator Obama circa 2007.
Here’s Putin yesterday:
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong
opposition from many countries and major political and religious
leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and
escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s
And here’s Obama in 2007, speaking about a possible strike on Iran:
“George Bush and Dick Cheney must hear loud and clear from the American
people and the Congress: You do not have our support, and you do not
have our authorization, to launch another war.”
There are few champions of democracy in. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as
“The war in Iraq has never been better for al-Qaida. They’re gaining strength.”
From the outset,has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We
need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that
preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one
of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.
Obama on Iran, 2008:
“if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both
carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and
we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars,
thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around the world.”
Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.
a consequence of the Administration’s failed strategy in Iraq has been
to strengthen Iran’s strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and
influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to
the United States in greater peril…Neither Israel nor the United States has the luxury of dismissing these outrages as mere rhetoric.
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in
foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in
America’s long-term interest?
“My decision making, with respect to military options versus diplomatic
options, a containment strategy versus a strike strategy, is going to be
informed by how is that going to impact not just Iran, but
how is that going to impact the stability of the region and how’s that
going to impact our long-term security interests.”
Putin on seeking the bomb:
The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law,
then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing
number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is
logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you.
Obama discussing Iran’s regional anxiety (note: not a direct quote but an excerpt):
[Obama] asserted that Iran’s support for militant groups in Iraq reflected
its anxiety over the Bush administration’s policies in the region,
including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear
If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust.
Obama on Iran, 2007:
They issue veiled threats. They suggest the time for diplomacy and
public pressure is running out, when we haven’t even tried direct
I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism,
stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different.
It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage
people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.
Obama, 2009 (Obama took a lot of heat over this at the time):
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits
believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek
Putin is putting on the populist, multilateralist, anti-war tone of the 2008 Obama campaign like a used shirt. It’s extremely doubtful Putin believes a word of what he is saying, but it is undeniably clever from a political standpoint.
By using Obama’s own themes against him, something he has already seen work in the belated decision to go to Congress for approval, he makes it difficult for the White House to respond. The White House’s prickly, awkward response would seem to confirm this. President Obama can’t criticize what Putin said without implicitly criticizing Senator Obama who held very similar positions on issues of war and peace in the Middle East.