Paul Starobin of CNN.com has an interesting commentary on President Obama’s trip to Russia and how the President, in Starobin’s view, might receive an unenthusiastic welcome. An excerpt of Starobin’s piece explains why.
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But if Obama, more ambitiously, hopes to win over the hearts of the Russian people — along the lines of his recent Cairo address, pitched over the heads of the governments of the Islamic world and straight at their citizenry — he can expect to leave disappointed.
The Russians, to start with, have never been all that enthralled with the Obama phenomenon. On the eve of his inauguration, a 17-nation poll conducted by the BBC World Service found that in every country except two, a majority of the people believed his presidency would lead to an improvement in relations between the United States and the rest of the world.
The two nations feeling otherwise were Russia and Japan. And a poll just released by the Levada Center in Moscow found that only 23 percent of Russians feel confident that Obama will “do the right thing in world affairs.”
One reason for this attitude is that the Russians do not quite share Obama’s sense of global priorities. For Obama, as for so much of the planet, global climate change is a serious and even urgent concern. But as the BBC poll found, this is not a priority for Russians, and neither is making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, another big agenda item for Obama and his allies.
A deeper reason for Russian skepticism of Obama, and of the Obama craze in general, goes to a core difference of temperament. Obama is prototypically American in his penchant for singing his political song in the key of optimism. For Russians, life tends to be lived in the bittersweet key of tragedy.
While the Russians are not gloomy pessimists — they have a sardonic genius for finding a way to laugh through their tears — they are skeptics on the distinctively American idea that history is all about progress. Experience, painful experience, has taught them otherwise.
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