Look at your everyday life — your toils and troubles at work and at home — and think about some of the people you have to deal with.
You may have an unruly employee, a sadistic boss or a paranoid sibling. Some people in your life may be simply unhinged.
Now, imagine you’re U.S. President Barack Obama — or any other G7 leader — and you’re in Russia talking to that country’s autocratic leader about the tyrannical lunatic ruling Syria.
If high blood pressure doesn’t kill you, the ulcers will.
How do you deal with people like Vladamir Putin and Bashar al-Assad?
Putin, who fancies himself a cross between James Bond and Chuck Norris, has plunged Russia back into czarist times. He is at alternate times a populist and an iron-fisted monarch.
Few images stick in the mind more than Putin’s solitary march up a gilded hallway last year, celebrating his renewed mandate as president with an expressionless, impervious stare.
It’s a cover for his superhero alter ego.
When forest fires threaten, Putin doesn’t just passively tour the region by helicopter. He grabs the controls of a water-bomber and puts it out himself.
He’s pulled the stuntman schtick many times. In 2010, he almost crashed a Formula One racer at speeds reaching 250 kilometres an hour.
And then, of course, there’s his dark side. He’s been merciless in his dealings with breakaway caucuses. He’s jailed sacrilegious punk stars and outlawed free speech for gays.
Columnist Gwynne Dyer describes Putin’s 13-year reign this way:
“The media obey orders, political opponents are jailed on trumped-up corruption charges, and individuals who dig too deep into the murky history of Putin’s rapid rise to power (Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Yuri Shchekochikhin) die mysteriously of bullet wounds or poison.”
Yet Putin is a pussycat compared to the world’s latest contender for genocidal maniac of the year.
Syria’s Assad is a deranged, deluded man who still lives in a bubble, one in which Syria can somehow remain the same old police state it’s always been under his family’s rule.
He is a storybook madman, greeting guests at the palace with a mild manner and warm smile as hundreds of gassed civilians die in the streets, unable to draw a breath.
It is the height of diplomatic genius to be able to accommodate such people. But when delay and duplicity serve only to allow mass slaughter to prevail unchecked, diplomacy must give way to action.
Bombing Syria may be a losing game. In the Mideast these days, peeling back the scabs of tyranny only seems to spread the infection of civil war.
But to take no action now is to endorse and encourage further atrocities.
At least one thing is clear. Now is the time for all world leaders — eccentric and otherwise — to speak with one voice.