Friday, September 13, 2013

On the smallness of leaders

Vladimir Putin threw Barack Obama a lifeline the other day, and the president of the United States seized it, demonstrating to the whole world how desperately he wanted to avoid backing up his threats of action if Syria crossed his "red line" and used chemical weapons. That was a humiliating spectacle, but nothing compared to what followed: Mr Putin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, instructing Mr Obama on his proper attitude hereafter. What an odd thing to do! "He twisted the knife and gloated, which was an odd and self-indulgent thing to do when he was winning," as Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Such an exchange would have been unthinkable between Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin. Truman would never have behaved so pathetically, and Stalin would have been too smart to gloat. It's especially funny that Mr Putin and Mr Obama get hung up on the point of American exceptionalism. The United States used to be an exceptional country, but Mr. Obama is doing his darnedest to dismantle that.

And do I sense a note of sourness in the NYT's coverage of Syria, as shown on yesterday's paper online? After nearly five years of shilling for the amateur in the White House, we now hear of "policy pivots," action pauses, and "Putin Takes Center Stage." How is that possible in this best of all possible administrations?

But perhaps I exaggerate. Perhaps the NYT thinks it a great thing that Washington has yielded center stage to Moscow.


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