Rarely on the world stage have we suffered through two such extremes as an erstwhile community organizer theorizing against a former KGB agent. If only Putin were a run-of-the-mill college president, then Obama might order a takeover of the faculty lounge. Or if Putin were a local bank president, Obama, the SEIU, and Acorn might yell on his lawn about lending more money to the inner city. Alas, even Chicago is not Russia.
Of course, we prefer our postmodern president to Putin’s Neanderthal world, given that Obama’s platitudes and serial fibbing — from keeping our doctors, period, to hounding a video maker for the terrorist attack on Benghazi — do not lead to knocking off his opponents, Russian style. The Obama administration is correct to remind us that the premodern world just can’t work in the present age according to Putin’s rules — in the way unchecked naked aggression always destroys the world around it.
So what does our Eloi in Chief want from Putin the Morlock? He seeks to school Putin to be as sophisticated as we are, in the sense of analyzing the art of annexation and thus concluding that going Viking leads the world nowhere.
Putin stubbornly begs to differ. True, he implicitly understands that every head of state cannot act like Putin. But then again Putin assumes that everyone is not going to act like Putin.
The Western world’s notion of transparent trading of stocks and bonds, of common banking protocols in selling and buying oil, of shipping lanes free of pirates, and of flying according to standardized rules is all predicated on a system. But every system has built into it a margin of error.
Putin is that error. He says to Obama that the world should keep playing by Western rules so that on occasion it can afford him not doing so. Putin is our graffiti vandal, whose antisocial behavior depends on others to ensure most of the walls are not cleaned and repainted.
Putin, in other words, wants a world with one Putin, but not too many more.
Why should Putin stop when he is already the most popular Russian strongman since Stalin, with a good decade to cement his reputation among his flock as the restorer of Greater Russia, with the clout of the Soviet Union, but now energized by oil-fed capitalism? And why should Obama do anything about those dreams when the Final Four is far more important than are either far away Crimeans or Georgians. Ellen is cooler than worrying about Kiev, and joshing with Ryan Seacrest about tight jeans beats talking to some heavily accented Ukrainian. Surely Putin’s next melodramatic theft can at least wait until the Sweet Sixteen.
The final irony? A united Western world very easily could embargo, squeeze, and make things very difficult for Putin with only a modicum of sacrifice. But then, we might not be so postmodern, so hip, so cool. In other words, for Obama, stopping the bully Putin would be a sort of a drag, boring, or a downer in a way Ellen, Ryan, and LeBron are not.