There is one burning question raised by the possibility of President Barack Obama traveling to Russia and meeting with thug-in-chief Vladimir Putin in September.
It is: Why is this even a question?
Obama shouldn't just cancel the trip. He should go on national television and tear up the ticket. Meeting agenda. Whatever piece of paper is handy to illustrate his disdain. In fact he should have done it last week. Each hour of diplomatic hand-wringing diminishes Putin's respect for him and for this country, which, by the way, already had to be minimal, given his granting of asylum to the whistle-blower or traitor, take your pick, Edward Snowden.
Russia has been of little help to the United States on world issues. Most recently, it has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad despite Assad's total disregard for civilian lives as he fights off insurgents. Russia's own human rights record is dismal: Putin recently signed a law banning the public discussion of gay rights or relationships anywhere around children, horrifying enlightened people everywhere and casting a shadow over the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The argument for going to Russia despite all is that there are still many problems to work out -- no kidding -- and if the heads of state don't talk, there is less chance of progress. This might be true with some heads of state. In the case of Putin, the symbolism of canceling the visit could be more productive. And let's face it, 99 percent of diplomatic progress is made through diplomatic channels navigated by the Secretary of State and other officials.
Snowden is an odd bird. Unlike Bradley Manning, who encountered information during his service to this country and felt compelled to reveal it, Snowden deliberately sought access to classified information he could reveal, then seemed surprised when the government took it seriously.
His disclosures of massive surveillance by national security operatives deeply concern us and many Americans; we can hardly say we're sorry any of it came out because the extent of spying on Americans should be understood in a democracy. But Snowden's massive information dump also is alleged to have seriously compromised national security.
We'll save the debate on what should happen to Snowden for another day, but given the seriousness of the charges against him, the nation that thumbed its nose at the U.S. and gave him asylum is unlikely to be our friend in other ways.
Putin cultivates a macho image, circulating pictures of himself bare-chested on a galloping horse and purportedly stealing a Super Bowl ring he asked to see. This is not a guy who appreciates subtle diplomacy. He is more likely to respect tit for tat. One good snub deserves another.