According to an old statistian's joke -- for all I know the only one there is -- "A man who has his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer is, statistically speaking, doing just fine." If that is so, can we then make the case that a leader who is variously accused of being both "an autocratic tyrant . . . a despot . . . one who willfully shreds the Constitution" and "weak-kneed . . . indecisive . . . one who wears mom-jeans and equivocates and bloviates . . ." is also, on average, doing just fine? The leader in question, of course, is President Obama. What makes the various bi-polar quotes so fascinating -- and these are but a small sampling -- is that in the main, they are made by the same people. In other words, while folks like Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Senator Lindsay Graham or Glenn Beck can blithely accuse the president of being "worse than a dictator" on any given Monday, can then just as easily accuse him of being weak-kneed and mamby pamby on any given Thursday. As nuts and nonsensical as this may seem it is precisely what has been happening to President Obama: one day he's described as being a worse dictator than Stalin; the next he's browbeaten for not having the guts and machismo of a "real leader like" . . . Vladimir Putin.
Sarah Palin, who as recently as last month accused Barack Obama of being a strongman hell-bent on subverting American democracy, told Fox News' Sean Hannity this past Monday that the president is a wimp who "wears mom jeans." (Does this mean that Governor Palin wears dad jeans?) Furthermore, in speaking of Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of the Crimea, Palin said "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil." The same goes for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who rapturously informed Fox News' Neil Cavuto that "Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day... he makes a decision and he executes it. Quickly. Then everybody reacts. That's what you call a leader. "
Sorry Mr. Mayor: that's what you call a dictator.
Of course, Palin and Giuliani aren't the only ones putting their "Putin Envy" on display while slamming the president for wearing those god awful "mom jeans." In monitoring various news broadcasts, I found that precise term used by no less than 8 different people, all of whom also eagerly salivated over Putin's "leadership" skills. Makes you wonder who's been writing their scripts. (By the way, for those wondering what in the hell "mom jeans" are , click here to see the Saturday Night Live skit that started it all back in May 2003.)
Then there are those who proudly proclaim that if the president were a "real leader," he would push for Ukraine (and Georgia) being admitted to NATO ASAP. Here is Senator Graham's take on what to do: “Let’s accelerate Georgia’s admission into NATO. Moldova is under siege by Russia. Let’s help Moldova. Let’s protect from a rogue missile attack coming out of the Middle East. If I were President Obama, I would reengage Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense. I would add Georgia to NATO. I’d have a larger military presence in the Balkans to NATO members who are threatened by Russia. I would fly the NATO flag as strongly as I could around Putin.” Then there is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who somewhat disjointedly suggested, "Countries that neighbor Ukraine, for example, Poland and others who had part of that alliance I think we need to be providing them assurances of the importance of this alliance, including perhaps — in fact I think we should revisit the missile defense shield we talked about so often.” ARE THEY CRAZY? If Ukraine were a member of NATO, that would force much of Europe -- and the United States -- to counter Putin by putting boots on the ground. Reviving the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic sounds great -- if you're John Wayne. But not when you are dealing with Vladimir Putin. Do people like Senators Graham and Rubio really want to revive the Cold War?
"Ah," they counter, "but that's precisely what Putin is doing . . . reviving the Cold War in his desire to resurrect the old Soviet Union." With Putin, who can really tell? According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin is delusional and living in his own reality. If Putin's a candidate for the funny farm, what's that make Giuliani, Palin and all those who give them airtime? The Putin Envy crowd, far from offering any realistic or constructive thoughts about how to handle the current crises, have yet to show they have any deep understanding of what the Ukraine means to the security and stability of Russia, Europe, or even the United States. To say only that Putin means to restore and resurrect the former Soviet Union is both shallow and simplistic.
Ukraine provides two things: strategic position and agricultural and mineral products. The latter are frequently important, but the former is universally important. Ukraine is central to Russia's defensibility. The two countries share a long border, and Moscow is located only some 480 kilometers (about 300 miles) from Ukrainian territory -- a stretch of land that is flat, easily traversed and thus difficult to defend. Moreover, Ukraine is home to two critical ports, Odessa and Sevastopol. Losing commercial and military access to those ports would completely undermine Russia's influence in the Black Sea and cut off its access to the Mediterranean. Russia's only remaining ports would be blocked by the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. gap to the west, by ice to the northeast, by Denmark on the Baltic Sea, and by Japan in the east. Then too, there is Russia's historic quest of a warm water port. (Many thanks to my lifelong friend Alan Wald for bringing this critical point to my attention. Alan: sometimes I think you should be writing this blog . . .)
Those who wish America had a Vladimir Putin at the helm -- a "strong decisive leader who would show those Russians we mean business" would do well to learn a bit of history . . . especially the part about the Crimean War and the ill-fated Battle of Balaclava ("The Charge of the Light Brigade"). For this is a deadly serious, intricate global challenge that demands far, far more than a bunch of partisan hacks trying to score points with their political base. This is simply not the time for politicians to let their abject hatred for the president predominate over virtually every last ounce of sanity and patriotism. Barack Obama is neither an autocratic despot nor a double for Bertie Wooster. What he is, is a leader who doesn't have to take off his shirt in order to prove that he's a man.
©2014 Kurt F. Stone