Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Obama, Putin and...Napoleon?

Obama + Putin

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
Winston Churchill

Earlier this month President Obama recently decided to cancel his upcoming summit with Putin in St. Petersburg.

The White House said, "Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda".

A chorus of American politicians including Chuck Schumer, Condi Rice and John McCain has endorsed President Obama's decision to cancel this summit.

Many do not realize that this was an UNPRECEDENTED decision of a U.S. President to take.  The last time a summit meeting was cancelled was by Kruschev in May of 1960 (over U-2 spying) near the height of the Cold War (  Prior to Obama's action, no summit has ever been cancelled by an American President.  The silence of the mainstream media on Obama's saber rattling move is truly deafening.  Where is the anti-war left when we really need them?

What is behind Obama's decision?  In an interview given on the Tonight show with Jay Leno he mentioned, "I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."  Obama claims to be concerned about the treatment of gay athletes at the upcoming Sochi Olympics in 2016.

Does this mean that President Obama has "no patience" with our ally Saudi Arabia as well?  Does this mean that he has lost patience with Iran whose leadership has denied the very existence of homosexuality in its country?

Why is it that the GLBT community is being thrown under the bus by the Obama administration to justify its saber rattling against Russia?  Surely many of these people are among the least bellicose humans on the planet?

Regardless of where one stands on GLBT issues, does it not make more sense for President Obama to raise these issues with Putin directly at the summit rather than simply walking away and refusing to have a discussion?

We are all aware that America itself is divided on GLBT issues.  Some are staunchly in favor of marriage equality and see this as the civil rights issue of our time.  Others favor traditional marriage and see Gay marriage as a path to gay Babbitry.*  Regardless of one's views on GLBT issues, Obama's unwillingness to advocate directly to Putin does nothing to advance the cause of gay civil rights in Russia.

It has been suggested that Obama's concern about gay civil rights in Russia is merely a pretext for his decision to cancel the summit.  Some argue that his real concern is the Russian amnesty for Snowden which has thwarted U.S. efforts to extradite and try him in  court of law.  Others suggest that differences over the ongoing civil war in Syria are at the root of the problem.

Lord Palmerston said, "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

During World War II the Soviet Union was out ally against Hitler.  During the Cold war the Soviet Union was our global superpower rival.  With the collapse of communism Russia has become less of a rival and sometimes even a partner in the war on terrorism.

Russia is not a perpetual enemy, still less an eternal ally.  The U.S.A. and Russia each have eternal interests some of which are aligned and some of which are divergent.  On the topic of Edward Snowden ( and his revelations the two countries interest seem clearly to diverge.

How does boycotting the summit help the U.S. to exert any pressure on Putin to reverse course with regard to Snowden?  Does it not make more sense to use this as an opportunity to discuss ALL the issues on which the two countries differ?

What would Churchill do?  We know that he great man, an ardent summiteer, said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

What is Obama really afraid of with regard to meeting Putin?  Does he dread a public humiliation of some kind?  This would be a meeting between a lame duck President and an even lamer duck dictator.  Neither man has any concern about job security.  That, of course, may be part of the problem; neither man has sufficient fear of what the consequences of their actions could be.  Perhaps the better question is "Why aren't these two men afraid of igniting a second Cold War?"

Commander K. at Museo Napoleonico
Rome, Italy
Barack Obama and Napoleon Bonaparte share more than a birth month (August) and an astrological sign (Leo).  Both men lost their fathers at a young age and were raised largely by their mothers.  Both men soared to the height of power at a young age.  Both were educated and spent time away from the land of their birth -- France and Indonesia.  Napoleon was a tactical military genius.  Obama has been a tactical political genius.  Both men benefited politically from the tumultuous times (French Revolution / Financial crisis) that preceded their arrival on the scene.  Both men have argued and worked toward expanding the central powers of the state (Napoleonic Code / Obamacare).

Stendahl, a stout Bonapartist and liberal, wrote of Napoleon, "Prosperity had gradually altered and vitiated his character.  He made the mistake of being too surprised by his success...He drank great gulps of the poison of flattery.  He believed that there was nothing personally impossible for him.  He could no longer stand contradiction and soon the slightest remark appeared to him an impertinence and what was more, stupid.  As a result of his bad choice (of men CK) he was used to seeing only those things succeed which he did himself.  Very soon his ministers appeared to do no more than set down his ideas slavishly.  It is impossible, in this age, for genuine ability not to be allied to fairly liberal ideas.  Napoleon himself is an example of this, and it is considered the greatest crime of all."  Source: A Life of Napoleon, Stendhal, 1818

Could the same words not apply to President Obama in 2013?

Recall Obama's slip in the third Presidential debate in 2012 when he said, "This Nation. Me."

Napoleon had a formidable secret police led by Fouché.  He also had strict control of the media and sometimes wrote articles for Le Moniteur.  Obama has a fawning media and has used the NSA to spy on American citizens.  The Obama administration has also used the IRS to intimidate its ideological opposition.

Napoleon I + Alexander I
Imperial Bro-mance?
Banned at Sochi 2016...?
In 1807 Napoleon sought a "reset" with Russia as well.  He met Tsar Alexander I on a barge in the middle of the Neman river near.  They agreed to the treaty of Tilsit  that divided the world between France and Russia.  This "reset" lasted 5 years until Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812.

History does not always repeat itself, but it often tends to rhyme.

History is often freighted with irony.  An anti-war congressman who vehemently opposed Polk's Mexican-American war, Abraham Lincoln, would later lead the United States in the bloodiest war in its history.  Today our Nobel-prize winning President is rattling a saber that could relaunch a new Cold war and no one seems to care.

*  Has no one warned our gay brothers and sisters about the hazards of marriage?  Can the reading public now expect a gay "Monsieur Bovary", a lesbian "Anna Karenina", and a transgender "Stepford Wives/Husbands/Wives..."?

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Jak Severson said...

Quite an interesting read, Chris, especially the Napoleon comparisons. I wonder 2 things though:

1. What would you have said if he would have gone to the summit after Putin's huge snub over Snowden?

2. You sure no summit has ever been cancelled by any president? That sounds like oneathem "Fox 'n Friends" fun facts.

Commander Kelly said...

1) Obama should have met with Putin regardless of the Snowden issue. It is one of many subjects that should be up for discussion. The interests of the GLBT in Russia would be much better served by Obama attending the summit than not. Churchill met with Stalin regardless of their hugely different politics, espionage activities, etc.

2) No USA / Russia (USSR) summit has ever been cancelled by a U.S. President. Not a "fun fact," just a fact! I am sure that there have been revised schedules but that is different.

Unknown said...

Completely agree about the gay community. The anti-propaganda law is indeed flawed, but, simply put, this constant barrage of criticism from the West is not helping. On the contrary, it is exacerbating the situation.

Andrei Dergalin said...

Obama as Napoleon and Putin as Alexander I. Now that's an interesting image

Frost Prioleau said...

Good thinking!
You really get around, Chris!