Friday, April 16, 2010

Is Putin a Great Leader?

Ralph Peters has an interesting column in the New York Post called, "Putin wins again: Rebuilding Imperial Russia." Peters sees Putin as a great statesmen who has made strong gains for Russia at the expense of U.S. interests, among others.
A few years back, I wrote that Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the most impressive major leader on today's world stage. Since then, he's gotten better. ... Putin's ruthless, unforgiving and murderous. He also has a clear vision of what he wants, the strength of will to get it -- and a stunning ability to spot the weaknesses in his foreign counterparts.
Peters goes on to list a series of what he sees as "strategic achievements in just the last few months." For example,
Last week, Putin supported the overthrow of the US-backed government of Kyrgyzstan, tightening his chokehold on our northern supply route into Afghanistan. The Obama administration was utterly blindsided ("Where's Kyrgyzstan?").
Peters argues that we have no one that rises to Putin's level as a leader.
I can't spot a single potential president in either of our political parties who'd be a match for the guy.
Although I agree that Putin has been able to take advantages of incompetent U.S. leaders like Bush and Obama, I think Peters' analysis is a bit over the top. Putin is simply taking what's available. If the U.S. is willing to hand concessions to Russia without compensation, such as cancelling our Eastern European missile defense plans, that's speaks less to any brilliance of Putin, but more to our own incompetent leadership. It's also worth pointing out that during the Bush administration, and continuing to the present, the U.S. has been greatly distracted. Diplomatic sparring with Russia over strategic concerns is a sideshow, rightly or wrongly, as long as we are tied down in Afghanistan, still in Iraq, and continuing a worldwide fight against Al Qaeda. In some respects Russian gains can be marked down to the U.S. taking the path of least resistance in dealing with Putin. The U.S. doesn't need a confrontation with Russia right now, and doesn't see contesting Russian advances as a priority. What looks like great statesmanship to Peters, looks to me like Putin capitalizing on favorable circumstances while his more powerful rival is otherwise occupied. He's smart to do that, but it doesn't require any sort of geopolitical genius.

1 comment:

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