- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

George W. Bush got out of Dodge just in time. The president and his best friends — or those who used to be his best friends before he drummed them out of the company of patriots — have been exchanging so much hostile fire that someone was about to get hurt.

The president arrived in Prague last night, the first stop on his tour of the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Italy, Albania and Bulgaria. It’s scary times over there, too. His old pal Vladimir Putin is sulking again, this time threatening to aim his nuclear missiles once more at Europe. This is the man George W. famously said he could “do business with.” That was after the president had looked into his soul and liked what he saw.

On the eve of his departure from Washington, the president took pains to remind Mr. Putin that “the Cold War is over.” En route to Panama, where she is taking the waters and supping with our Latin American friends at the Organization of American States, Condi Rice, the secretary of state, slipped into her schoolmarm role. She told Mr. Putin that his remarks are “not helpful,” which is what diplomats say to express medium-high dudgeon. “This isn’t the Soviet Union,” she said, “and we need to drop the rhetoric that sounds like what the United States and the Soviet Union used to say about each other and realize it is the United States and Russia in a very different period.”

This was meant to reassure everyone that it’s not the Cold War and this is not the Soviet Union. You could have fooled us. Seems like old times.

The two presidents — no longer to be confused with the two amigos — are taking the scenic route to the economic summit of the G-8 industrial nations. The scenic route affords them the opportunity to get in the mood before they actually have to sit down together later this week in Germany to talk about dollars, cents and hurt feelings. For very different reasons, they’re both enduring a succession of bad nose-hair days.

Mr. Putin has been taking what his advisers call “a poke in the eye,” the determination of a stubborn American president to base a missile-defense system on the Russian doorstep. George W. arrives in Europe weary from dispatching the remnants of his tattered compassionate conservative coalition to the nether regions for resisting what he calls “immigration reform.” He might like to divert a few of his missiles not at the Iranians, the Koreans or even the Russians, but up the hindquarters of certain balking Republicans back in Dodge.

Maybe the man with lugubrious soul will mellow before he arrives in Germany. Or maybe not. The Russian president paused yesterday in his preparations to lob a few rhetorical missiles in the direction of Air Force One as it flew toward the Old World, insisting that he was the last “pure democrat” left in the world. He dismissed George W. with scorn worthy of some of the pure big-D Democrats on the Potomac.

“But you know the problem?” he asked Western reporters in Moscow. “It’s not even a problem, it’s a real tragedy. The thing is that I am the only [democrat], there just aren’t any others in the world. Let’s look at what happens in North America — sheer horror, torture, the homeless, Guantanamo, keeping people in custody without trial or investigation. Look what’s going on in Europe, the harsh treatment of demonstrators, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas in one capital or another, the killing of demonstrators in the streets.” Nostalgia like this will break the heart of any old KGB commissar, so you can’t blame Vlad for his wistful reverie: “After the death of Mahatma Gandhi, there’s nobody to talk to.”

Vlad the Philosopher is getting a demonstration of the workings of the hard head at the White House, a taste of the George W. Bush treatment last week of the opponents of Kennedy-Kyl immigration “reform” scheme: We’re going to do what we’re going to do (if we can).

Once he gets an idea, George W. is not easily deterred. His minions at State and the Pentagon have explained to Mr. Putin that the missile shield is not meant to deter nuclear missiles from Moscow (rhetorical missiles are impervious to anything in the American defense arsenal), but only to stop the rockets that Mr. Putin’s government is helping Iran and North Korea build. The Russians, being Russian, are suspicious. They insist that George W. is determined to set off another arms race. Mr. Putin could ask Mikhail Gorbachev how that one ended.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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