Why Putin plays our presidents for fools

Rather than walk inside Putin’s shoes, Bush sees his soul and President Obama speaks of a world in which “the tide of war is receding.” Secretary of State John Kerry dismisses the invasion of Ukraine as “a 19th-century act in a 21st-century world.” They’re like new guys at a dangerous bar admiring the drapes while their wallets walk out the door.

White House officials insist that Obama is under no illusion about Putin. Toggling through every diplomatic option, this U.S. president is playing for the same kiss-your-sister outcome that Bush managed in 2008. Give a little, avoid a war.

The United States’ options are few and fairly weak. But it doesn’t help that Obama has undercut his global reputation by vacillating on Syria and, more generally, sending a consistent signal that he is reluctant to use military force to back up his threats. Obama’s approach reflects the war weariness of the public he leads and the promises he made in the campaign to succeed Bush. Nonetheless, rarely is a U.S. president rebuked as quickly and fully as when Putin stung Obama on Friday, ignoring a warning that “there will be costs” for military action in Ukraine…

Two successive presidents have failed to realize that Putin, a former KGB officer, does not think like them and does not act in accordance with Western rules and customs, and that a fast-changing post-Cold War world is filled with opportunistic leaders who, like Putin, recognize that a retrenched United States creates a leadership vacuum that they can fill, brutally.