(July 1, 2007) -- How can Presidents Bush and Putin be expected to see each other’s viewpoints when they are blind to the fact they are guilty of the very faults of which they accuse each other?
The Kennebunkport, Me., session brings together two men who share a common proclivity not only for dining on lobster but for making wars, shredding laws and grabbing power. These traits have so diminished their stature both in the eyes of their domestic and international critics that it is foolhardy for either of them to think in terms of “legacy.” History will remember them for the graveyards dug as a result of their tyrannies.
Both Bush and Putin have much in common. Both have been absolutely relentless in the prosecution of their respective wars. Bush insists on intensifying the Iraq war even as key Republican senators turn against him and polls show the American people want “O-U-T.” As for Putin’s war in Chechnya, Lev Ponomarev, of the “For Human Rights” organization, once told “CDI Russia Weekly,” “Only Putin and his generals want to continue the war.” Seems the Russian people were sick of Putin’s war, too.
Both leaders have blamed their troubles on “terrorists,” yet both have been accused of human rights violations of their own that richly qualify them for that epithet. Not surprisingly, neither man finds himself guilty of misjudgment or error. Last March the Council of Europe’s human rights chief, Thomas Hammarberg, said Russian-backed authorities in Chechnya are guilty of “a real widespread pattern of serious ill-treatment and many cases of torture against those who have been arrested.” Sound familiar?
Both tyrants have operated kidnapping rings. Amnesty International called for an end to the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions.” Putin’s regime, similarly, has kidnapped and murdered its political foes. A year ago, the Duma enacted a Kremlin-backed lawl to allow the assassination of “enemies of the Russian regime” on foreign soil. In an interview published in “The New Yorker” last Jan. 29th, Boris Berezovsky, an anti-Putin billionaire, reminded: “(Putin) is a K.G.B. guy.” He “issues a law allowing the Russians to kill opponents abroad. So they kill opponents abroad.” The sensational murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210 could be rationalized by this statute.
What’s more, since Putin took power in 1999, “The New Yorker” noted, 13 Russian journalists have been murdered, yet not one of the assassins has been brought to justice. The shade of Anna Politkovskaya, a Putin critic on the staff of the liberal “Novaya Gazeta,” will certainly haunt the Bush/Putin sessions. She was murdered last October 7th in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building by a killer who fired three bullets into her chest and a “control shot” to the head. Her “crime” apparently was documenting torture by forces loyal to Chechnya’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. Commander-in-chief Bush also has the blood of journalists on his hands. On April 8, 2003, for example, U.S. warplanes flew over a residential area of Baghdad and struck a house used as the office of Al Jazeera, killing correspondent Tareq Ayyoub. The State Department called the attack “a grave error”. A U.S. tank about the same time opened fire on Baghdad’s Palestine hotel, killing and wounding a number of other reporters . Both attacks were unprovoked.
For Putin, a former KGB career service officer, not to find the killers of any of the Russian journalists raises questions about his complicity. Similarly, the failure of America’s FBI to find the source of anthrax-laced letters mailed from Fort Detrick, Md., to two Democratic opposition senators, has also raised questions about possible Bush administration complicity. Five persons were killed and the U.S. government shut down yet in nearly six years the perpetrators have not been found.
In addition to their murderous wars, Putin and Bush have usurped vast new political powers, either legally or in secret, or both. Putin is consolidating his power by appointing governors, by jailing business opponents, and seizing control of all major television outlets. Putin allows only a few small-circulation opposition newspapers to publish, and only if they do not mention the C------- word. President Bush has assumed tyrant status under the misnamed Patriot Act and by his refusal to respond to Congressional demands for information about his illegal spying on Americans. Bush is also asserting that, in the event of ”national emergency” he can assume control of all branches of government, including Congress and the courts.
While he converts himself into an emperor, Bush’s underlings slam Russia for backtracking on democracy, which a top Putin aide dismissed as “groundless.” And Putin has said the U.S. is acting more like Hitler’s “Third Reich.” Both men are quite right, of course--- about each other. It will be nothing short of a marvel if the two despots reach agreement on such issues as Kosovo and the Europe-based “missile defense system” when both are blind to the qualities they share with each other. They are much more alike than they know: two tyrants nearing the end of their terms whose departure from the world stage will not be mourned or missed.
(Sherwood Ross writes for newspapers and magazines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)