Sunday, February 11, 2007

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So that's how a competent Secretary of Defense acts

Yesterday Russian President Vladimir Putin went to town on the United States at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, according to the Financial Times:

Vladimir Putin threw down the gauntlet to the west in a confrontational speech on Saturday, attacking what he called “illegal” US unilateral military action and arguing it had made the world more dangerous.

In a speech that stunned most of the audience at an annual security conference held in Munich, Mr Putin also railed against US plans to build anti-missile defences in Europe, the expansion of Nato to include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, and a host of other western policies.

Indeed, Putin says the following in his speech:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centres of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished.
I wonder if any of Putin's advisors have the stones to tell him that, actually, he's wrong.

That's not what this post is about, however. No, this post is about how the Secretary of Defense responded to Putin's rhetorical blast. Here's the opening of Bob Gates's speech:

[A]s an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.

Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background - a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.

However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice“ or “be gone.“

The real world we inhabit is a different and much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.

For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.

Gates' deft deflection of Putin's charges seem to be going down well in the press.

It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done.

UPDATE: In Slate, Phil Carter finds other elements to praise in Gates.

posted by Dan on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM


A big story was indeed Gate's response & indeed his entire speech, here is a Sec. of Def. now who understands diplomacy & portrays strength ( His four wars analysis seems very solid ).
But it was a very odd departure from a Putin who has been very cany about not provoking the "US" Tiger & given he's about to visit Saudi Arabia + retire soon + Gates was speaking the next day "interesting" timing to say the very least.


P.S. To be honest, I don't think the speech was about directly about the subject as such, it was about testing reactions, positioning & testing public support for Russia's foreign policy ( domestic & overseas ), with perhaps the motivation of provoking the US into really over spending on defense ( or causing even more splitting of priorities ), whatever I don't see it as a minor play, it was a very calculated & deliberate speech IMHO, the motivations for which could take some time to reveal themselves.

posted by: Nigel on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

...with perhaps the motivation of provoking the US into really over spending on defense...

I'd hate to see what that looks like. We're already at 6%+ of GDP. No doubt, though, this was a combination probe/shot across the bow. I'd add, also, the opening salvo in a product rollout campaign: Russia as global power, v2.0

posted by: Headline Junky on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

Compare Cheney snubbing Kyuma, the Japanese Defense Minister, eh?

posted by: todmc on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

I don't think Putin's remarks are ominous, rather, like the majority of foreign policy posturing they are intended for domestic consumption. There is almost no political down-side to publicly dressing down the US right now.

posted by: Pete on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

Hmm... I guess everyone knows that the best way to deal with a bully is to let him continue to bully you.

posted by: blue on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

Putin is in no position to "bully" the United States. Thus, he is not a bully since none of his threats to the US are creditable.

posted by: msj on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

Yep... no position to bully. Hmm... wonder where all those nukes are? Wonder who is helping Iran? Wonder who is threatening to cut gas and oil off to our NATO allies.

posted by: blue on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

I don't see why Dan makes the implicit contrast to Rumsfeld. He was hardly a bomb-thrower against Putin or Russia. It was France and Italy he pissed off. Gates is following the same pattern--shrug off Putin's provocations and scold the Continentals for their wavering support of the war on terror.

posted by: srp on 02.11.07 at 11:09 PM [permalink]

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