Cal Thomas: Humiliation nation(s)

  • By Cal Thomas
  • Saturday, March 22, 2014 3:28pm
  • Opinion

What is it about Western leaders from Neville Chamberlain to George W. Bush who want to find good in men of bad character?

Acting as if he were endowed by special insight bestowed upon no one else, President George W. Bush declared in 2001 that he had looked Vladimir Putin in the eye and “was able to get a sense of his soul.”

According to the Daily Caller.com, in a 2010 interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bush, who was promoting his book “Decision Points,” was asked about his ability to see into the souls of men. The former president explained, “The reason why I said that is because I remembered him talking movingly about his mother and the cross that she gave him that she said she had blessed in Jerusalem.”

Well, bless my soul, as the saying goes. No doubt several communist leaders in the former Soviet Union had mothers who went to church and took their sons with them — until faith became a drag on upward mobility in the Communist Party. It doesn’t mean any one of them underwent some drastic religious transformation.

What Bush should have asked Putin is whether he shared his mother’s faith and if so, what difference that had made on his thinking? Usually when people “convert” from one belief system to another they give a reason for the shift. Not so with Putin. He has not walked the sawdust trail of redemption and embraced pluralistic, democratic or capitalistic beliefs. Quite the opposite.

In a 2005 state of the nation speech, Putin declared: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.”

In the Hewitt interview, Bush claimed that since that early meeting with Putin, the Russian leader had become a different person. The other possibility is that Putin has always been the same person, but lied and projected a different image to a gullible Bush who wanted to believe what he thought he saw.

Putin and his cronies are now openly mocking the United States. Under President Obama we are becoming a humiliation nation. Meaningless “sanctions,” which amount to not even a slap on the wrist, are laughed at in Moscow. And the problem with sanctions is that Russia has options, too, like cutting off gas and oil supplies to Europe and making trouble in other former Soviet republics. Recently, Russian news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov took to the Rossiya 1 news channel to declare that Russia is the only country capable of turning the United States into “radioactive ashes.” A picture of a mushroom cloud was projected on the screen behind him. Iran might see this bragging by Russia as a challenge to its own nuclear ambitions.

Understanding one’s adversary is sometimes more important than defeating him, especially if one wishes to avoid armed conflict. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic collapse of the Soviet Union and occupied Eastern Europe. Putin clearly believes Russia was humiliated after the collapse and the American triumphalism that followed. But humiliation can cut two ways.

Russia feels slighted for not being recognized as a great power. In some sense — though the analogy is far from perfect — Russia reflects Germany’s attitude after its defeat in World War I. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to disarm, concede territory and pay reparations. Hitler’s rise to power two decades later was in large part due to his appeal to German nationalism and pride, which is precisely Vladimir Putin’s appeal to the Russian people.

Putin has promised not to annex any territory beyond Crimea. We’ll see if he keeps that promise. Meanwhile, it would be nice if President Obama led on this matter instead of making the United States the laughingstock of the world’s dictators and to our detriment, perhaps some of our allies.

Readers may e-mail Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

More in Opinion

The official ballot for the Aug. 16, 2022, Special General Election features ranked choice voting. (State of Alaska Division of Elections)
Voices of the Peninsula: Check out the ballot before you vote

This kind of ballot is not something you have seen before.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party

State Sen. Josh Revak (Photo provided)
The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The hope is that the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2992) will come to the Senate floor for a vote

Michael Heimbuch attends a memorial service for the late Drew Scalzi on Aug. 5, 2005, at the Seafarers Memorial on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Point of View: King salmon: The clash of culture and science

People do some pretty awful things to king salmon stocks

Lieutenant governor candidate Edie Grunwald speaks at a Charlie Pierce campaign event at Paradisos restaurant in Kenai on Saturday, March 5, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Election Integrity: An Alaskan question with an Alaskan answer

A needless round of feel-good meetings and what-if conversations will be a thing of the past

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

The offical ballot for the Aug. 16, 2022, Special General Election features ranked choice voting. (State of Alaska Divison of Elections)
Opinion: Alaskans deserve an election system that represents our differences

The new system’s goal is to make this election cycle transparent, secure and easy for all Alaskans to vote

Larry Persily (Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

The cost of health insurance will rise substantially next year for about 13 million Americans

Most Read