Barack Obama’s wrong: The new Cold War’s only just begun

Michael Weiss writes: In one of the better studies of Putinology to appear in the last year, Mikhail Zygar’s All the Kremlin’s Men does much to upend the conventional wisdom about U.S.-Russian relations, particularly as offered by the American architects of those relations over the past eight years.

“Vladimir Putin,” Zygar writes, “did not like the new American president from the start. For him, Barack Obama was both soft and intractable… Paradoxically, Obama, the most idealistic and peace-loving U.S. president in living memory, became a symbol of war in Russia, a target for Russian state propaganda and racist jokes, and a hate figure for millions of patriotic Russians. He was caricatured as an ill-fated enemy doomed to be defeated by Vladimir Putin.”

Surveying some much-buried news over the last seven days, one begins to appreciate the weight of this grim appraisal. [Continue reading…]

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7 thoughts on “Barack Obama’s wrong: The new Cold War’s only just begun

  1. hquain

    Speculation: if the Russians are serious about contributing to a Clinton defeat/Trump presidency, they might be aiming for some kind of big military show in the next few weeks.

  2. Paul Woodward

    The allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election shouldn’t be taken to mean they actually want Trump to become president. Indeed, their preference almost certain leans in favor of predictability rather than unpredictability. What serves Russian interests more than anything else is that the power of the presidency is diminished through increasing numbers of Americans believing the political system is rigged. The less legitimacy American democracy is perceived to have, the more autonomy Putin gains on the international stage. If, as seems reasonable to assume he will, Trump loses the election, he can then function quite effectively as a “political dissident” who, whenever he has the whim to do so, will venomously denounce the “crooked Hillary” and make headlines on Sputnik and RT.

    As for Russia aiming for a military showdown in the next few weeks, it seems to me more likely that the all-out assault on Aleppo is premised on the assumption that in the twilight of the Obama presidency, this is the time when the U.S. is least likely to take any action.

  3. Óscar Palacios

    “[…] in the twilight of the Obama presidency, this is the time when the U.S. is least likely to take any action.” This reminded me so much about the Israeli attack on Gaza in the later days of the Bush presidency. He seemed powerless, the shadow of a president. He was also frozen in place, and did nothing. Even then president-elect Obama appeared powerless. The outgoing president is powerless and so is the president elect. Maybe Putin is aware of this and that would explain the timing of this latest gruesome assault on Aleppo.

    And Trump has been very useful as well. As long as the news are filled to the brim with the latest scandalous remark, the gravity effect of gossip pulls everyone’s attention away from far more dire news coming out of Syria. People are tired. With Trump, you can at least laugh and scratch your head in wonder and a bit of amusement (specially now, as he appears to be on his way down a slippery slope). But Aleppo is an emotional wound that does not heal. If you’ve seen the terrible images coming out of there, you can’t get them out of your mind and they’ll keep coming back to remind you that even though we are all living our normal lives, as go about our business, dreadful crimes are being committed and kids and other innocents are losing life and limb. 🙁

  4. Paul Woodward

    I was thinking of Gaza as I wrote that. And I think that as Obama stood mute while Israel bombed, he wasn’t just signaling the predictable immunity that U.S. presidents have long given to Israel. He was also showing Assad, Putin, and others who were studying the temperament and inclinations of the incoming president, that his instinctive response to violence is paralysis.

    As president-elect, Obama couldn’t have ordered any action in response to the assault on Gaza. But the only thing that compelled him to keep his mouth shut was protocol which is neither sacred nor constrained by law. The candidate who had just been elected largely on the strength of his voice, chose in late December 2008 and early January 2009 to remain mute.

  5. hquain

    PW writes: “Indeed, their preference almost certain leans in favor of predictability rather than unpredictability.”

    In the generic long run, this is likely true. But — extrapolating from Weiss’s article — I was entertaining the possibility that Putin et al might see in Trump a rare opportunity to seriously weaken their opponent with one blow, by helping a fool seize the helm. You see a patiently calculated endgame, and may be right. But the prospect of a US plunging itself into internal chaos while the Pentagon, the intelligence services, and the President bang heads — this could be tempting, particularly in the context of a proxy war situation where there’s little threat of a direct US-Russia face-off.

  6. Paul Woodward

    Putin’s reputation is that he’s not a grand strategist and thus the disruptive allure of a Trump presidency might seem too good to miss. Even so, my guess is that the Russians have much more confidence in their ability to be disruptive than confidence in their ability to determine the election’s outcome.

    For those around the world who (like Putin) have no fondness for democracy, these presidential elections should be an eye-opener in a sense that too many Americans don’t appreciate: they demonstrate the chaos that can take place because the system isn’t rigged.

    As Putin recently showed: look how much more smoothly an election can proceed when the outcome has been determined in advance.

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