Skip to main content

Gingrich: Remember, Vladimir Putin is not an American

By Newt Gingrich
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: U.S. politicians reacted with surprise to the views of Vladimir Putin
  • He says Putin is understandable as a former KGB agent and Russian nationalist
  • Politicians in both parties have mistakenly seen Putin as someone whom they can trust, he says
  • Gingrich: Putin is a strong authoritarian leader, maybe the strongest Russian boss since Stalin

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-cost of CNN's new "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 pm ET weekdays. A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

(CNN) -- American politicians have a deep need to interpret foreign leaders and foreign cultures and governments as though they were American.

Thursday night on "Crossfire", I described the Russian president as a KGB official of enormous toughness. In fact, we showed Vladimir Putin in his KGB colonel's uniform to drive home the reality of who he is.

Putin is a great Russian nationalist who is coldly and methodically maneuvering to maximize Russia's prestige and influence.

And why shouldn't he? It is his country. It has a longer history than we do. He served in the most intensely pro-Soviet institution in the old empire.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

Yet, American politicians keep rejecting the realities of Putin's life, statements and actions.

Putin jabs U.S.

This is a bipartisan self-deception.

In June 2001, then President George W. Bush met him for the first time and concluded:

"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue.

Putin looks to score a diplomatic legacy

"I was able to get a sense of his soul.

"He's a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that's the beginning of a very constructive relationship."

Gingrich: Syria a distraction from real U.S. challenges

This was said two years after Putin launched the second Chechnya war in which an estimated 300,000 Chechens would be ruthlessly killed. It also assumed a former KGB agent has a soul that is viewable.

The less positive view came in August 2013 when President Obama compared his Russian counterpart to a tiresome schoolboy.

"He's got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom," Obama said of Putin.

But Putin isn't a bored kid. Putin is one of the most effective and successful leaders in the world. He took over a chaotic decaying Russia in the 1990s and methodically rebuilt the authoritarian state centered system he had learned from the KGB.

He may today be the strongest, most stable Russian leader since Stalin. He has achieved it with steady methodical application of power to isolate, imprison and, occasionally, kill those who oppose him.

Putin's recent op-ed in the New York Times was another calculated step. Putin despises Obama and resents his attitude and his tone. This was a chance to return the attitude.

(Obama acknowledged the difference in an ABC interview: "I don't think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do.")

American politicians as usual tried to force Putin into an American frame of reference. The overall tone of Putin's latest broadside was too much for Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he read the article at dinner on Wednesday.

Opinion: American 'exceptionalism' -- who are they kidding?

"I almost wanted to vomit," he said. "I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what is in our national interests and what is not."

House Speaker John Boehner said he was "insulted."

On a bipartisan basis, American politicians seemed surprised.

If American leaders would spend a little time studying Russian history they would understand Vladimir Putin.

He is a Russian nationalist and seen in that tradition is very understandable and even predictable.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Newt Gingrich.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT