It is now official: the ruling United Russian party has nominated Putin as the party’s flag bearer for the 2012 election in March. Interestingly, Medvedev, the current president, will be swapping positions with Putin in 2012 as well.
Judging by Putin’s popularity and iron-man image in Russia, there is little doubt that he will become the next president of Russia. Russia’s election is in March, while the American presidential election will be held November. Already, political pundits have started to wonder how Putin’s run for president (and possibly his subsequent election) will affect the presidential election in the US.
Expect the Republican party to bring this up in the days to come as evidence that the country needs a ‘strong’ leader who can effectively stand up to the likes of Putin – a Putin who may not be inclined to play Obama’s kind of ‘nice’ politics. Also expect current Republican primary contenders to begin portraying themselves as the toughest guy or gal in the block to deal with the likes of Putin. Rick Perry could talk up a storm on this turf.
After all, he has been playing very well to his conservative base with his tough-talk, tough-man image. If it comes down to Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, Romney may be forced to play defensive. From the start of his campaign, Romney has made a calculated decision to appeal to moderates and independents who will decide the presidential vote, if he becomes the party nominee. Rick Perry is likely to give him a big shove with this Putin resurgence and force Romney to sound much tougher than he would have liked.
If Sarah Palin decides to join the Republican primary race, she is likely to play up her proximity to Putin’s backyard. In some way, that proximity may well give this tough Alaskan gal what it takes to deal with a Putin, and protect American interests from an encroaching Russia. Palin, more than all other Republican contenders, is the mostly likely to give Obama the biggest headache with a Putin presidency.
Even if she doesn’t win, she is most likely to talk up a lot of fear and apprehension that will keep Obama team worried for a long time.
No matter who wins the primary, the Republican Party is going to use a potential Putin presidency as an effective tool to paint Obama as weak, or at best, too nice to deal with an experienced strong leader like Putin.
Obama and the Democratic Party
In many ways, President Obama and his democratic party may be forced to play the defensive. Obama’s foreign policy, at least for the first two years of his presidency, has been somewhat unclear, even seemingly contradictory at times. His foreign policy has been shaped by a realistic and somewhat reactionary view. Under his presidency, George W. Bush promoted unilateralism and democracy even by use of force.
Reacting against this, President Obama had sought to downplay American might, engage others and protect American interests as a primary goal. The result is that Obama has appeared to be weak or too nice, depending on how you view it. At a time when American influence as number one is waning and China is surging to new heights, a Putin presidency will certainly put pressure on Obama to convince Americans he is exactly the kind of decisive, strong and sane leader that they need in 2012.
Ironically, in spite of Obama’s initial realistic foreign policy posture, he has since been moving towards an idealist position. He has managed to escalate US military presence in Afghanistan, pressured Egypt’s Mubarak to relinquish power and strategically involved US in NATO-led Libyan mission.
He took out Osama Bin Laden, and has brazenly carried out other strikes right in the heartland of Pakistan. Still, with a Rick Perry or Sarah Palin as a contender, Obama will be faced with an unpleasant situation where he must calm American nerves with regard to a resurging Putin presidency, and at the same time, walk his usual middle-of-the-road path that will shun making inflammatory remarks.
As difficult a terrain as Putin’s presidency may present for Obama in the next election, one thing is certain: by next election, he will have experience on his side. Neither Perry nor Romney (assuming one of them wins the primary) can reasonably make any such claim.
Serving as state governor can give you some experience in handling a number of domestic issues; but foreign policy is quite another ball of game. In a way, Obama would have walked the walk for almost four years by the time the election will take place.
He has seen the limitations of his ‘lets-talk-to-all-our-enemies approach’. Perhaps, he would have become a much wiser president than the one America elected in 2008. It seems like Americans will rather entrust themselves to a leader who has had some benefit of experience and a tough on-the-job training, than to a new inexperienced president at a time they view Russia and China as serious competitors. But then, elections aren’t always about rationality. Sometimes, the person that whips up the most emotion may well carry the day.