Bob Franken


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Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together as we introduce Putin the Pundit! Perhaps he’s just dabbling, but there he was in The New York Times with his op-ed making his points, actually lecturing the United States about the value of diplomacy as opposed to America’s “relying solely on brute force.” Actually, the column was one big gloat, a nose-rubbing of President Barack Obama, whose pirouetting response to Syria’s nerve-gas attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime finally twirled him into “continuing the dialogue with Russia,” as Mr. Putin gleefully, uh, put it. I know we all join in thanking Vladimir for sharing.
Of course, we must look past his snarky condescending attitude and pay attention to what he actually wrote. Unlike most of us in the news biz, his words have meaning, incomplete though his musing might be. When, for instance, he sanctimoniously says, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become common for the United States,” he conveniently leaves out his nation’s invasion of Afghanistan as well as the ongoing ruthless violence in Chechnya. He also could take a trip down memory lane to his KGB phase, when he was practicing the dark art of espionage for the Soviet Union, which ruled its republics with an iron hand.
Let’s give him credit, though, for tweaking Obama for using his televised White House speech to pander to the tired jingoism of “American Exceptionalism” in his televised White House speech. Being the world’s moral defender, he argued, is “what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.” Is it fair to wonder whether constant claims of being exceptional make others wonder if you genuinely are? True, the founding vision of our nation is remarkable, but modern reality intrudes. How “exceptional” is the United States when it comes to educational achievement or health-care metrics or the gap between the wealthy few and everyone else? We need to work hard to make sure our “shining city on a hill” keeps its luster. Anyway, as Putin points out, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional.”

His government is hardly a paragon of enlightenment, but the longtime Kremlin player thought this was his chance to stick it to a USA that has gone from enemy to something between adversary and competitor. Right now he has decided it is in Russia’s self-interest to help the American president out of the corner into which he had painted himself. Barack Obama was about to suffer humiliation at the hands of a Congress all ready to deny him authorization for his planned missile attack on Syria. That could have diminished him both politically and geopolitically. But then along came Vlad!
Proving that it’s better to be lucky than good, Secretary of State John Kerry blurted out a formulation that would allow Russia to ride to a face-saving rescue. Kerry was grasping for verbal straws during a public defense of the pending attacks, and was asked in London whether there was any way Assad could avoid them. “Sure,” he said sarcastically, “He could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community next week, without delay.” Ha-ha. Next question.
There’s a cliché about 50 monkeys at a typewriter. You give them enough time and eventually one of them will peck out a phrase from Shakespeare. In other words, the laws of chance will mindlessly create a useful thought. Secretary Kerry had his “50 Monkeys” moment, and that’s when his counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, called. So here we are. Congress can return to its other destructive pursuits, while Lavrov and Kerry search for a face-saver. As for Vladimir Putin, maybe one of the news networks will hire him. Imagine him talking with Chris Matthews. I’d say stranger things have happened, but probably not.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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