Wednesday, June 20, 2012

There Be Monsters

(Editorial cartoon by Pat Oliphant 6/14/2012 and found here. Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

Vladimir Putin has been getting plenty of ink and electrons since his return to direct power in Russia. He has cracked down on dissidents and now is showing his support for bad-guy Bashir Assad of Syria by shipping Russian military helicopters to the Syrian government to help put down dissidents there. Further, Putin has effectively hamstrung the UN by vetoing any measure which would isolate and weaken Assad enough to stop the massacres.

Pat Oliphant hasn't been the only cartoonist to portray Putin. Jim Morin has a nasty cartoon dated 6/18/12 and featured here. David Horsey has a more cerebral one published 6/14/2012 here.

The column appended to Horsey's cartoon makes explicit what I think is implicit in the other cartoons and in the coverage of Putin in general.

Putin is letting his Russian soul show through quite openly these days, particularly with his support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's brutal crackdown on opponents of his regime. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained this week that the Russians were sending helicopter gunships to Syria, a step that would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

The United Nations, the Europeans and the U.S. have been trying to build a united front against Assad, but the Russians -- with their Security Council veto -- are blocking any meaningful step in that direction. Their great idea is to bring Iran into the discussion, which is a bit like bringing in a fox to guard a henhouse.

All of this -- plus Russia's belligerent reaction to a proposed European missile defense system -- is reminiscent of the bad old days of the Cold War. Of course, there are differences; Russia is not the superpower the Soviet Union was and Putin, for all his ruthlessness, is not a pathological tyrant and mass murderer like Stalin. But certain patterns are the same. The Russians are still picking their friends among the world's most repressive regimes. They are still paranoid and certain the West is ready to gang up on them. And, like the communist apparatchiks before them, Putin and his team assume everyone is as diabolical, power-hungry and duplicitous as they are.
[Emphasis added]

It is hard to fault Horsey's argument, especially since Putin's behavior since he declared for the presidency has pretty much matched the description put forward in the column. The argument does raise some questions in my mind, however, and one in particular: why did Putin return? He was safely ensconced in a position where he could still exert some power on his government.

I don't pretend to be a foreign policy expert, nor have I ever played one on TV, but I suspect this new/old scenario is playing out against the back drop of ten years hegemony by the US. Unrestrained by the Soviet bogey-man, the US has increased its influence in the Middle East and Africa and in central and eastern Europe. We have increased our military and intelligence presence all over the globe, and we feel perfectly comfortable sending in our drones to assassinate those we perceive as terrorists in places such as Yemen. And that's just the stuff which has been reported in the Western press.

If Putin's return to power was intended as a response to all of that US activity, then we may very well find ourselves back in a Cold War, one in which the stakes are high and the military budgets even higher. And then we really are screwed.

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