America’s back in the cold war and W.’s back on vacation.
Talk about your fearful symmetry.
After eight years, the president’s gut remains gullible. He’ll go out as he came in — ignoring reality; failing to foresee, prevent or even prepare for disasters; misinterpreting intelligence reports; misreading people; and handling crises in ways that makes them exponentially worse.
He has spent 469 days of his presidency kicking back at his ranch, and 450 days cavorting at Camp David. And there’s still time to mountain-bike through another historic disaster.
As Russian troops continued to manhandle parts of Georgia on Friday, President Bush chastised Russian leaders that “bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century” — and then flew off to Crawford.
His words might have carried more weight if he, Cheney and Rummy had not kicked off the 21st century with a ham-fisted display of global bullying and intimidation modeled after Sherman’s march through the other Georgia.
We knew we could count on the cheerleader in chief to be jumping around like a kid in Beijing with bikini-clad beach volleyball players while the Re-Evil Empire was sending columns of tanks into its former republic. (Georgia made the mistake of baiting the bear.)
If only W. had taken the rest of his presidency as seriously as he’s taken his sports outings.
When I interviewed him at the start of his first presidential run in 1999, he took an obvious shot and told me, “I believe the big issues are going to be China and Russia.”
But after 9/11, he let Cheney, Rummy and the neocons gull him into a destructive obsession with Iraq. While America has been bogged down and bled dry, China and Russia are plumping up. China has bought so much of America that we’d be dead Peking ducks if they pulled their investments out of our market, and Russia has transformed itself from a pauper nation to a land filled with millionaires — all through our addiction to oil.
What was so galling about watching W.’s giddy sightseeing at the Olympics was that it underscored China’s rise as a superpower and, thanks to the administration’s derelict foreign and economic policies, America’s fade-out. It’s as though China has become us and we’ve become Europe. Like Russia, China has also been showing jagged authoritarian ways and ignoring America’s preaching, including W.’s tame criticism as he flew into Beijing to revel in the spectacle of China’s ascension.
Despite his 1999 prediction that Russia and China would be key to security in the world, W. never bothered to study up on them. In 2006, at the Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, a microphone caught some of the inane remarks of W. to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao.
“This is your neighborhood,” W. said. “It doesn’t take you long to get home. How long does it take you to get home? Eight hours? Me, too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country.”
President Bush and his Russian “expert” Condi have played it completely wrong with Russia from the start. W. saw a “trustworthy” soul in a razor-eyed K.G.B. agent who has never been a good guy for a single hour. Now the Bush crowd, which can do nothing about it, is blustering about how Russian aggression “must not go unanswered,” as Cheney put it. (W.’s other Russian expert, Bob Gates, was, as always, the only voice of realism, noting, “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation.”)
The Bush administration may have a sentimental attachment to Georgia because it sent 2,000 troops to Iraq as part of the fig-leaf Coalition of the Willing, and because Poppy Bush and James Baker were close to Georgia’s first president, Eduard Shevardnadze.
But with this country’s military and moral force so depleted, the Bushies can hardly tell Russia to stop doing what they themselves did in Iraq: unilaterally invade a country against the will of the world to scare the bejesus out of some leaders in the region they didn’t like.
W. and Condi are suddenly waking up to how vicious Vladimir is. In a press conference with Condi on Friday, Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, chided the West for enabling Russia to resume its repressive tactics.
“Unfortunately, today we are looking evil directly in the eye,” he said. “And today this evil is very strong, very nasty and very dangerous, for everybody, not only for us.”
As Michael Specter, the New Yorker writer who has written extensively about Russia, observed: “There was a brief five-year period when we could get away with treating Russia like Jamaica — that’s over. Now we have to deal with them like grown-ups who have more nuclear weapons than anybody except us.”
More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in print on August 17, 2008, on page WK11 of the New York edition.
* U.S. and Poland Set Missile Deal (August 15, 2008)
* Bush Sending Aid to Georgia (August 13, 2008)
* Russia Steps Up Its Push; West Faces Tough Choices (August 12, 2008)
* OLMERT TO RESIGN AFTER PARTY VOTE THIS SEPTEMBER (July 31, 2008)