An Ode to Cowboy Diplomacy: Why Putin Runs Wild

Sergio Leone’s 1966 epic Western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, pits against each other, in clear contrast, the two most basic opposing forces comprising this planet: those who seek to protect the suffering, and those who seek to cause it. In the film’s final showdown, “Blondie” (Clint Eastwood) meets in the cemetery with “Angel Eyes” (Lee Van Cleef) and “Tuco” (Eli Wallach). There is no dialogue, and any noise at all is drowned out by somber tunes of Ennio Morricone’s masterful soundtrack. It’s not that the men can’t talk, can’t shake hands, or can’t try to figure out why they are where they are: they simply understand. They understand who they are: ‘The good’, ‘the bad’, and ‘the ugly’ and that their actions, beliefs, and values will inevitably always come into conflict with each other. Thus, they stay silent. They know what they have to do. As Morricone’s score continues, the men slowly take steps backwards and away from each other, without taking their eyes off of their enemies for a second. There is no sugarcoating it: the men must battle to the death because good and evil cannot both have what they want. They may want to work it out, or play nice with each other, but such a scenario is impossible given the nature of the men at hand. There is no escape for the villainous now, and nor can ‘the good’ run from this test, lest ‘the bad’ should win the day. This, was the way things were settled in the Old West; such is the honor of cowboys.

Today the Associated Press published an article detailing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s refusal to back down or take any responsibility for the murder of nearly 300 people on MH17 by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.

A little over a week ago Putin (‘the bad’) even went so far as to put the blame on Ukraine for the attack, asserting that if Ukraine hadn’t continued its military campaign, then none of this would have happened. Yes, that’s right, even though it was pro-Russian rebels who shot the plane down, and even though Russia started the violence by invading a sovereign territory and even though Russia is supplying the pro-Russian separatists with weapons, Putin still claims he is not at fault and continues his aggression.

This is no surprise. Actually, it’s the new trend in a world where thuggish dictators like Putin need not fear the long protecting arm of America (‘the good’) getting in their way. We are living in a world today in which tyrannical leaders can commit evil actions without the fear of repercussions. Thus, Putin is not backing down.

Remember when President Obama was caught telling Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Well, some people ripped Obama for colluding with Russia to bring down the United States from the somewhat subversive sounding quote. I disagree. To me, Obama was trying to get the Russians to ‘like us.’ This is common left-wing thinking: that other countries will play nice, as long as we play nice first. It was extremely naive on the President’s part at best and a defining moment of his Presidency. Medvedev and Putin didn’t get together after that and say “Hey, Obama is a nice guy, let’s work with him.” Instead, they laughed in his face and realized that he can be pushed around and that America is no longer a threat.

So now we are where we are at today. Russia has become a modern imperialist power looking to extend its reach in what should now be called the “Russian Region.” Putin probably paused for a second after the MH17 disaster and said “Oops. Maybe I stepped in it this time?” However, he most likely followed that up with “Wait, but who is going to stop me?” (insert maniacal laughter here for dramatic effect).

Not too long ago America was the world’s protector. Sure, some would like to use the word ‘police’ instead of ‘protector’ and that is fine with me. All I know is that before Obama, those in this world who would do evil thought twice, because they knew that America was watching. No matter what one thinks of America’s War in Iraq, what cannot be debated is that millions of innocent Iraqis are now free from the bloodthirsty iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Sure, we invaded. Sure, we took control of the country’s oil fields. And then do you know what we did? We gave them back, because that’s what America does: the right thing – not always – but a whole heck of a lot more than everyone else.

One doesn’t need to dig too far to find a time when the USA instilled fear in the hearts of its enemies. George Bush, love him or hate him, was a leader who emanated unpredictability and backbone. In 2003, in the middle of the ongoing push by North Korea (‘the ugly’) to obtain a nuclear weapon, China suddenly became a cooperative and mediating force between Pyongyang and the West. China pushed Pyongyang to the negotiating table for the Six-Party Talks, which were relatively successful in quelling North Korean nuclear ambitions for the time being. However, the reason that Pyongyang was willing to negotiate was not that it wanted peace but because it was threatened by the threat of American invasion. As you may have already noted, during this time in 2003, America had just invaded Iraq. Famed China scholar Andrew Scobell wrote in 2004 that, “The result was a sudden sense of urgency on the part of Beijing and Pyongyang to remove any excuse for the United States to use military power on the Korean Peninsula”. Scobell believes that China’s impetus to bring North Korea to the table, and Pyongyang’s own desire for diplomacy, stemmed from the fears of both countries that the Bush-era United States was willing to pay Kim Jong-il a visit à la the United States Military, as soon as they finished up in Iraq.

The Bush government knew how to work the security dilemma to their advantage. They understood that you don’t trust leaders like Putin or Medvedev, and on the contrary, one must work to outwit them. President Obama on the other hand, showed his cards and failed to protect the world from ambitious tyrants; he took his eyes off of ‘the bad.’ To China and North Korea, George Bush was perceived as a crazy cowboy who on a whim could invade, kick some tyrant butt, and build a new football stadium for the Dallas Cowboys in the middle of Pyongyang. Bush’s persona may have bothered a whole lot of people, but as far as keeping foreign powers in check goes, he was successful. That is what international relations are all about: keeping your power unpredictable. The North Koreans were convinced there was at least a chance that Bush would come after them; that relationship dynamic is the whole ballgame. President Obama has no idea how to how to deal with world powers; the man is in way over his head. He has showed this over and over again: from Syria, to Libya, to Mexico, to Russia, to China, and so on ad infinitum. And moreover, these powers know that Obama will not act; they know his threats are empty.

Now of course, it should be noted that as soon as it was clear that the U.S. would be busy in the Middle-East for the near future, Beijing lessened in its desperation to absolve Pyongyang of its nuclear ambitions. No doubt that in Bush’s second term, Iraq was bungled and became a mess until the ‘Surge’ and while we should take lessons from his ability to make tyrants behave themselves, we should also remember the mistakes in managing the Iraq War. But I digress…

America as the “Great Protector” is not not some arrogant ideal that weakens us. It is a necessary expectation that we must live up to. We don’t need an American leader who is going to make everyone like us. We need a President who will command respect, unite the country, and send the villainous back into their caves without blinking an eye or taking his eyes off of our enemies.

Simply said, we need a Cowboy again.

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