Sometimes something happens that makes me feel a little bit smart. Right now it’s about Vladimir Putin.
What to do? What to do about Syria? Most of the commentary I’ve been hearing and reading has been in the nature of criticism about what is being done. Recent American action has been like watching the crew of a giant ship trying to secure the deck against the crashing waves of a tempest. And now it’s as though the sun has broken through a cloud and revealed an area of calm. In the distance sails a vessel flying the Russian flag, and that, of course, is the ship of state of President Vladimir V. Putin.
But before there was Putin, there was this other man–perhaps the really canny one–named Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. He was the one who seized on an offhand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry that could turn out to be momentous. Kerry said that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria could avoid our disciplinary air strikes by agreeing to give up his chemical weapons. Lavrov must be an intelligent man, one who knew how to work this idea with Putin. As a result, Putin has seized the moment and moved center stage as the leader who could arrange the collection and disposal of all of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Putin is no doubt enjoying the attention as well as the opportunity to undermine the standing of President Obama and the United States. However, this could turn out to be a really fine thing. If I had that kind of authority, I would contact all of our allies and every country that is eager to calm the Middle East and suggest that we work this possibility to the hilt.
Go ahead. Whether it’s sincere or not, express your gratitude for Putin’s intervention. Cite his standing with Syria, his country’s resources, its expertise in chemical weaponry, its access to locations, its ability safely to collect and dispose of these materials. Go into how reluctant all sides in Syria will be to anger Russia by interfering with or injuring any of its operatives on this mission. Suggest that Russian vengeance in such a case would be many orders of magnitude more dangerous than America’s proposed disciplinary strike.
Put Putin (like the way that sounds) up on a pedestal so tall that the cost of failure to national pride and his own ego will be so great that he cannot, will not risk it. Groom Putin to become a hero at this particular juncture in history, even if he has been kind of a jerk on the world stage. He has been an obstructionist, a tyrant who imprisons spunky girl singers, and a despot who trumps up charges of embezzlement against anyone who disagrees with him. With regard to Edward Snowden, he sneers,”Come and get him.” Nevermind. He can be useful right now, and it’s all about timing.
And that’s why I feel a little smart. On October 8, Putin will turn 61, and I wrote a post last year on the occasion of his 60th birthday. I’m going to repeat some of this material because it does seem a bit prescient. I should get credit.
As a review for those who did read that post, I cited a book called Cosmos and Psyche by philosopher Richard Tarnas about the possibility that there is “a direct connection between planetary movements and the archetypal patterns of human experience.” This is astrology and you may not be into that, but stay with me for a moment.
Having reached age 60, Putin is going through what is known as his second “Saturn return.” This is the point when the planet Saturn, the “teaching planet,” returns to the same point in the sky it occupied when each of us was born. (I’m quoting from my own blog.) The first Saturn return occurs around the age of 29. This is the time when most of us make major decisions based on a new level of maturity and understanding of self. Inauthentic relationships may be abandoned, new commitments made, and a life purpose defined.
The second Saturn return takes place between the ages of about 57 and 60, and it basically constitutes the threshold to “elderhood.” As Tarnas describes it, the passage may simply connote age, or “a notably new level of societal responsibility, well-earned respect, personal gravitas, or wisdom grounded in long experience.”
With it also comes an acute awareness that the end of life is closer than the beginning. One may experience existential concerns about what has been accomplished, what values have been served, and whether current commitments reflect the reality of the finite time remaining. Those of you who have already crossed this threshold may remember some of these thoughts.
When Tarnas describes the archetypal qualities of Saturn–and the list is lengthy–the impression of a stern taskmaster emerges, a presence that requires introspection and assessment of harsh realities. Tarnas doesn’t say this, but one can’t help but think that the second Saturn return also often results in new focus, new purpose.
In my earlier blog, I wondered if Putin could be transformed in some way by this passage. Would there be any sign of a revised sense of responsibility? And suddenly here we are with a magnificent opportunity for such.
Certainly the current crisis is giving Putin a chance to reconsider his reputation in the world and the role that his country is playing. He could emerge from this moment with more respect than he has ever had before and more influence for the better. The opportunity is to mature a bit, to grow, to fulfill a potential that may be larger than he realized. And certainly he could, no matter what the truth of his character, serve to prevent a tragedy larger than anything we have witnessed before.
The New York Times yesterday published commentary by Putin titled “A Plea for Caution from Russia.” I’m sure he didn’t write it, but whoever did is good. It avoids until the last reference to chemical weapons and refers simply to the possibility of putting them under international control. Nevertheless, Putin’s voice goes on to welcome dialog with President Obama over Syria and says that their shared success could “open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.” This is the point to be hammered, that this could be the beginning of a whole new world, and he, Vladimir Putin, is the one who can make it happen.
Because that’s true. If Russia moves in as referee and champion of the collection and disposal of these horrible weapons, it will become a game-changer. Nevermind how this came about. We should just be grateful and try to make the most of it. Vladimir Putin is a small man, only 5’6″ tall, but he’s always wanted to be really big. And soon to be 61 years old, he now has the chance.