President Barack Obama is so angry with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is canceling a scheduled one-on-one meeting in Moscow. What’s wrong with this scenario?
First, it seems childish. The United States has been desperately seeking Russian support for getting rid of the leader of Syria, who has been perpetuating a bloody civil war. That effort, not going well, almost certainly will go nowhere now. Nor will Russia be more likely to support the U.S. on other vital issues such as missile defense, arms control, human rights, counterterrorism, supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trade for which the U.S. needs Russian support.
Obama is angry that Putin granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, a minor-level national security aide who told the world the National Security Agency has been spying on American citizens. Whether you think he is a whistleblower or a traitor, we needed to know. That the Obama administration had to assure the world that if Russia returned Snowden to the United States, he would not be tortured or killed through the death penalty (which most of the world rejects) is pretty pathetic. Russia argues we are hypocrites with double standards.
Second, Obama has looked weak. He came into office reassuring the world that the rocky U.S. relationship with Russia would be “reset.” He could talk to Putin. He would talk to Putin. The grown-ups were back in charge. The Cold War was so yesterday. Now, having let the Snowden affair escalate into a huge deal by ordering down the Bolivian president’s plane thinking Snowden might be on board, Obama no longer wants to talk to Putin.
Third, not talking to Putin is a dead end. It doesn’t resolve anything. Putin is clearly a throwback, an ex-KGB guy who doesn’t believe in democracy and has been a huge disappointment to the West. The corruption scandals surrounding him are awesome. But he is the leader of Russia, and he can’t be ignored.