Skip to main content

Gingrich: Remember, Vladimir Putin is not an American

By Newt Gingrich
September 16, 2013 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT