Vladimir Putin: an increasingly attractive political leader
Senator McCain is wrong – Putin was right to prevent an attack on Syria. I am beginning to envy the Russians
SENATOR John McCain, one-time Republican contender for the White House, has just published an article on Pravda's website headlined ‘Russians deserve better than Putin'.
It's a strong personal attack on Vladimir Putin's general record and behaviour and in particular his foreign policy on Syria. “He is not enhancing Russia's global reputation. He is destroying it,” says McCain. “He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed…”
In contrast to the measured tone and logical arguments of Putin's 11 September piece in the New York Times, McCain's riposte consists mainly of assertion and invective. Rather than firing grapeshot, his broadside ends up firing sour grapes.
The fact is, Putin was right about Syria. Far from being an enemy of the oppressed, he saw from the start that the policy likely to spill the least innocent blood was to prop up President Assad's government against the jihadist forces arrayed against him.
Above all, it was necessary to prevent another foolish Western military intervention that would set off the kind of mayhem that continues in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Jane's Defence Weekly, a highly regarded private sector analytical outfit, confirmed last week that at least 50 per cent of the fighters determined to get rid of Assad are Islamist extremists. The judgment Putin made in the face of international opprobrium showed wisdom, mental toughness and above all, leadership.
He was also right to attack America's 'exceptionalism' as he did so powerfully in his New York Times article - the corrosive idea that American military violence is always somehow both morally superior and selfless.
And his spokesman was also right to poke fun at David Cameron on the eve of the G20 summit about "Russian oligarchs who have bought up Chelsea". Much of the property in Moscow and St Petersburg may belong to some unsavoury types - but at least they are Russian. A man like Putin would never allow the best neighbourhoods in his capital city to be taken over by overseas millionaires.
He seems to me an increasingly attractive figure.
A spate of films in the 1970s sought to glamorise strong men operating outside the rules. Perhaps the best-known examples of the genre are the films in the Dirty Harry series, starring Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department - happier shooting rapists and killers than reading them their rights - 'Make my day, punk.' And the Death Wish series (directed by the late Michael Winner) starring Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey - a liberal, lefty New York architect who after the murder of his wife and brutal rape of his daughter becomes a vigilante, patrolling the streets at night, killing muggers and sundry urban low-life as he encounters them.
Both series were hugely successful and made Eastwood and Bronson major stars. Generally well made, they were nothing startling. But they answered a deep need in the cinema-going public on both sides of the Atlantic for order and authority against a background of disillusionment with the political process. Nixon was in the White House. Heath in Number 10.
Well, today Obama is in the White House and Cameron (an Etonian Heath, at best) is at Number 10. Once again we are feeling the need for strong leadership. I am beginning to envy the Russians.
Putin even looks the part. David Cameron (who will be 46 on 9 October) looked dead on his feet on a short run across Horse Guards Parade on Tuesday: Sandhurst PT Instructors had a label for his type - 'too fat to fight'. Meanwhile Putin (61 two days earlier) is as fit as a fiddle thanks to regular bouts of judo, a sport he took up aged 11, and karate. He's a black belt in both and also expert in sambo, Russia's own rather alarming version of unarmed combat, a hybrid of Japanese martial arts and Mongolian wrestling.
In stark contrast to his British counterpart Putin even had a proper job as a colonel in the KGB before entering politics. In politics he cut his teeth as Mayor of St Petersburg before election to the presidency.
Some - including Sen McCain - say Putin has used his office to enrich himself vastly and rewarded his cronies lavishly. Well, what's new? Let's not use a kind of British 'exceptionalism' to pretend that the extreme wealth on display at the wedding of Euan Blair last weekend had nothing to do with his father being prime minister.
Perhaps Putin's most attractive trait is that he is a Russian nationalist at heart and is not afraid to say what he thinks - and what he says often reflects what most Russians think - hence his continuing political success. It's politics as it used to be, as it should be. ·