I don't agree with everything the pseudonymous Spengler writes, and I'm not sure if I buy his take on recent American-Russian relations, but his "conversation that didn't happen" between Presidents Bush and Putin makes for an entertaining read.

Bush: But can't you keep the country honest by democratic means?

Putin: George, everybody isn't like Americans. If Americans don't like what's going on, they elect a different congressman, sign a petition, take out newspaper advertisements, or whatever. For two generations Russians learned that if you made the wrong kind of joke, you disappeared in the middle of the night. You survived by keeping your head down and drinking your vodka. We used to have political troublemakers - in fact, some of the most enthusiastic ones in the world. They were called "communists". The ones that Josef Stalin didn't kill, he sent to the Gulag. Just who do you think is going to take the lead against crime syndicates with private armies? If the government doesn't do it, no one can - and the means we employ aren't going to be pretty.

Bush: I don't mean to get personal, Vladimir, but I guess you know something about those means.

Putin: You had better believe that I do. Why do you think that the Russian government is in the hands of people who served in State Security? In the bad old days, the only institution that could take initiative was the security services. There was no other place to learn how to exercise power. ...

Putin: Did it ever occur to you that you have an insignificant number of Muslims to answer to - and half of them are native-born American blacks who never vote Republican? I have millions of Azeri Shi'ites attending mosques supported by Iran. I don't have the luxury to rap the mullahs on the knuckles and hope they stick their hands back in the pockets. Read what Niccolo Machiavelli had to say on the subject: never inflict a minor injury upon an opponent. Men will avenge themselves against minor injuries, but they can't avenge themselves against major injuries.

Bush: You're not telling me to inflict a major injury on Iran, by any chance, are you, Vladimir? ...

Bush: Okay, you don't have to rub it in. How do you propose to gain influence among Muslims?

Putin: Do you know how many civilians died in Chechnya when we suppressed the rebellion there? No one knows exactly, but the number is around 100,000. We know that half a million Chechens lost their homes. That's half the country. We've been killing Muslims for 300 years. That's why they respect us.

Bush: Vladimir, what you are saying is horrible. The American people will never see the world that way.

Putin: The American people don't have to. They are sitting comfortably in their own continent and think it's a great disaster when a few thousand people are killed in an office building. I'm not suggesting that you go out and explain to your voters that things might be very different in other parts of the world. But I am warning you: we have a tough enough job on our hands. Don't make it harder for us, or you will be sorry.

The world is a messy, dangerous, convoluted place, and I think Spengler is right that we Americans don't always appreciate that.

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