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Republicans Forget When George Loved Vladimir

March 30, 2012

Following their mid-term landslide in late 2010, emboldened Senate Republicans led by leaders Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl almost scuttled the START treaty with Russia, a pact which enjoyed overwhelming support from the public and every living Republican secretary of state. So, when President Obama told his outgoing Russian counterpart that he would have more "flexibility" after the hotly contested November election, he was merely stating the obvious.
That didn't stop Mitt Romney, whose slanderous statement in opposition to the START accord was deemed by Fred Kaplan to be the most "shabby, misleading and--let's not mince words--thoroughly ignorant" he had seen in 35 years of arms control debates, from declaring himself "alarmed" and penning a new op-ed titled, "Bowing to the Kremlin." Within hours, Karl Rove's American Crossroads released an ad suggesting President Obama is a double-agent.
But Karl Rove and company might want to think twice about their demagoguery when it comes to U.S. relations with Vladimir Putin's Russia. After all, when Rove's boss George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, he looked into Putin's soul and decided he was a man with whom he could do business.
As it turns out, President Bush discovered that he and Vladimir were soul mates within months of taking office. At a joint press conference in July 2001, Bush explained that in their first meeting "I was able to get a sense of his soul." By November, Dubya was gushing over his new friend. As the BBC recounted:

"The more I get to know President Putin" he said, "the more I get to see his heart and soul ...the more I know we can work together in a positive way."
"The best diplomacy starts with getting to know each other," Mr Bush said, adding, "I knew that President Putin was a man with whom I could work to transform the relationship between our two countries."

That transformation became apparent in the run-up to the Iraq war. When U.S. allies balked in supporting Bush's invasion, then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice coined a new slogan to sum up American foreign policy:

"Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia."

As it turned out, "Pootie-Poot" paid back the favor to his "good friend" during Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. As the Salt Lake Tribune reported in an October 2004 article titled, "Putin Says Electing Kerry Would Embolden Terrorists," the Russian autocrat essentially offered his endorsement. As CNN reported:

"Any unbiased observer understands that attacks of international terrorist organizations in Iraq, especially nowadays, are targeted not only and not so much against the international coalition as against President Bush," Putin said.
"International terrorists have set as their goal inflicting the maximum damage to Bush, to prevent his election to a second term.
"If they succeed in doing that, they will celebrate a victory over America and over the entire anti-terror coalition," Putin said.
"In that case, this would give an additional impulse to international terrorists and to their activities, and could lead to the spread of terrorism to other parts of the world."

(Earlier this week, Jake Tapper of ABC News pondered Dmitry Medvedev's criticism of Mitt Romney and asked, "Can anyone remember a Russian leader ever before so directly dissing an American candidate for president?" Well, here's his answer: Vladimir Putin in 2004.)
Of course, the bromance between George Bush and Vladimir Putin lost some of its luster in Dubya's second term. The resurgent Russia economy, the growing repression at home, the carnage in Chechnya and the bellicosity towards Eastern Europe strained ties between the two men. And then there was Georgia.
In July 2008, fighting broke out between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Republican nominee John McCain, who repeatedly joked that "I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes and I saw three things -- a K and a G and a B" and previous called for Russia's expulsion from the G8, dramatically announced:

"We are all Georgians now."

For that, McCain - the man who claimed he put "country first" - was honored in January 2010 as a "Hero of Georgia." As for the United States, not so much. After all, as Wikileaks and a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union revealed, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was responsible in large part for the outbreak of hostilities.
Despite that embarrassment, John McCain has joined Mitt Romney in criticizing President Obama over this week's open mic incident. As for Romney, he has declared Russia "our number one geopolitical foe," despite having also given that title to China, global jihadism and Iran. In fact, back in 2009 Governor Romney wrote "Iran: Biggest Threat Since Soviets." As for Karl Rove, he's using the open mic imbroglio to crush Barack Obama, all the while forgetting his man George Bush's crush on Vladimir Putin.


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

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