Bush confronting Putin: Like ‘debating an eight grader with his facts wrong’

Bush confronting Putin: Like ‘debating an eight grader with his facts wrong’

[Ed. note: This was after Bush soured on Putin’s soul.]

President Obama spent an hour and a half on the telephone with Vladimir Putin discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What was the conversation like?

We can probably get a good sense of it by considering the account of President Bush’s conversations with Putin set forth by Peter Baker in his excellent book about the Bush presidency, Days of Fire.

It’s well known that Bush and Putin got on well at first. But when the relationship soured, Bush became exasperated by his talks with the Russian bully.

Putin seemed to delight in debating Bush. But according to Baker, Bush hated debating Putin. “He’s not well informed,” Bush complained. “It’s like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong.” Bush described another encounter as “like junior high debating.”

One of Putin’s tactics was to present absurd analogies between his abuses of power and events in the U.S., a tactic also favored by Nikita Khrushchev in Soviet times:

“You talk about Khodorkovsky [the head of Yukos whose assets and freedom were taken from him after he became a critic of Putin], and I talk about Enron,” Putin told Bush. “You appoint the Electoral College and I appoint governors. What’s the difference?”

At another point, Putin defended his control over media in Russia. “Don’t lecture me about the free press,” he said, “not after you fired that reporter.”

“Vladimir, are you talking about Dan Rather?” Bush asked. Yes, replied Putin.

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