Putin, as the entire administration keeps reminding us, is premodern. He should be, but is not, shamed when John Kerry, Joe Biden, Susan Rice, and Barack Obama variously proclaim that he is a 19th century dinosaur, or has lost the good will of the enlightened West. Again, we are told Putin worries about this; but I think he is about as concerned as were Norsemen like Eric Bloodaxe, who lost all the respect of the monks along the English coast that he so freely raided.
While Putin was making a premodern fool out of himself, blustering and bullying, and lying on the global stage, Barack Obama confirmed most of the Russian stereotypes that he was a postmodern metrosexual. Putin gets up every morning to annoy Barack Obama, piqued not just that he is weak, but that he is sanctimonious and weak. Obama tries to ignore Putin, who grates on him like some Russian version of the folks who tailgate with their Winnebagos at a NASCAR race.
Putin lives to break Western rules. But Obama’s Western rules — deadlines, red lines, step-over lines, leading but from behind — are hard to either break or follow because they are not really rules as much as rhetorical constructs that come and go.
To reflect Obama’s cool, the president did not do photo-ops with European leaders. He did not fly to meetings with Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea and Australia to shore them all up in these uncertain times. Obama certainly did not call in the Persian Gulf monarchs to have no fear, given that Iran better not try the Putin method of appealing to Shiite oppressed minorities in the Gulf petro-kingdoms.
Instead, as if out of central casting, Obama did his now ritually televised basketball-pick shtick, where he sets up a board and draws out winners and losers in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament. No worry here that his Marks-A-Lot might go rogue on his plastic chalkboard and instead give the nation a primer on international boundaries. No worry here that the president has invested hundreds of hours in watching and following basketball teams rather than in boring stuff like finding the killers of Benghazi, the status of Syrian WMD, Iranian compliance with his promises, or calling some obscure Baltic foreign minister.
To quell international tensions, no-drama Obama did a canned hip interview with the smart-ass and cynical comic Zach Galifianakis to peddle Obamacare to now wiser young people who see its deadlines the way the Iranians saw America’s. For insurance, he also chatted with an obsequious Ellen DeGeneres and reminded Ryan Seacrest that Sarah Palin was wrong: he does not wear mommy jeans but, in fact, looks great in his various designer pants.