What was that Obama-Putin conversation like?

As John noted below, President Obama spent an hour and a half on the telephone with Vladimir Putin discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What was the conversation like?

We can probably get a good sense of it by considering the account of President Bush’s conversations with Putin set forth by Peter Baker in his excellent book about the Bush presidency, Days of Fire.

It’s well known that Bush and Putin got on well at first. But when the relationship soured, Bush became exasperated by his talks with the Russian bully.

Putin seemed to delight in debating Bush. But according to Baker, Bush hated debating Putin. “He’s not well informed,” Bush complained. “It’s like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong.” Bush described another encounter as “like junior high debating.”

One of Putin’s tactics was to present absurd analogies between his abuses of power and events in the U.S., a tactic also favored by Nikita Khrushchev in Soviet times:

“You talk about Khodorkovsky [the head of Yukos whose assets and freedom were taken from him after he became a critic of Putin], and I talk about Enron,” Putin told Bush. “You appoint the Electoral College and I appoint governors. What’s the difference?”

At another point, Putin defended his control over media in Russia. “Don’t lecture me about the free press,” he said, “not after you fired that reporter.”

“Vladimir, are you talking about Dan Rather?” Bush asked. Yes, replied Putin.

Bush explained to Putin that he had nothing to do with Rather losing his job. “I strongly suggest you not say that in public,” he added. “The American people will think you don’t understand our system.”

Putin’s ridiculous arguments were even harder to stomach because they were presented stridently and sarcastically by Putin’s interpreter. After one session, Bush told Tony Blair:

I sat there for an hour and forty-five minutes or an hour and forty minutes, and it went on and on. At one point, the interpreter made me so mad that I nearly reached over the table and slapped the hell out of the guy. He had a mocking tone, making accusations about America. He was just sarcastic.

This may have represented displacement of the anger Bush felt towards Putin.

In all likelihood, Putin gave Obama the same kind of treatment when they discussed Ukraine. Even “Mr. Words” Obama, who fancies himself an ace debater and has been known to use a “junior high” trick or two, must have tired of it pretty quickly.

No patriotic American should wish an hour and a half talk with Vladimir Putin on any American president. Let’s hope at least that Putin used a different interpreter.

JOHN adds: I am not sure any patriotic American would want an hour and a half talk with Barack Obama, either, but I will let it go. In this context, for better or worse, Barack is our guy. Sadly.

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