Private missile matters
The generally positive press Vladimir Putin's counter-offer to Bush has so far received about locating missile defense systems in Azerbaijan represents just how crafty Putin can be. Putin's "surprise" move captivated Bush and this was well met by all who feared the recent escalation of rhetorical tensions could move into more serious territory. It will also serve to make Putin's visit to Kennebunkport a little more pleasant as well. I generally agree with Cernig's take on this but there was one passage in the NY Times story that caught my eye:
The offer came during a much-anticipated private meeting between the two presidents at a gathering of leaders of wealthy democracies. Mr. Bush said that Mr. Putin had put forth “some interesting suggestions,” and the two agreed to form a working group of military and diplomatic experts to examine how they could cooperate on missile defense, an issue that has long divided Russia and the United States.This is interesting for it reveals that Putin made the proposal anticipating that, through normal diplomatic channels, this proposal would likely have been shot down by any number of Cheney operatives who are usually employed pouring hemlock into Bush's ear. But with the Cheney agency dispatched elsewhere, Putin saw an opportunity to directly speak to Bush, a man who, in this particular context, appears to be far more reasonable and willing to compromise when he is not being strong-armed by Cheney or Rove. And Putin knew this.
Whether the offer will go anywhere is uncertain but at least it calmed nerves on all sides, made both Putin and Bush look reasonable -- a major coup these days -- and has firmly placed the ball back in Bush's court to either keep in bounds or knock out of the park. If the latter, then it will be the White House that appears as the intransigent player in the game. And, mostly importantly, now both of them can enjoy their little visit on the coast of Maine.