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Putin Succeeds "Good Friend" Bush as Time Man of the Year

December 19, 2007

This morning Time named Russian President Vladmir Putin its 2007 Man of the Year. It is altogether fitting that Time selected Putin as a successor to two-time winner George W. Bush. Like his friend the American president, Putin for good or ill (mostly ill) has made his nation a major force in global affairs. And as Time notes, he did so "at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize."

In its tribute "A Tsar is Born," Time details Putin's consolidation of power, his systematic effort to crush dissent and opposition, his success at fostering the country's oil economy and his restoration of Russia as a factor in international affairs.
The similarities to his American counterpart are striking. In using his cult of personality to ensure the continuation of his leadership, Putin resembled the 2004 Man of the Year recipient Bush, who Time recognized for "reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten gallon style." And Putin's dark machinations in the just completed election (which produced a massive majority for his United Russia party and a certain premiership to let Putin manipulate his pliable, hand-chosen successor) are eerily reminiscent of Bush's triumph in 2000. "41's son," as Time noted then, was "elected President in the most controversial fashion."
From the beginning of his presidency, George W. Bush sensed that Vladimir Putin, the former KGB chief, was a fellow traveler. In November 2001, President Bush famously proclaimed:

"I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul. I knew that President Putin was a man with whom I could work."

As it turned out, Bush was wrong that "the more I get to see his heart and soul...the more I know we can work together in a positive way." From the Iranian nuclear program to U.S. plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, Putin has thwarted President at almost every turn.
And yet Putin remains the "good friend" Bush described in 2001. Their connection, apparently, is much deeper than mere policy disputes. As his past statements and domestic policies suggest, George W. Bush shares Putin's dim view of democracy:

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it." (President George W. Bush, July 26, 2001.)
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." (President-elect George W. Bush, December 18, 2000.)
"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier." (Texas Governor George W. Bush, July 1998)

Bush, of course, was extolling the virtues of dictatorship in jest. Sadly, the joke was on us.
UPDATE: On Thursday, President Bush with no sense of irony offered this assessment of Putin's selection by Time:

"I presume they put him on there because he was a consequential leader. And the fundamental question is, consequential to what end? What will the country look like 10 years from now? My hope, of course, is that Russia is a country that understands there needs to be checks and balances."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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