This was the latest Russian initiative in pulling the rug from under the most incompetent president the United States has ever experienced. Putin has not just twisted America’s tail: he has plaited it. If Putin v Obama were a boxing match, any responsible referee would have stopped it in the first round. Obama – and, by extension, the United States – is on the ropes. The very fact of the New York Times publishing such a piece demonstrated that even the Praetorian Guard has deserted the naked emperor.
Putin’s article deconstructed all the inconsistencies in America’s position, in a tone of perfectly pitched, if discreetly ironic, pained regret. It recalled the consensual principle underpinning the United Nations. “No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations”, wrote the Russian president, but claimed: “This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorisation.”
The piece went on to summarise certain realities unpalatable to the Obama administration: “There are few champions of democracy in Syria…” “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States…” (Ouch!) “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilised diplomatic and political settlement…” The payoff line, however, which referred to the differing status of the world’s nations, spelled out a barely coded message of potentially historic import: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
In that closing sentiment Putin effectively served notice that Russia will take the lead in halting the increasingly globally resented pretensions of American hegemony. It is also clear that it will do so not by Cold War methods, but by putting itself at the head of world opinion and using diplomatic means to end the rampage that began with demented US neo-con machismo, inherited in a doctrinaire liberal context by the dysfunctional Obama White House. The sheer aimlessness and triviality of American foreign policy is illustrated by its focus on foisting abortion and homosexuality on developing countries, in an access of cultural neo-colonialism.
Putin’s repudiation of Obama’s arrogant claim in his broadcast last Tuesday, on behalf of US policy, “It’s what makes us exceptional”, will have struck a chord with many countries: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Those barbs got to the US political class where it lives. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “almost wanted to vomit” when he read it. What really makes him and his peers sick, however, is the realisation that what is effectively a global diplomatic revolution, to the disadvantage of the United States, has been provoked by the ineptitude of their leaders. Obama’s “red line” on Syria was a hostage to fortune, compounded by John Kerry’s gaffe on chemical weapons.
It was the sheer speed of the Russian riposte, the seizing of an opportunity afforded by the US administration’s megaphone diplomacy, made necessary by its need to persuade a hostile American public and Congress, that astonished observers. Syrian chemical weapons will not effectively be decommissioned, Bashar al-Assad will not be removed from power and the delay imposed by the Geneva negotiations will filibuster any prospect of US military intervention past its sell-by date. Already Germany’s Eurosceptic AfD party is saying: “Germany’s relations with Russia should be managed with meticulous care.” That is polite politico-speak for “Sell Obama and Hollande, buy Putin.”
Putin reversed the traditional roles of America and Russia. His appeal to give primacy to diplomacy, his measured tone, albeit tongue-in-cheek, sounded like a US secretary of state a generation ago; Obama’s sabre-rattling was reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev hammering with his shoe on the UN lectern. Putin’s closing reference to God was a reminder of his government’s close ties with the Orthodox Church, whereas Obama heads the most anti-Christian administration in American history. The United States has a huge nuclear arsenal, but so had the Soviet Union. It is the richest nation on earth, but that does not guarantee world leadership: for that, political will and moral authority are required. Obama’s crashing and burning illustrates the inadequacy of effete liberalism in confrontation with realpolitik. «