Germany’s leading news magazine Der Spiegel is back on Gerhard Schroeder’s case while again (only two days later) giving high marks to George Bush for his European conduct (earlier pro-Bush Speigel piece here):
But in Bratislava, the similarities between Bush and Schroeder in their approach to Putin ended with the smiles and the backslapping. In fact, it was the subtext of the US-Russia meeting that was most interesting — a subtext absent from Russia-Germany get-togethers. Bush, as it happened, had spent the weeks leading up to the Slovakian summit firing off frequent admonishments to Moscow. He is concerned about the course Putin is steering and let the world know about it.
Schroeder? Aside from a meek, privately issued hand slap delivered by telephone during the Ukraine election crisis in December, silence has reigned.
Causes for concern are many and primarily focus on Putin’s seemingly ambiguous commitment to democracy. Putin, in recent months, has presided over the somewhat questionable break-up of the oil giant Yukos, rescinded the rights of Russian citizens to elect their own regional governors and placed that power firmly in his own hands, and has silenced a number of media outlets critical of his leadership. In addition to democracy issues, however, Bush and Putin have also butted heads over a number of foreign policy differences, most recently highlighted by Putin’s avowal that he believes Iran is not interested in building a nuclear weapon — a position Bush categorically disagrees with.
Bashing Schroeder — one of the duller politicians to trod the international stage in some time and that’s saying something — is easy. But it was interesting that Der Spiegel “got” what Bush was about with Putin more than many in our own press. Bush is one of the more successful poker players I have watched in some time. This guy wants to win; others want to “be right.” Anyone who has been through more than ten cents’ worth of psychotherapy (or has a tad of common sense) knows which is the more productive approach. My best guess is that Bush was about coopting Putin. “Hey, my man here says he loves democracy!” What could Vladimir do but gulp and nod? We’ll see how this plays out down the line, but as strategies go, it’s not bad.