American Presidents Fail when Dealing with Foreign Strongmen
What are the lessons every kid on the block learns when there’s a neighborhood bully on the prowl? Keep your distance. Don’t show weakness. If threatened, project strength. Don’t cower but fight back. Face the problem. If you submit once it will be even worse the next time. I learned my lessons the hard way in the tough setting of an English boarding school in the 1950s.
These simple lessons have escaped recent U.S. presidents and their close advisors, most recently in dealing with Putin and Mohammed bin Salman. Instead of getting into the heads of their adversaries and asking what the bully would do in the future and the longer-term global ramifications, American presidents and their advisors ask what they would do next if they were in the place of their adversaries — one transaction at a time and the near-term fallout. A prescription for disaster! They have been humiliated and the United States has paid and will continue to pay a heavy price. The list of adversaries is long, but the two that preoccupy us the most today are Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
On top of egregious policies inside Russia, Putin has been on a rampage around the world: killing 80,000–100,000 in Chechnya in 1994; using chemical weapons and killing about 20,000 in Syria with forces still in the country; invading Georgia in 2008 and continuing to occupy about 20 percent of the country; launching cyber-attacks throughout the world; annexing Crimea in 2014 and supporting rebels in eastern and southern Ukraine and launching a separatist movement with a death toll of about 2,000 over the years; interfering in U.S. elections; assassinating Russian nationals on foreign soil; and invading Ukraine in 2022 with destruction and loss of GDP that is likely to exceed $2 trillion and a death toll of over 250,000 by the end of 2023. Transgressions that have spanned the terms of five U.S. presidents — Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
For Putin, American presidents are sanctimonious and weak.
How was Putin treated for his transgressions? In 1992, the Russian Federation was admitted to the IMF and the World Bank with a quota (membership) that was overly generous, as one of the ten largest members of the IMF, a travesty that was supported by the U.S. In 1994, The U.S. agreed to expand the G-7 (the club of the most…