Leib: Russia's guy looks cooler than our guy

Putin is a bad guy. But right now, he’s winning the run-up to the new Cold War.

Posted on March 23, 2014 at 10:35 a.m.

Who’s cooler? Barack or Vladimir? And who would have thought we’d ever be asking that question?

Robert Kennedy once said, “There is a Chinese curse which says 'May he live in interesting times.' Like it or not we live in interesting times.” That was in 1966, but one could say the same thing today.

Once upon a time the U.S. owned the market on “cool.” There were movie guys like James Dean and young Marlon Brando. They didn’t talk much. Their protagonists gave threats and ultimatums. But Dean and Brando just slouched, mumbled and did their thing.

In late February, troubles in Ukraine and Crimea started heating up, and Obama warned Putin to leave the situation alone. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened dire consequences if Russia didn’t back off.

But Putin didn’t back off. On March 18, he slouched, mumbled and signed a treaty adding Crimea to Russia. And he coolly dismissed our threats and said, “If you push a spring too hard at some point it will spring back. You always need to remember this.” Those would be good lines for a movie.

Maybe America should bluster less. There’s little we can do with Russia even if we feel justified to do something. Perhaps the old adage, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick” would be good to remember.

Maybe this is not the best time to be cutting back our military. And it seems it would be wise to do the Keystone Pipeline. Having a conduit for bringing in Canadian oil for refining and export would be a plus for team USA. Mostly, though, we’ll be doing catch-up. Russia is playing better than us at this time.

When Putin said he “wasn’t going to harm his ‘brothers’ in Ukraine,” it was somewhat amazing that many U.S. headlines appeared suggesting that Putin was backing down.

Our press should be reminded that Russian leaders are famous liars. One of my favorite book titles is, “It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway.” The book is about the Soviet Union.

Putin’s lies have such a brief time-lapse between his fiction and the truth that they are more like head fakes than lies. When Obama told his whoppers about Obamacare, it was years before the truth was disclosed. With Putin’s land-grab lies, the truth was disclosed in a few days.

We’ve got a basketball player for president, for heaven’s sake. He ought to be able to recognize a head fake and know how to react.

Putin is a bad guy. But right now, he’s winning the run-up to the new Cold War. And to a lot of the world, Russia’s guy is looking cooler than our guy.

When Obama was first elected, a lot of conservatives were badly shaken. They were shaken by his politics and his untestedness. And they were stunned by his popularity, especially among younger voters. Extreme fantasies were being dreamed up.

One urban myth was that Obama might try for a third term, or do an end-run and put Michelle on the ballot in 2016. That was then.

This is now. A lot of Obama’s theories have been put to the test and been found wanting. His credibility has been put to the test, and it’s been found wanting, too. I think Obama has discovered the presidency is much more difficult than he expected. I’m not sure he would take another term even if one was offered.

So with world events churning in the background, Americans find themselves in a tilt-a-world universe with a shaky financial floor and a government that seems mostly concerned with the next elections. Those who pay attention are wondering, “What’s next?”

“Like it or not we live in interesting times.”

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.

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