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What they didn't say at Kennebunkport

By Spengler


July 2, 2007


Nothing like the imagined dialogue below will have occurred at the Bush family compound on the Maine sea coast during President Vladimir Putin's July 1 retreat with US President George W Bush.

Putin, I expect, will have done his best to humor his American counterpart and keep him off his guard. Bush is prepared neither intellectually nor psychologically to understand what a Russian leader must do, and a practical man like Putin would not waste words explaining the unexplainable to the uncomprehending. Putin's unenviable task is to persuade Bush of his good intentions, while gaining maneuvering room to take measures that the US will regard as hostile. I have no idea how he tried to bring this off in Kennebunkport. But it is sobering to imagine how the conversation might have gone if Putin had told Bush the unvarnished truth.

Bush: You know, Vladimir, a lot of Americans worry that progress toward democracy in Russia has run into a rough patch. They see journalists being intimidated, businessmen being put in jail, and opponents of your government dying under suspicious circumstances. I want to improve relations with you, but you're getting a lot of bad press.

Putin: Tell me, George - what is your idea of Russian democracy?

Bush: Well, when Boris Yeltsin stood on top of a tank to face down the communists and then had free elections, Americans really got the idea that Russia was on the road to democracy.

Putin: We were on the road to something, that's for sure. Why do you think we went bankrupt in 1998? Everything that wasn't nailed down was going into someone's Swiss bank account. Ask your father about it - he gave a speech to a Goldman, Sachs conference in Moscow in July of that year telling investors what a great opportunity Russia was, a month before we ran out of money.

Bush: You don't need to drag my father into this ...

Putin: I'm not saying he was involved in the looting of Russia, the greatest larceny of all time - I'm pointing out that he was as clueless as the rest of you. If we hadn't cracked down on the crooks and thieves who took the country over and stole everything, we wouldn't be talking right now. There wouldn't be a Russia.

Bush: But can't you keep the country honest by democratic means?

Putin: George, everybody isn't like Americans. If Americans don't like what's going on, they elect a different congressman, sign a petition, take out newspaper advertisements, or whatever. For two generations Russians learned that if you made the wrong kind of joke, you disappeared in the middle of the night. You survived by keeping your head down and drinking your vodka. We used to have political troublemakers - in fact, some of the most enthusiastic ones in the world. They were called "communists". The ones that Josef Stalin didn't kill, he sent to the Gulag. Just who do you think is going to take the lead against crime syndicates with private armies? If the government doesn't do it, no one can - and the means we employ aren't going to be pretty.

Bush: I don't mean to get personal, Vladimir, but I guess you know something about those means.

Putin: You had better believe that I do. Why do you think that the Russian government is in the hands of people who served in State Security? In the bad old days, the only institution that could take initiative was the security services. There was no other place to learn how to exercise power.

Bush: I can understand how bad things were, Vladimir, but you've got to understand how much Americans care about democracy.

Putin: Of course you care about democracy - your population is made up of people who left their countries, forgot their language, abandoned their culture and threw themselves into the melting pot. They believe they have rights. Russians never had any rights to begin with and don't know what it means to defend them.

Bush: I've got to say, Vladimir, that's a hell of a way to run a country.

Putin: Who told you we were a country, George? Russia is an empire. We have 160 different ethnic groups spread across six time zones, and we have plenty of Russians in territories that used to belong to the Soviet Union. Maybe you don't like our history, but you can't run the tape in reverse. Let me give you an example: how many Muslims do you have in the US?

Bush: I don't see why that's relevant, but it's probably 3 million or 4 million.

Putin: That's not even 2% of your population. Do you know how many Muslims we have in Russia? At least 25 million, out of 150 million - and they might be a majority in 50 years, given their birth rates.

Bush: I don't understand your point.

Putin: My point is, do you really want democracy in Russia - one man, one vote? Because if you do, you might end up with an Islamic state half a century from now with more oil than Saudi Arabia and a big nuclear arsenal.

Bush: Vladimir, I don't get what you are driving at. Americans just don't think that way. We're trying to help Muslim countries build democracy so the Middle East can be at peace.

Putin: I don't want to throw cold water on your idea, George, but it doesn't seem to be working out too well in Iraq, or Palestine, or Lebanon, does it?

Bush: Vladimir, I just don't get you at all. If you are so concerned about the Muslims, how come you are making it so hard for us to put sanctions on Iran?

