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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Chamberlain in Moscow

Being on a road trip, we’ll take what papers we can get. And today that means The New York Times. Just last week in “Nobel Freakonomics” we mentioned the Times in a less-than-flattering light—i.e. that we haven’t been reading it for serious news since the publisher decided to cut costs by outsourcing the Times’ newsroom to the White House. It was an off-hand joke. But apparently that’s exactly what happened, judging by what passes for today’s story on the Moscow summit. “Obama Resets Ties to Russia, but Work Remains.” That’s the headline, parroting directly the administration’s ceaseless ‘Reset Button’ yammering about everything it has been trying to disinherit from George Bush. Still, since that apparently didn’t sound upbeat enough to the White House, the Times adds a more pleasant, editorial-style subheading: “A Trip Brings Progress but Fissures Persist.” How, exactly, did this trip bring “progress” you wonder? Reading the story itself, the “progress” is unclear. Here’s how the Times describes it—and we are not making this up—in paragraph two: But while Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia declared a reconciliation, they did so partly by agreeing to disagree on important issues and by selectively interpreting the same words in sharply different ways. Substitute “Chamberlain” for “Obama” and “Hitler” for Medvedev,” and the Times might be describing what happened in Munich back in 1938. But the Times does not stop with that howler, because it apparently did not suit the White House editor. How else to interpret the apparently thin-skinned Michael McFaul, Obama’s point man on Russia who told the reporters, quote/unquote: “I dare you to think of a summit that was so substantive.” Apparently, none of the reporters dared think of Reagan/Gorbachev. In any event, the Times did not get to the verge of Chapter 11 by letting facts get in the way of its own, narrow-minded world-view, and since the headline promised “Progress,” the reporter gives us progress: …the two leaders agreed to slash strategic nuclear arsenals, resume military contacts suspended after the war with Georgia and open an air corridor across Russia for up to 4,500 flights of United States troops and weapons to Afghanistan each year. Of these three, the first is a no-brainer for both sides; the second is a clear win for Putin, who gets to “reset” things to where they were before he invaded Georgia; and the third, while nominally a victory for Obama, is even better for Putin: who wouldn’t want to let us fight a war his own country demonstrated could not be won? What other signs of “progress” came out of the summit that we are “dared” to question? Again, we making nothing up: Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev announced an agreement to open a joint early-warning center to share data on missile launchings. But Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris N. Yeltsin announced the same agreement in 1998. Mr. Clinton then announced it again with President Vladimir V. Putin in 2000. Mr. Putin and President George W. Bush recommitted to it as recently as 2007. And none of them ever actually built the center. Wordsmithing aside, what you really need to know about the event might just as easily be summed up in the photograph of Putin and Obama at the top of the story. Obama, back to the camera, is leaning earnestly towards Putin, who sits, legs open, with about as blank a look on his face as any ex-KGB agent ever held in any meeting with any President of any country. He looks like the same Vladimir Putin whose eyes George Bush once looked into and declared he had seen the man’s non-existent “soul.” It is no wonder the Times buried this description of the two men’s meeting well off the front-page: Their breakfast ran two hours, and Mr. Putin spent the first half in a virtually uninterrupted monologue about Russia’s view of the world, aides said afterward. Substitute “Hitler” for Putin, and once again you’re describing Munch. Reset? Sounds more like the computers crashed. Ah, where’s a New York Post when you need it? Jeff MatthewsI Am Not Making This Up © 2009 NotMakingThisUp, LLC The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice. It should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Nor are these comments meant to be a solicitation of business in any way: such inquiries will be ignored. This content is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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