Bush-Putin: the next Reagan-Gorbachev duo?
Recently, former presidential speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, interviewed President George W. Bush a few days after the President’s meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Ms. Noonan is writing a book about President Ronald Reagan. President Bush agreed to help her with her project and that is what occasioned the interview.
But what President Bush revealed about his talks with President Putin dominated the session. Apparently, Bush and Putin hit it off in much the same way as did President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former head of the former USSR.
The key point of their conversation came when Bush looked Putin in the eye and said: “You know, if you look at me and think I’m trying to pull one over on you and trying to weaken Russia, then we don’t have much to talk about. We can go through the diplomatic niceties [but] Mr. Putin, you’ve got to figure – you’ve got to look at me and decide whether I am hostile or not hostile, whether or not I want to diminish Russia or whether I want Russia as a friend and ally with whom we can trade and keep the peace. And… if you think negative, then this is going to be an interesting conversation for us but short-lived, and we’ll go out and play like we had a good conversation.”
Evidently, the two presidents went on to have a very good conversation during which President Bush said, “Why aren’t we thinking about how to fashion something different [so that when historians think] about the Bush-Putin meeting and the Bush-Putin relationship they think about positive things? It’s negative to think about blowing each other up. That’s not a positive thought. That’s a Cold War thought. That’s a thought when people were enemies with each other.”
President Putin is young, only 43. And, he must be bright because the KGB always took the best and the brightest into its ranks. He must be talented because he rose to the top position in the KGB. The question is: Can he shed the Cold War mentality that made the KGB the most important organ in the former Soviet Union?
President Bush thinks President Putin is not happy that “the Soviet Union is no longer the Soviet Union.” That is certainly understandable. After all, members of the nomenklatura, such as Vladimir Putin, had tremendous power and, due to their nomenklaturea-only stores, had access to the West’s finest consumer goods.
Granted, as Russian President, Putin certainly knows where his next serving of caviar is coming from. But he must deal with the United States and it allies from a position of weakness, not strength.
If Vladimir Putin decides, as did President Gorbachev with regard to President Reagan, that President Bush will not try to take unfair advantage of the situation, our world becomes much safer. Personal chemistry means a lot in today’s world. And, it looks as if Bush and Putin are off to a good start.
But things were testy when it came to meeting with the leaders of the 15 nations in the European Union. They tried to chastise the United States for not signing the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming. President Bush listened and pointed out that in 1997 the U.S. Senate rejected the Kyoto Treaty 95-0 because it does nothing to get the major polluters, such as Red China, to clean up their environmental acts.
President Bush loves the low foreign affairs expectations set for him by the media pundits. They forget he lived for a time in Red China when his father represented the United States there, They forget the broad exposure he had to international affairs when his father headed the CIA or all the trips he made abroad when his father was President.
G.W. not only knows which fork to use and how to make nice-nice; he also knows what to do with his knife.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.
©2001. William Hamilton