US Candidates Ponder Putin

Reuters reports on comments by various US presidential candidates on Vladimir Putin. Most are based on President Bush’s infamous remark after first meeting Putin, when he said he had looked into Putin’s eyes to “get a sense of his of his soul.” Now Bush is about to leave power while Putin is clearly going to cling to the massive authority he has built up while transforming Russia into a police state. Bush has done little to present a reevaluation of Putin, but those who would succeed him have not been so shy.

Hillary Clinton, campaigning, ponders Putin’s soul
By Ellen Wulfhorst

HAMPTON, New Hampshire (Reuters) – Sen. Hillary Clinton, campaigning on Sunday ahead of New Hampshire’s critical presidential primary, declared in response to a voter’s question that Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t have a soul.”

“Bush really premised so much of our foreign policy on his personal relationships with leaders, and I just don’t think that’s the way a great country engages in diplomacy,” Clinton said to voters in Hampton, New Hampshire. The state holds the nation’s first presidential nominating primary on Tuesday.

“This is the president that looked in the soul of Putin, and I could have told him, he was a KGB agent,” Clinton said. “By definition he doesn’t have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right? This is nonsense, but this is the world we’re living in right now.” . . .

Putin, named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2007, has promoted a big military build-up in Russia and verbal attacks on the West reminiscent of the Cold War. He was a former KGB spy in East Germany.

Clinton’s remark came in response to a question about foreign relations. In her answer, she talked about nations that offer safe havens to terrorists and about deterrents to so-called “loose nukes,” or unprotected and unaccounted-for nuclear material that could be used to make weapons.

Putin is a somewhat popular topic with U.S. presidential candidates. Republican Sen. John McCain, in a newspaper interview last month, said: “I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.”

Last month Republican candidates Romney and McCain both spoke harshly of Time’s decision to select Putin as ‘Person of the Year.’ Romney said to CNN, “he imprisoned his political opponents. There have been a number of highly suspicious murders. He has squelched public dissent and free press. And to suggest that someone like that is the man of the year is really disgusting. I’m just appalled. [. . .] So a good dictator — I guess Raul Castro will get it next. A good dictator that imprisons or murders political and media opponents and therefore brings stability, I mean, there’s nothing like the stability that martial law provides or dictatorship provides. I find it a truly appalling designation.”

Powerful words. Talk, however, is famously cheap. We were optimistic when Merkel and Sarkozy replaced Putin lapdogs Schröder and Chirac. But despite their stronger rhetoric regarding Putin’s destruction of democracy in Russia, policy has largely remained unchanged. Putin still sits in the G-7 and the new generation of European leaders appear as eager as their predecessors to suck up to Putin in order to make business deals. Most of the American candidates are running as agents of change. Will any of Bush’s potential successors have the backbone to stand up to Putin’s successor? (That is, to Putin.)