In a brilliant piece of propaganda that makes President Obama look small and irrelevant, Vladimir Putin plays chess, while Ben Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett play checkers (and Barack Obama vacations in Hawaii again).
Neil MacFarquhar the New York Times reports:
In a head-spinning turn of events on Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced that he would not retaliate against the United States’ decision to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions — hours after his foreign minister recommended doing just that.
Mr. Putin, betting on improved relations with the next American president, said he would not eject 35 diplomats or close any diplomatic facilities, rejecting a tit-for-tat response to actions taken by the Obama administration on Thursday.
The switch was remarkable, given that the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had just made the recommendation in remarks broadcast live on national television, and given the long history of tit-for-tat expulsions between the two countries. Russian officials have traditionally been sticklers for diplomatic protocol.
“While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Mr. Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for quarrelsome and unseemly acts. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of D. Trump.”
First and foremost, this move disempowers President Obama before he even leaves office. Our chief geopolitical rival – a notion Barack Obama sneered at in a presidential debate with Mitt Romney – has just in effect said to Obama, “Who cares what you do? You’re outta here in 3 weeks, buddy.” Dismissing Obama as not worthy of retaliation projects a loss of face onto the world stage, making a capon out of the outgoing president.
This move (or lack thereof) carries some danger for Donald Trump. He must point out the man instances when the Obama administration sucked up to Russia. That bizarre reset button episode with Hillary grinning like a Bride of Chucky doll is just waiting for attachment to a tweet noting that Democrats only attack Russia out of desperation to blame it for Hillary's loss.
I have little doubt that both he and Putin understand the need for some form of pubic confrontation between the two – and there are plenty of issues available, starting with Aleppo and extending to oil prices that divide the two nations. But the underlying tenor of the relationship has to be one of cooperation against common foes, mixed with confrontation.
Don’t worry: I realize that Putin is a thug from the KGB. The sad fact is that ruthless people occupy a disproportionate number of head-of-government roles in the world. I doubt very much that President-elect Trump has any illusions.
In the meantime, Obama looks smaller and smaller.
In other news, the Kremlin said it will send a government plane to the US to evacuate the expelled diplomats and their family members. Earlier, there were reports that the diplomats were having problems buying tickets on such short notice, with airlines already booked by New Year’s travelers.
The outgoing Obama administration and the British government of Theresa May are engaged in an unprecedented war of words over Secretary of State John Kerry’s blistering critique of Israeli settlements.
Britain voted in favor of last Friday’s UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned settlements as illegal and called for a halt in all settlement activity, while the US abstained. But a spokesman for May, who has expressed robust support for Israel in a series of recent speeches and messages, on Thursday castigated Kerry’s subsequent speech, accusing him of a wrong-headed approach and of being unfair to Israel.
The diplomatic tussle is highly unusual between the US and UK, and Britain’s decision to attack Kerry for ostensible unfairness to Israel is still more extraordinary, echoing as it does the criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
May’s spokesman on Thursday rebuked Kerry for what it said was his speech’s singular focus on the settlements as a major impediment to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and his commentary on the more right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition, whom Kerry accused of dragging Israel into more extreme positions.
According to the UK’s Jewish News website, a spokesperson for May said: “We do not believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this cases the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex.
“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” the prime minister’s spokesman added. “The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”
Along with the UK’s objections to Kerry’s speech, Australia has condemned the UN resolution as one-sided and “deeply unsettling.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made plain that Australia would not have voted for Resolution 2334, and pledged support for Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East.