Did Vladimir Putin just jam the international ball of leadership right over President Obama and then strut in front of the U.S. bench? It certainly seems that way in the Russian leader’s extraordinary op-ed today in the New York Times. Mr. Putin went all Reggie Miller on us, stealing the ball and making a seemingly impossible change late in the diplomatic game. The Putin opinion piece is full of trash talk, taunting Americans that the pope is opposed to intervention in Syria, and that we should keep in mind how discordant American “exceptionalism” sounds to the notion of human equality when we “ask for the Lord’s blessing.” In your face! Where is Spike Lee, the great trash talker himself, when we need him?
Putin radiates naglost, the Russian word for chutzpah. He lectures us about democracy, and has a sophist’s ability to probe our growing doubts about our role in the world. But that machismo seems a trait of Russian leaders going back to the czars, and we should tune out the arrogance and the neediness for international attention and focus on what matters to our interests and the interests of the world in what Mr. Putin says. Famously, during the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy administration received two conflicting Khrushchev proposals to resolve the stand-off within hours of each other, one public, the other private. The White House seized the positive, conciliatory one and ignored the other, blustery one, a technique in negotiation known as the Trollope ploy.
The current administration would be wise to apply this technique to the Putin op-ed, ignore the “whoofing” and zero in on the fact that Assad’s sponsor has endorsed international control and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.