Next week’s G-8 summit will probably be the last such meeting for Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. Seven years ago, at their first meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and somehow spotted the soul of a Christian gentleman, not that of a secret policeman. Next week, they shouldn’t be surprised if they see a mirror of each other, because both men have exemplified the arrogance of power.
Bush and Putin both came to power in 2000, a year when their countries were scrambling to regain international respect, Russia from the chaos of the Yeltsin years and the US from the failed impeachment of President Clinton. Each country thought it was getting an unthreatening mediocrity. But both men, on finding themselves in positions of authority, ruled from their default positions: Bush as an evangelical convinced that God was on America’s side, and Putin as a KGB graduate convinced that all power comes from intimidation and threats.
And what was the result? Convinced that he is right, and incurious to hear contrary arguments, Bush felt free to undermine the rule of law in America with warrantless domestic surveillance, erosion of due process, and defense of torture, in addition to misleading the public and refusing to heed expert advice or recognize facts on the ground. From the tax cuts in 2001 to the war in Iraq, Bush’s self-righteous certitude led him to believe that he could say and do anything to get his way.
The damage Bush’s self-confidence and self-delusion has inflicted was magnified by his gross overestimation of America’s power. Quite simply, he thought that America could go it alone in pursuing his foreign policy because no one could stop him. While his father lined up world support, and troops from over a dozen countries, for the first Gulf War, the son thought that allies were more hindrance than help; except for Tony Blair, he did not care to have them. Four years later, Bush’s arrogance and mendacity have been exposed for the entire world, including the American public, to see.