Because they telegraphed weakness, a fungible asset for a psychopath like Mr. Putin. Capitalize on weak adversaries to conquer land, subjugate people, harass the West — facing little blowback.
Like Josef Stalin, Mr. Putin puts great importance on destabilizing adversaries. He secretly funds environmental groups whose anti-fossil fuel demands force Europe to buy more of his oil and natural gas. He spews disinformation. In 2020, for example, he blamed neighboring Poland for the start of World War II. He relentlessly hacks foreign computer networks, particularly of former Soviet puppet states he wants Russia to reabsorb. The Soviet Union’s end was a tragedy, he says.
Former President Barack Obama always had sympathy for regimes who hold a grudge against America. He watched baseball in Cuba with dictator Raul Castro. Mr. Obama initiated a sweetheart deal with Iran. Airborne palettes of cash arrived, giving the mullahs more resources to kill people in Iraq, Syria, Yemen.
Mr. Obama pretty much left China alone as the Communist Party repressed at home and hacked Americans, smashing and grabbing anything of value.
Mr. Putin went beyond hacking in August 2008. His troops invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia. He had made the decision before his presidential term ended that May, relinquishing leadership to his crony, Dmitry Medvedev, who promptly appointed him prime minister.
The response from former President George W. Bush lacked military action, but things remained frosty until the Obama-Biden team arrived.
Two months after inauguration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Geneva. She laughed it up with dour Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. She pulled out a prop, a red “reset button” to signal a fresh start.
What it really signaled was weakness. We’re so sorry George W. was mean to you. The whole photo op was bungled. The button’s Russian word for “reset” was actually “overcharged.” Tellingly, then-Vice President Joe Biden had announced the new cave to Moscow earlier, unveiling the “reset” theme in Munich.
Mr. Obama’s meekest message to Mr. Putin came on a hot mic, without which we would never have known just how committed the president was to placating the former KGB henchman.
There is usually a waiting period for history books to catch up with summit details. But the active mic in 2012 allowed the public to hear Mr. Obama make a vow to show “more flexibility” toward the incoming Putin presidency in May once the American president won reelection.
“I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” then-Russian President Medvedev whispered back.
Later that year, Mr. Obama was a man of his word, vis-a-vis Mr. Putin. When Republican candidate Mitt Romney warned at a nationally televised debate that Russia presented our nation’s No. 1 strategic threat, Mr. Obama royally mocked him, and American foreign policy, all at once. “The ’80s called. They want their foreign policy back,” he said.
Mr. Putin executed his second grand military offensive in February 2014, slicing off a piece of land from Ukraine — the strategically important peninsula named Crimea on the Black Sea. Mr. Obama did little, except for sending new military clothing and box lunches. He said he did not want to trigger Mr. Putin.
That same month a Moscow oligarch wired $3.5 million to Mr. Biden’s son Hunter for consulting fees. No Russian oligarch would send such a sum to the vice president’s son without Mr. Putin knowing, and probably orchestrating, the influence-buying.
Choked off Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to the West; provided to Ukraine the U.S. Army’s top anti-tank weapon, the Javelin, our first lethal aid; refused to extend the START treaty for fear Moscow was gaining an advantage in nuke weapons; withdrew from intermediate-range nuclear forces and Open Skies treaties because Mr. Putin was cheating; stopped the ineffective Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, a Russian client whose vicious militia fight with Russians in Syria; sanctioned several big-shot Russians.
The music stopped for Mr. Putin, who complained relations with Washington had never been worse.
With President Biden’s arrival, the Putin music was back in the jukebox.
Let’s make a weakness list:
• Lifted Trump sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline while canceling our new oil line, an unconditional surrender.
• In a show of military incompetence, the president hastily withdrew American forces from Afghanistan in a humiliating retreat after Mr. Biden pledged to Americans it would be in an “orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops.”
• Thirteen Marines were murdered by an ISIS bomber at a jammed chaotic Kabul airport. As retribution, the Pentagon bombed an innocent Afghan family by mistake. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged the U.S. embassy would stay open for years to come, then closed it days later.
• Extended START treaty, no questions asked.
• Restarted talks with Iran’s murderous mullahs to revive the Obama nuke deal, with Russia negotiating for us. It will mean billions of dollars more to Iran, who will share with Mr. Putin.
• Removed Trump terrorist designation for Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
• When Russians hacked U.S. gasoline and meat production, Mr. Biden met with Mr. Putin and handed over a list of 16 infrastructure targets he mustn’t hack — got that? Sixteen.
• On Ukraine, as Putin massed nearly 200,000 troops, Mr. Biden refused to deliver requested lethal aid, blocked Senate vote to sanction Russia, and seemed to approve a “minor incursion.”
The weakness list only involves his first year, a record that followed his campaign allegation that Mr. Trump was “coddling” dictators.
Overall, Mr. Putin’s greatest success was the anti-Trump, Kremlin-sourced dossier.
Democrat operatives ordered it, paid for it, circulated it and vouched for it. Mr. Putin gave Democrats the single most debilitating weapon to keep Mr. Trump distracted and under siege. And the whole 35-pages were a critical mass of disinformation. The CIA termed it “internet rumor.”
U.S. intelligence believes some of the most outrageous claims, such as Trump lawyer Michael Cohen secretly traveling to Prague, came directly from the Kremlin infiltrating ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier sourcing network.
Democrats were more than willing to collude with Mr. Putin’s propaganda machine when it meant more power for them regardless of what it did to the president or the country.
• Rowan Scarborough is a columnist for the Washington Times.
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