Putin: Did it ever occur to you that you have an insignificant number of Muslims to answer to - and half of them are native-born American blacks who never vote Republican? I have millions of Azeri Shi'ites attending mosques supported by Iran. I don't have the luxury to rap the mullahs on the knuckles and hope they stick their hands back in the pockets. Read what Niccolo Machiavelli had to say on the subject: never inflict a minor injury upon an opponent. Men will avenge themselves against minor injuries, but they can't avenge themselves against major injuries.

Bush: You're not telling me to inflict a major injury on Iran, by any chance, are you, Vladimir?

Putin: If anyone is going to do it, George, it's going to be you - you or the Israelis. I simply can't afford to - at least not for the moment, certainly not until after our presidential elections next March. Maybe you won't have to. Iran is weak. There's still an outside chance that someone reasonable like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani might replace that lunatic Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president. But there's one thing you can count on: nobody hates the idea of an Iran with nuclear weapons more than we do. Our "near abroad" shares a border with Iran.

Bush: So when push comes to shove, Vladimir, you're going to let me do the dirty work and keep your hands clean?

Putin: Remember, I've got elections six months before you do, and a different kind of succession problem. Your democracy has been around for more than 200 years. We're barely adolescents. I need someone to follow me who's hard and sly enough to prevent Russia from flying apart. We can be tough when we have to be. Or haven't you heard of Chechnya?

Bush: You're not taking into account how tough my problem is - unless I can settle the Iran problem, there's no way I can get US troops out of Iraq without a full-scale war between Shi'ites backed by Iran and Sunnis backed by Saudi Arabia.

Putin: Well, you're on your own there. Don't blame me for that.

Bush: Vladimir, I was hoping we'd come out of this discussion with an understanding of at least one point: Why are you so upset about our putting anti-missile systems into places like the Czech Republic? You know that we can't defend Europe against a Russian missile attack.

Putin: George, it's not just about the missiles. It's about your lily-pad bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in our near abroad. It's about fomenting those pointless color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. You aren't going to get democracy in these places - it's silly presumption. All you will do is foster the centrifugal forces that threaten to tear apart the Russian Federation. Don't you get it, George? We are only three-quarters Russian, and in a generation we might be only half Russian. We haven't recovered from the beating you gave us in the 1980s. Half of adult male deaths in Russia are due to alcoholism. Our women have 13 abortions for every 10 live births. We're fighting for our life. We are not going to let what remains of Russia be torn to pieces.

Bush: Do you think we can find some kind of common ground over Kosovo?

Putin: That's where you are really playing with fire, George. You are proposing to dismember Serbia to add a province to Greater Albania, and you will set a precedent for every breakaway minority that wants to leave Russia. We can't possibly accept this - and I warn you that if you insist on this dangerous and reckless course of action, we will do precisely the same for disputed territories in the near abroad, starting with South Ossetia.

Bush: But Vladimir, how are we going to convince the Muslim world that we can partner up with them for peace if we don't respect the wishes of an overwhelming Muslim majority in Kosovo?

Putin: I hate to put it this way, George, but I think I could teach you a lesson about how to gain influence among Muslims. You aren't particularly popular among Muslims at the moment.

Bush: Okay, you don't have to rub it in. How do you propose to gain influence among Muslims?

Putin: Do you know how many civilians died in Chechnya when we suppressed the rebellion there? No one knows exactly, but the number is around 100,000. We know that half a million Chechens lost their homes. That's half the country. We've been killing Muslims for 300 years. That's why they respect us.

Bush: Vladimir, what you are saying is horrible. The American people will never see the world that way.

Putin: The American people don't have to. They are sitting comfortably in their own continent and think it's a great disaster when a few thousand people are killed in an office building. I'm not suggesting that you go out and explain to your voters that things might be very different in other

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What they didn't say at Kennebunkport


My regards to Oswald for this compelling piece of geopolitical fiction. Could I now persuade you - or perhaps you him - to turn instead to the more challenging task of furnishing non-Americans with an insight, of whatever value, into the fabulous mechanism that is Dubya's mind?


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I also enjoyed parts of this fictional dialogue, although occasionally the words Spengler put in Putin's mouth struck me as more dangerous than the authentic ramblings of Bush himself.

The author concludes with the curious proposition that the way to gain the respect of Muslims is to kill MORE of them and over a much longer period.

To paraphrase, "they hate us because we don't kill enough of them".

Now that really would be a cultural difference!

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