Why Putin & Obama Can’t Fix The World


8 October 2015


The world has two top men: Vladimir Putin and Barak Obama. Both are heading up super powers.

Until a year back that only the USA was a superpower. Russia still had the nuclear arsenal to scream-die any one within 2000 miles radius but after 1991 Russia was yesterday’s superpower. Nothing more than a megaton rating with a barrel of oil fetching just two cents more than a barrel of whiskey.

Communism had burned on the flaming pile of Moscow vanities.  With the literary allusions came the illusions that Putin was just a toughie without a shirt on a horse who looked out of place at summits.

And then came 2008 and conflict with Georgia, Abkhazia and South Osseti. Georgia wanted in to NATO. Putin would not have that. Then Ukraine. Ukraine wanted in to NATO.  Putin would not have that.  Start a fight in Ukraine and brave NATO members ran a country mile rather than let in Ukraine at war with Russia.  Putin then took Crimea back and with it a sure lease on the old Soviet Black Sea fleet headquarters.

So what was next? It had to be Syria.  Russia was there from the start. He had a curious ally, not Assad but Iran especially after the deal brokered by America on nuclear weapons.  Iran was in from the cold.  Russia was all but a brother in arms.

More to come. Putin is in the process of forcing Belarus to stand aside while he establishes a forward operating base in that former Soviet satellite. President Alexander Lukashenko is saying No Way Mr Putin. It will happen.

All this and the president of the real superpower has kept his distance.  Sure the salvo of squalid statements has been unceasing.  Russia must not do this.  Russia must stop doing it.  Russia is making things worse. Russia is endangering peace. (What peace – but that is another matter).

Within this dreadful seven year picture instability there is a sense that the greater masterclass in superpowerdom goes unattended, unheard and even unrealised.  The Cold War that invented superpower standing also protected fractional insurrection in stable international relations. With some  irregularities the world was governed by threat.  This meant that regions of influence of the two superpowers were tacitly observed. Local conflicts, even two Arab Israeli wars did not disturb the superpower peace.

In the liturgy of old East West relations there were summit meetings that became legendary. Two leaders who oozed power. Two men we imagined could say Go Nukes if the world became hopeless. Now?

There are summits still.  The other leaders are unmemorable.  No big beasts of political persuasion. No dynamics that tell you that each leader had formative years when the world was so threatening that people openly took sides and so opinions were formed that would never be usurped.

Today, the world is relatively rid of war. It may not seem that way from headlines but it is true and has been so for three or four years. But it is not rid of conflict.  Oddly then, the world needs two superpowers whose leaders can aggravate the institutions into decisions and actions that produce more than a whimper of resolution totally without the power to impose logic and normality. If America wants to intervene, it no longer has the Congressional means to do so.  If Russia wants to intervene it no longer has the guarantees that what it does is winnable but for both the great beastdom of superpower reaction and resolution will bark but never bite.

Instead of joining forces to trounce a common enemy the two superpowers simply go their own ways. One prefers isolation because it has failed other ways.  One prefers intervention because at the great summits it looked of no consequence. Simple as that. Wasted power.

Just imagine: an old fashioned summit in the tradition of Versailles and Paris Treaty making.  There would be weeks in the preparation with officials dealing this concession with that. At last the day and the arrival of the keepers of the latchkeys of compromise. A signing and promises of verification that few bothered with because the signature was all that mattered.

Putin and Obama, Obama and Putin (the protocols are important in these times) given the stage to resolve not their now problems because they are in truth very few but to bring about the closure of miserable conflict and then agreement to rout what after all is a minnow, Islamic State.

Would the big beasts return to this? There can only be one reason not to: they no longer care about conflict that far away.  Okay, but just look where Belarus is. That is where this will end.

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