Pootie-Poot Comes Home to Roost

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 15, 2008; 11:18 AM

At the end of the week, one thing is clear: President Bush is finally aware of the dark side of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the man whose soul he so famously declared as trustworthy, the man he affectionately nicknamed Pootie-Poot.

"Unfortunately, Russia has tended to view the expansion of freedom and democracy as a threat to its interests," Bush declared in an early-morning statement before flying off for a two-week Crawford vacation, postponed by one day due to Russia's invasion of Georgia.

"With its actions in recent days Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world," he said, with no acknowledgment of his prior gullibility.

"Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century," he said, with no apparent sign of irony.

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush is guiding U.S. relations with Russia in a decidedly confrontational direction, evoking memories of Cold War bitterness.

"It's a marked turnabout from the sense-of-his-soul epiphany the president had seven years ago when he declared that Vladimir Putin was a trustworthy partner on the global stage. With only five months left in the Bush presidency, there is little time to repair damage in relations, much less capitalize on a new approach to make progress together on hotspots like Iran or North Korea. . . .

"'The administration is a bit behind the curve on this. They didn't understand what was coming,' said Janusz Bugajski, director of a new European democracies project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. . . .

"Putin is the only world leader who landed the Bush-reward trifecta: visits to the president's Texas ranch, the Camp David retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains and his parents' summer home in Maine. Bush even risked losing some of his democratic-reformer credentials by agreeing to attend Putin's lavish Red Square anniversary celebration in 2005 of Soviet victory in World War II.

"But there was a big problem underlying the basic strategy: Bush's assumption that a weak, debt-ridden, post-Soviet Russia would seek to become more Western, and thus would share U.S. strategic interests, Bugajski said. The president also was distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Russia, meanwhile, was operating on a very different view. Becoming ever richer off energy revenues, it worked to take advantage of what it sees as a declining America, to split the U.S. from traditional allies such as France and Germany, and to reassert its global role."

Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker write in the New York Times: "Russia's military offensive into Georgia has jolted the Bush administration's relationship with Moscow, senior officials said Thursday, forcing a wholesale reassessment of American dealings with Russia and jeopardizing talks on everything from halting Iran's nuclear ambitions to reducing strategic arsenals to cooperation on missiles defenses.

"The conflict punctuated a stark turnabout in the administration's view of Vladimir V. Putin, the president turned prime minister whom President Bush has repeatedly described as a trustworthy friend. Now Mr. Bush's aides complain that Russian officials have been misleading or at least evasive about Russia's intentions in Georgia.

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