I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul . . . .
George Bush speaking about Russia's Vladimir Putin, June 2001
There's been a lot of ink, virtual and otherwise, about Vladimir Putin's remarks on Saturday at the NATO defense ministers meeting. It seems that among other things, Putin took aim at the United States for what he described as overstepping use of military might, which he said has made the world a more dangerous place than it was during the Cold War.
Now I am not a Putin fan. Point of fact, the eyes to his soul make me a little edgy. And his defense of Iran doesn't raise the trust level.
But let's not be throwing the truth-teller out with the vodka. According to the Washington Post, Putin "told the West to back off on pushing Russia to be more democratic and more respectful of human rights. 'Russia is constantly being taught democracy, and the people who try to teach it don't want to learn it themselves,'" Putin said.
Fair enough. Even if the man has a questionable overall agenda, he got this part right. And no amount of Republican outrage should be allowed to mitigate against that.
Pease don't launch the "Oh, so you'd have preferred to see the homicidal Saddam Hussein remain in place?" defense. No. I wouldn't. Nor the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But our ill-conceived and dishonest approach to all of that has generated deadly chaos. For the past five years, we have left a trail of mass destruction in our wake, militarily and diplomatically. We have lost the good will of most of the world, including our "allies." Thank God loyal Lithuania has agreed to help with troop shortfalls in Afghanistan!
The United States has gone relatively rogue with respect to its unilateral war-mongering. It is a more dangerous world than in the Cold War era. And I believe the United States bears some responsibility for that. We have destabilized nations at an alarming rate. Think Afghanistan and Iraq for starters. And we have no small amount of responsibility for the mess in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon, however cloaked that may be.
The United States of America has become poster-nation for, "Do as we say, not as we do." Putin is spot on about that. The U.S. has become arrogant and patronizing about "teaching democracy."
Look around. Dick Cheney's shadow government is running our executive, judicial and, until recently, legislative branches. It remains to be seen if the legislative branch can remain in the light of day and make a lasting difference. The press largely kowtowed to the demands of the Bushies. Civil liberties are being compromised and violated with alarming frequency (e.g., wiretapping, mail intrusion, keeping tabs on peace rally participants, torture.) We are only beginning to learn the depth and breadth of deceit, corruption, cronyism and totally partisan machinations of the Bush administration.
So you see, failure to trust the United States is about cause and effect. Reaping what one sows. Etc., etc., etc. It's a better country than most, but the land of the free and the home of the brave is teetering on decline. Have you looked at our national debt lately? At the interest on that debt? At our standing in the international community?
Wait! Don't give me the "If you don't like it here, why don't you go elsewhere?" routine, okay? I love it here. I want my country back. Now. I want to be proud of us again. Justifiably so.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was coached to make nice with Putin without lying down and playing dead. Sunday, he soft-pedaled U.S. excesses and focused on the future of the NATO alliance. He pressed hard for support in Afghanistan. And while I believe it's essential to go back there and clean up our terrible mess, I wouldn't be surprised if NATO allies feel nervous about hitching their wagons to our falling star.
Here's the bottom line. The U.S. is no longer a trustworthy leader. And that's a damn shame.