Amateurs on the world stage

This is what happens when you elect someone because he looks cool standing next to Jay-Z. Putin is cool mainly in the sense that Yakutsk in February is. In American pop-culture terms, he is a faintly ridiculous figure, with his penchant for homoerotic shirtlessness, his nipples entering the room like an advance security team; the celebrities he attracts are like some rerun channel way up the end of the dial: Goldie Hawn was in the crowd when Putin, for no apparent reason, sang “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill,” which Goldie seemed to enjoy. In reality, Putin finds his thrill by grabbing Obama’s blueberries and squeezing hard. Cold beats cool.

Charles Crawford, Britain’s former ambassador in Serbia and Poland, called last Monday “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began.” Obama set it in motion at a press conference last year by drawing his famous “red line.” Unlike, say, the undignified scrums around the Canadian and Australian prime ministers, Obama doesn’t interact enough with the press for it to become normal or real. So at this rare press conference he was, as usual, playing a leader who’s giving a press conference. The “red line” line sounds like the sort of thing a guy playing a president in a movie would say — maybe Harrison Ford in Air Force One or Michael Douglas in The American President. It never occurred to him that out there in the world beyond the Republic of Cool he’d set an actual red line and some dime-store dictator would cross it with impunity. So, for most of the last month, the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment has assured us that, regardless of whether it will accomplish anything, we now have to fire missiles at a sovereign nation because “America’s credibility is at stake.”