TIME Magazine has named a Person (formerly Man) of the Year since 1927, not necessarily based on the individual’s good works, but on their enduring impact during that particularly tranche of history.
   Some PoYs did transform the world for the better, while others were absolute stinkers – or later turned out to be, as was the case with the first winner in 1927, trans-Atlantic aviation pioneer Charles ‘The Lone Eagle’ Lindbergh, who became figurehead for the notoriously pro-German America First movement, which sought to keep the US out of WW2.
   French premier, Pierre Laval (1931) was another PoY who went from hero to zero, when he headed a collaborationist government, which outdid the Nazis in its zeal to persecute Jews in humiliated, occupied France.
   Wallis Simpson, King Edward VIII’s mistress and later wife, was a controversial, if headline-hogging choice by Time in 1937, as were two of history’s most compulsive and barbaric mass murders, Hitler (1938) and Stalin (1939 and 1942).
   King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (1974) received Time’s imprimatur for instigating the 1973–1974 oil crisis, when he cut off his black gold from world markets in a hissy fit at what he perceived was Western support for the Jewish state during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
   Ayatollah Khomeini was 1979’s winner, for leading Iran’s Islamic Revolution, regardless of the bloodbath and mayhem generated by his return from exile.
   Barack Obama received the accolade twice (2008 and 2012), for being elected, then re-elected America’s first black President.
   And now Time has named Donald Trump as PoY of 2016, on the basis of him being the first Commander-in-Chief never to have served his nation’s military or held any political office, not even New York City’s street cleaning superintendent.
   While I can appreciate the celebrated magazine pandering to its domestic audience, I can’t help feeling it sacrificed objectivity in not recognizing the man whose influence on the last 12 months has been without peer and who’s called all the shots – literally and figuratively – more than anyone anywhere: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
   The Russian president – maybe his job description can more accurately be a meld of supra-nationalist dictator, latter-day czar and go-to guy for tottering despots – has elevated amoral pragmatism to a tactical art-form.
   And, respect or fear him, he’s resuscitated the former USSR’s as a major player on the international stage wherever he’s chanced his arm, successfully extending Russia’s sphere of influence well above and beyond its relatively puny financial muscle.
   Putin’s land-grab of the Crimea and humbling of a volatile Ukraine sent shock-waves through the EU, which saw the former Soviet satellite as ripe pickings to join the cluster of eastern European states that had shaken off the shackles of communism and come into its orbit.
   Predictably, Brussels rattled its wooden sabers, muttered hollow threats, then blinked. Reverting to type, it backed off from confrontation, just as it did when Putin slapped down what he regarded as an upstart Georgia in 2008.
   But his coup-de-grâce of the West’s niggardly pretense of being a defender of liberty and promoter of democracy didn’t fully metastasize until a pivotal point in the kaleidoscopic Syrian savagery gave him a heaven-sent opportunity.
   Until 2012, Russia was mainly provisioning Bashar al-Assad’s military on the spurious basis it was helping crush Daesh/IS. In reality, though, the Islamo-fascist lunatics were a secondary concern in the Butcher of Damascus’s rearguard action in salvaging his imploding regime from the onslaught of the motley rebel factions ranged against him.
   But, in what should go down as one of the great fauxs in the annals of diplomatic history, to the rescue rode no less than Barack Obama, for once – and probably the only time in his lame presidency – appearing to show some true, US grit and leadership.
   Appalled at Assad’s use of chemical/biological weapons, which by then had accounted for the deaths of at least 100,000 Syrian civilians, in an impromptu remark Obama drew ‘red lines’ and threatened ‘significant consequences’ if this carnage continued.
   It did. And, true to his ‘back-off’ form, so did Obama.
   Instead, just as he’d subcontracted the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya to Britain and France, the 44th Commander-in-Chief delegated the reining in of Assad to, of all people, Putin.
   In an act of naivety and folly akin to St. Peter handing Lucifer the keys to the Pearly Gates, the Kremlin puppet-master poured Russia’s war machine into Syria and, thanks in large part to Obama’s timidity, the obliteration of Aleppo is one result, probably with more Aleppos to come.
   So the West wails and wrings its hands, the great and good clamoring for the salvation of the innocent, while Europe shuts its borders to the exodus of Syrian refugees and shores up its flimsy defenses against potential Russian aggression.
   If – or when – this materializes, NATO will be powerless without American support. And that’s unlikely under a Trump presidency, unless recalcitrant alliance members, with the exception of Britain, put their money where their mouths are and stump up the 2% membership fee.
   Meantime, with elections in Holland, France and Germany in 2017 all threatened by cyber-attacks likely to be orchestrated by the Kremlin, Putin doesn’t even have to brandish a Kalashnikov to rattle the squirming EU.
   After all, if Russia could have influenced the US presidential election, as the CIA contend, Europe should be a cake-walk for its hackers.
   At least, Israel acknowledges the realpolitik behind Putin’s expansionism.
   And Bibi Netanyahu has played a wily game, not ruffling Russian feathers, taking on no more than a humanitarian role in the Syrian crisis, yet reaching a tacit accommodation that allows Israel’s air force to destroy weaponry bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon whenever shipments are identified in Syria.
   By any reckoning, then, the man who’s exerted most sway over events – mostly bloody and menacing – in 2017 is Vladimir Putin, which is why he wins my Person of the Year award by a country mile.


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