Five ways Obama can man up and punch back against Putin

Across the commentariat pundits are wringing their hands over the Snowden affair, whining there is nothing the U.S. can do to stop Russia from granting him asylum.

For five years there has been a sparring match between the two most powerful presidents in the world -- Obama and Putin. Putin has won every round, and as a result he’s got all the leverage. Or so it would seem.

So what do you do when you don’t have leverage? You go and get some.

It's time for President Obama to man up and punch back. Being petty may not be something President Obama is comfortable with, but it is Putin's preferred method of operation. Unless Obama beats Putin at his own game he's unlikely to get the Russian president's attention or respect.


Originally President Obama tried to deal with Putin by offering grand gestures. He was rebuffed every time.

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He offered to reset relations with Russia and had Secretary of State Clinton give Foreign Minister Lavrov an oversized computer button with "RESET" written in Russian. Putin responded by saying we didn't get the translation right.

Obama then cancelled the planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as a goodwill gesture in hopes Putin would respond by canceling their cooperation with Iran's nuclear weapons program. Instead Russia ramped it up.

Obama recently offered to cut U.S. nuclear stockpiles by a third if Russia reciprocated. They said they might think about it, but only after the U.S. cut its missile defense program.

While Obama may be given to high minded rhetoric and sweeping proposals, Putin is decidedly not. The Russians have a very transactional approach to dealing with other countries -- it's always a tit for tat.

For example, when Congress passed the Magnitsky Act denying visas for a handful of Russians involved in the persecution and murder of a whistleblower, they responded by denying visas to Americans who wanted to adopt Russian orphans.

And now we have Mr. Snowden sitting in the transit lounge of Moscow airport.Putin already has gotten what he wanted out of Snowden – not just intelligence data, but knowledge of the methodology we use to gather intelligence.

He has also humiliated President Obama, who started out saying there would be serious consequences if Snowden wasn’t returned. When it became obvious Russia wasn’t giving him back, Obama was forced to dismiss Snowden as a 29-year-old hacker too insignificant to bother with.

According to Putin biographer Fiona Hill, the Russian president and former spymaster is a man who likes to get into people’s heads, to read them and then play to their weaknesses.

Every time the U.S. and Russian president have met Putin has lectured Obama on something -- on privacy, treason, Syria, Iran, even radical Islam.

Putin seems to enjoy humiliating Obama and pushing back against American policies. Why? Because he knows he can get away with it.

Can you imagine Putin trying to do the same to Reagan?

It’s time for the American president to do the same.It’s time to show Mr. Putin there are consequences to his actions. Only then will Putin stop exploiting President Obama, and trying to foil his every move. How best to make the point? Hit Putin where it hurts most – his ego.

The 60-year-old Putin recently divorced his matronly looking wife of thirty years to take up with a gorgeous, limber 30-year-old former Olympic gymnast.

When Obama claimed first dibs on the gym at the Dublin G-8 meeting recently, Putin one-upped him by inviting photographers to snap pictures of him doing a muscular breaststroke in an icy Irish lake.

While vacationing in Siberia, Putin posed bare-chested for a photo spread of himself horseback riding.

Watch the YouTube video of him crooning ‘Blueberry Hill’ to a group of Hollywood celebrities and notice how Putin’s face hardly moves – a dead giveaway of plastic surgery or Botox or both. This is a man who cares about his image. It’s time to rain on his parade.

First, cause some trouble at the upcoming September G-20 Summit meeting in St. Petersburg. Russia is the G-20’s new president– and it’s a symbol that they've arrived (or re-arrived) as a superpower.

Obama may not be able to organize a boycott of the entire G-20 summit, since the other 18 countries are mad because Snowden revealed the NSA was spying on them. But at a minimum Obama should cancel the one-on-one pre-summit meeting he was supposed to have in Moscow with Putin. It’s getting a little too crowded at the Moscow airport with Snowden living in the transit lounge.

Second, suggest that a top-tier American university is thinking of offering Russian dissident Alexei Navalny a fellowship once he gets out of jail for criticizing Putin and the Russian government. This position could be touted as similar to the one given to blind Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng last year.

Third, talk up recent think tank reports that the Russian energy sector is in trouble. Leak stories that the U.S. intelligence community is studying the implications of the coming collapse of the Russian economy if they don’t get foreign investment and technology to develop new oil fields. Because, despite Putin’s new emphasis on creating new industries, Russia has failed to create an export economy outside of the energy industry. After all, who buys Russian cars, or computers or clothes?

Fourth, have the State and Defense Department officials suggest that, given recent advances in Iran’s nuclear program, we are taking a second look at reinstating the missile defense shield for Poland and the Czech republic.

Obama could stop in for a pre-summit meeting with the Polish president before going to the G-20 session, and bring along a few U.S. energy experts to discuss how the U.S. can help Poland develop their new natural gas discoveries.

Finally, hint that the U.S. has concerns about security for the upcoming Sochi winter Olympics, given the continuing unrest in Chechnya. As for those senators who suggest we should boycott the Olympics, how about instead we win every medal in sight. Can you imagine how Putin will feel if his gymnast girlfriend has to put a medal around an American neck?

This may sound more First Wives Club than diplomacy, but if the Russians want to play tit for tat, we need to beat them at their own game.

Obama may think actions like this are beneath him, but Putin does not.

Obama may not be threatened by Putin's pettiness, but Putin would be if the shoe was on the other foot...

If Putin realizes he's the one being humiliated, that working against the U.S. will cost him dearly, he may be more amenable to U.S. interests. One thing is certain -- the Mr. Nice Guy approach Obama has used with Putin heretofore hasn't worked.

As for Snowden – at this point he’s a liability for the Russians as well as us. They’ve got what they wanted from him, and we’re not getting him back.

U.S. and Russian mid-level officials should work behind the scenes to find a country Snowden can go to that gets the issue behind both of our countries.

Maybe Snowden can go to some lousy banana republic -- and spend the rest of his days in a third rate hotel, writing his memoirs while trying to get room service to deliver and the ceiling fan to work. Wikileaks can foot the bill.