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Obama Misread Putin. Trump Might Not: New Era of Big Sticks, Common Enemies, Mutual Benefit

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NewsHubPutin was probably bewildered by Obama’s media-driven and belated concern, given that the Russians, like the Chinese, had in the past hacked U. S. government documents that were far more sensitive than the information it may have mined and leaked in 2016 — and they received nothing but an occasional Obama “cut it out” whine. Neurotic passive-aggression doesn’t merely bother the Russians; it apparently incites and emboldens them.
Obama’s strange approach to Putin since 2009 apparently has run something like the following. Putin surely was understandably angry with the U. S. under the cowboy imperialist George W. Bush, according to the logic of the “reset.” After all, Obama by 2009 was criticizing Bush more than he was Putin for the supposed ills of the world. But Barack Obama was not quite an American nationalist who sought to advance U. S. interests.
Instead, he posed as a new sort of soft-power moralistic politician — not seen since Jimmy Carter — far more interested in rectifying the supposed damage rather than the continuing good that his country has done. If Putin by 2008 was angry at Bush for his belated pushback over Georgia, at least he was not as miffed at Bush as Obama himself was.
Reset-button policy then started with the implicit agreement that Russia and the Obama administration both had legitimate grievances against a prior U. S. president — a bizarre experience for even an old hand like Putin. (Putin probably thought that the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq were a disaster not on ethical or even strategic grounds but because the U. S. had purportedly let the country devolve into something like what Chechnya was before Putin’s iron grip.)
In theory, Obama would captivate Putin with his nontraditional background and soaring rhetoric, the same way he had charmed urban progressive elites at home and Western European socialists abroad. One or two more Cairo speeches would assure Putin that a new America was more interested in confessing its past sins to the Islamic world than confronting its terrorism. And Obama would continue to show his bona fides by cancelling out Bush initiatives such as missile defense in Eastern Europe, muting criticism of Russian territorial expansionism, and tabling the updating and expansion of the American nuclear arsenal. All the while, Obama would serve occasional verbal cocktails for Putin’s delight — such as the hot-mic promise to be even “more flexible” after his 2012 reelection, the invitation of Russia into the Middle East to get the Obama administration off the hook from enforcing red lines over Syrian WMD use, and the theatrical scorn for Mitt Romney’s supposedly ossified Cold War–era worries about Russian aggression.
As Putin was charmed, appeased, and supposedly brought on board, Obama increasingly felt free to enlighten him (as he does almost everyone) about how his new America envisioned a Westernized politically correct world. Russians naturally would not object to U. S. influence if it was reformist and cultural rather than nationalist, economic, and political — and if it sought to advance universal progressive ideals rather than strictly American agendas. Then, in its own self-interest, a grateful Russia would begin to enact at home something akin to Obama’s helpful initiatives: open up its society, with reforms modeled after those of the liberal Western states in Europe.
Putin quickly sized up this naïf. His cynicism and cunning told him that Obama was superficially magnanimous mostly out of a desire to avoid confrontations. And as a Russian, he was revolted by the otherworldly and unsolicited advice from a pampered former American academic. Putin continued to crack down at home and soon dressed up his oppression with a propagandistic anti-American worldview: America’s liberal culture reflected not freedom but license; its global capitalism promoted cultural decadence and should not serve as anyone’s blueprint.

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