Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison.
President Obama’s whispers to Russia’s then-President Dmitri Medvedev were picked up on a hot mic. “This is my last election,” the president confided to the Russian under his breath, “after my election, I’ll have more flexibility.” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported that exchange in March, 2012, at a G-20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea.
It remains one of the most shocking incidents in the history of U.S.-Russian relations. Medvedev quickly chimes in to say: “I understand.” And he promised to carry the President’s words to Russia’s real strong man, Vladimir Putin.
What President Obama calls “flexibility” soon translated into flaccidity. The Russians have always been sensitive to weakness in their opponents. Nikita Khrushchev bullied the young, inexperienced Jack Kennedy at Geneva, in 1961. Kennedy would later tell associates, candidly, that Khrushchev “beat the hell out of me.” Seizing the initiative.
Khrushchev soon erected the Berlin Wall and took the alarming step of placing Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles in Cuba. Kennedy had to bring America and the world to the brink of nuclear war to re-establish American leadership.
President Obama, from his first days in office, has pressed all the wrong buttons in relations with the Russians. First, there was Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s horrible gaffe of presenting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red, plastic “re-set” button. During that March, 2009, Geneva meeting, Hillary’s button spelled the Russian word for re-set wrong. And it was not even rendered in the Russia;s Cyrillic alphabet. Hillary’s manic cackle can still be heard on the Internet.
“You got it wrong,” says the unsmiling top Russian diplomat, but the U.S. media gave Madame Secretary a pass. What difference does it make, after all? We will learn, sadly, that it makes a lot of difference.
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