You can take the man out of the KGB but you cannot take the KGB out of the man.
I knew the good guys were in trouble when former President George W. Bush looked into the eyes of former KGB colonel Vladimir Putin and saw a kindred spirit.
I knew the fever of naiveté was not broken when President Obama stood on the brink of launching airstrikes against Putin’s cohort in crime, Bashar Assad of Syria, and decided instead to surrender his authority as commander in chief to a dysfunctional Congress and begin a faux negotiation that dealt Putin three aces in a despicable poker game of carnage and death.
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was dead wrong when he said we should worry about the Russian president’s feelings before acting against his atrocious actions. America is not a doormat to dictators.
Whether one supports or opposes targeted airstrikes against Syria — which I supported last year and support today — the decision by the president to turn the decision over to Congress was an absurd and ill-advised abdication of responsibility that sent a horrendous message of weakness to bad actors around the world.
Putin gives every indication he plans to be Russian strongman for life. He makes a mockery of Russian term limits as he moves between what appear to be meaningless titles of president and prime minister while he works to monopolize power in his war against democracy.
The former KGB colonel has moved to destroy freedom of the press in Russia. He has jailed some political opponents, while others have been beaten and still others have died under mysterious circumstances.
While Putin preens in Sochi basking in the glory of the Olympic ideal, Assad commits mass murder in Syria using weapons supplied by Putin, violates his commitment to destroy chemical weapons with friendly support from Putin, turns the negotiations in Geneva into a empty farce with the steadfast support of Putin, and mocks the Security Council of the United Nations, rendered impotent by the vetoes of Putin.
Not long ago Putin wrote an oped for The New York Times bannering a big lie that would have made Joseph Stalin proud, the claim that chemical weapons crimes against humanity committed by Assad were committed by Syrian rebels, a deceit shamelessly peddled by Putin in a disinformation campaign that was a trademark of the KGB.
Let’s remember that one of Putin’s predecessors made an alliance with war criminals. It was called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in which Stalin made an alliance with Hitler, as Putin has with Assad. That did not work out well for Russia, did it?
While Syria seethes in blood Kiev burns with fire, in another Putin maneuver reminiscent of communist oppression of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. In the Putin worldview the Ukraine must not be allowed to be allied with Europe. The former KGB colonel therefore puts the squeeze on his “partners,” employing bullying and bribes to maintain their fealty while they employ KGB-like tactics against Ukrainian opponents who want freedom for their people and closer relations with the West.
Great nations must see truth clearly. We should negotiate with Putin but have no illusions about who he is, what he does or why he will only negotiate with adversaries who demonstrate the toughness he respects.
I support limited, targeted airstrikes in Syria, increased military aid to pro-democracy Syrian rebels and economic sanctions against the repressive Ukrainian government if it does not promptly reach peaceful agreements with its democratic opposition.
If Obama pursues these options, he deserves strong support. The civilized world should condemn Vladimir Putin for his support of Syrian war crimes and Ukrainian repression while he speaks without shame of the Olympic spirit at Sochi.
Pundits, pollsters and focus groupies are wrong. Americans would support principle and strength, intelligently explained, against those who commit crimes against humanity, including against us.
While Comrade Putin wages his wars with ice-cold calculation and cruelty, and his ally Assad continues his butchery using Russian weapons, and his allies in Ukraine continue their repression under Russian pressure, friends of freedom should make it clear that this is not acceptable in the 21st century.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.