The Salem News
---- — 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.
The climate between Russia and the United States has become abysmal. Russia bans a number of Americans from entering Russia. We ban a number of Russians from entering the United States. Russia bans Americans from adopting any of the 600,000 Russian children living in orphanages. Russia says it will sell missiles to Syria. Russia says it will jail anyone who is homosexual, or even talks about homosexuality, and says that disgusting law will apply to anyone who attends or participates in the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Russia, including gay athletes.
Obama must and has spoken out against such dreadful actions. But to announce to the world that he won’t discuss these issues with Putin is not the solution. (Obama is still attending the annual G-20 economic meeting of the world’s largest industrialized nations to be held in Russia.) What are the people of Russia to think? Obama will be in Russia but won’t deign to have a one-on-one meeting with their popular president. That will make them respect us?
It’s become clear Obama and Putin can’t stand each other.
Powerful presidents of powerful nations get used to having their own way — why, they think, should they do what they don’t want to do?
It was obvious Obama dreaded sitting down with the Russian leader again. They don’t have even much to say to each other even on a personal level. (Obama values his wife, Michelle; Putin and his wife are divorcing after 30 years.)
The good news is that the cancellation was only symbolic. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense chief Chuck Hagel will go ahead with meetings with their Russian counterparts even as Obama snubs Putin.
Next: The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Will the world tolerate holding the Games there, given Russia’s official anti-gay stance (and Sochi’s lack of sufficient snow in winter)?
Stay tuned. Sometimes politics really IS a soap opera.
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email email@example.com.