Prospect of Putin Presidency Gives Pundit the Vapors

I read a lot of opinion pieces so that you don’t have to. Some are good enough to make our Viewpoints section. Some are… special:

[P]olitical events in Russia will become more important in the coming years, and Americans should prepare for the leverage Russia will begin to exercise.

Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Putin as Peter the Great (click image for irritating commentary)

OK, I have fresh batteries in the flashlight, a week’s supply of nonperishables in the pantry, and jumper cables in the car. What other preparations should I make?

In foreign affairs Russia will continue to block interventions into countries like Syria with their permanent veto in the UN Security Council. Whatever one’s opinions might be on humanitarian intervention it is clear what an absurdity it is for a country like Russia, whose actions in Chechnya are not far removed from Assad’s in Syria, to be able to influence international humanitarian work.

Actually, your opinions on humanitarian intervention may determine whether you find Russia’s obstructionism offensive at all. If you consider humanitarian intervention a blood sport played by cynical opportunists, then you won’t be outraged when one cynical opportunist takes his ball and goes home. Furthermore, many on the receiving end of Western interventions would have difficulty distinguishing “international humanitarian work” from what Putin and his predecessors have done in Chechnya and what Assad is doing in Syria.

Russia will continue to wield its influence over Eastern Europe, a part of the world where liberal values are struggling.

Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
The only Vlad for me

Now we’ve entered the heart of Op-Edistan, where “liberal values” are always “struggling.” Would it help if we built more torture chambers in Eastern Europe?

It should worry Americans that Russia, straddling both Europe and Asia, will be able to dictate the pace of the twenty first century more and more.

Even if dictating the pace of a century were a real possibility instead of pundit claptrap, Putin could no more do it than Peter the Great or Josef Stalin could. This sort of threat inflation makes me appreciate the relative sobriety of China panic. The Russians are not even conceivably coming.

It looks like Russia’s influence will continue to be exerted under corrupt and illegitimate governments with a demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and expansionist mindset. Whoever is the President this time next year (probably Obama) should make more of an effort to establish good economic and diplomatic relations with countries still under Russia’s shadow, especially countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in order to limit the amount of damage an presidency like Putin’s can inflict.

And to which head of state can we turn to limit the amount of damage a presidency like Obama’s (or Romney’s, or Santorum’s) can inflict? Who will save Americans and others from the demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and the expansionist mindset of the Kremlin on the Potomac? Is there an extraterrestrial force for good to which we can appeal?

All the Wrong Reasons

There’s a lot to ponder in this open letter to Barack Obama from Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, et al., but I’ll stick to this part:

We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania — arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan — have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program.

I’ve seen variations on this theme many times over the years: the U.S. government should do something for such and such country because that country’s government contributed troops to some U.S.-led war. I sometimes agree with the policy change suggested, as in this instance. It’s absolutely ridiculous that my Romanian mother-in-law was recently denied a non-immigrant visa on a whim from a sour embassy employee. (An immigration official here in the U.S. even told my sister-in-law that the visa should have been granted.)

But of all the reasons this or any other policy should change, the fact that Romania’s handout-hungry leaders assisted in a war of aggression (when less than half of Romanians supported it) should not count for much – to libertarians, at least.