Three months before September 11, Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin met for the first time in Crawford, Texas, an occasion noted by Dubya's often-quoted comment, "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
For the non-introspective, incurious Bush this marked a telling revelation about how he judged people. The cagey ex-KGB spy was less forthcoming about what he saw when he looked past Bush's Lone Star squint into his soul.
As both men's destinies continue to be shaped by events set into motion by the World Trade Center attacks, their souls have merged, braided together like a single DNA strand of authoritarian power-flexing. Both leaders are insular, secretive, surrounded by a tiny coterie of loyal advisors, have zero tolerance for dissent, and won't ever admit to making a mistake.
If there exist differences between them, it's usually a matter of degrees. Their ceremonial attire at the Vietnam summit the other week made me think of their similarities.
One's father headed the CIA; the other simply rose through its ranks and became first civilian head of the FSB, which is the successor agency to the KGB
One poisoned the political landscape with relentless partisan attacks; the other poisons his critics.
One instructs his Justice Department tostrip away civil liberties; the other throws his opponents into prison.
One shreds the Constitution; the other closes down newspapers.
One enlists his political noise machine to drown out his critics; the other takes control of television stations.
One seeks private gains for his friends in the oil and gas industry; the other nationalizes the oil and gas industry.
One sells advanced weapon systems to Israel; the other sells advanced weapon systems to Iran.
One consolidated power in the executive branch at the expense of the two branches of government; the other brought back "one man, one ruler."
One constructed his foreign policy on building democracy abroad; the other touts building "sovereign democracy" at home.
In 2004, both men won re-election. Now here's where their political fortunes diverge. The Russian leader enjoys a whopping 60% approval rating--nearly double that of Bush. Maybe that's why Stephen Colbert sardonically announced that he was supporting Putin in the 2008 U.S. presidential election.