By the time the second World Trade Center tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, the whole world was watching it. We may assume that Vladimir Putin was watching. Mr. Putin, a quick calculator of political realities, would see that someone was going to get hit for this, and hit hard.
He was right of course. The Bush presidency became a war presidency that day, and it pounded and pursued the Islamic fundamentalists of al Qaeda without let-up or apology.
During that time, it was reported that Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer in East Germany, deeply regretted the fall of the Soviet Union’s empire and despised the Americans who caused it to fall. But no one cared what Mr. Putin thought then. Russia’s power was a sliver of its former size. Besides, Mr. Putin’s hurt was salved with the limitless personal wealth that flowed from doing business with the West. Conventional wisdom clicked in easily: Capitalism’s surplus was enough to sate any rational autocrat. [...]
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