We (meaning the United States and the free Western World) did not make Vladimir Putin evil. He more than took care of that on his own.
But, for now more than two decades, we have been naïve enablers. We so desperately have wanted him to be “a man we can do business with,” that we have projected onto him the Western qualities we embrace. We essentially tried to invent Putin in our own image, according to our own preferred fantasies, much as current American evangelicals have done with the historical Jesus.
No, I did not just compare Putin with Jesus. I said the distortions are similar. And similarly motivated.
Putin has always been a KGB Soviet. He has always been a murderer.
But, no, we told ourselves. This is a new Russia. Putin is a new type of Russian leader. He’s a pragmatist. He’s a businessman. Russia is no longer a global threat or bad actor, in part because its international significance has been greatly reduced, but also because Putin has become a Westerner. That’s a nice suit, bud. And that shirt and tie make your eyes pop.
We embraced a new generation of Russian citizens who appeared to want to be like us, right down to our clothes, gadgets and music. Not only are we no longer blood enemies, we are friends, at times approaching allies. We were not wrong about the Russian people. But we were dead wrong about Putin.
And all we had to do was look up into the night sky at the ISS to reinforce our naivete and projections.
He’s “us.” Or at least he’s getting there.
And so we turned a permanently blind eye. “He wouldn’t do that,” we told ourselves. And then he did it, whatever it was. Rinse and repeat for 22 years.
As I write, it was just 15 days ago that our defeated former president called Putin a “genius,” and a “peacekeeper,” and openly called for the United States to operate more like Russia under Putin.
Fifteen days ago. That’s not exactly ancient history.
And here we are.
We did not make Vladimir Putin evil.
But we are complicit.
Can anything good come of this?
Yes, if like The Who we decide “We won’t get fooled again.”