There’s been much chatter about President Bush’s earthy open-mic discussion of the Middle East crises with Tony Blair. But it was the joint news conference at the G8 summit between Bush and Putin that caught my attention. I’m still trying to fathom what led Bush to describe his private conversations with Russian President Putin this way: “I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there’s a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same.”

Putin’s rejoinder, which garnered disbelieving guffaws from the press gaggle, was: “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly.” Then there’s the fact that despite the worsening relationship between the US and Russia, Bush still claims he and Putin are friends. Perhaps this is because of the parallels in their leadership styles.

Putin has used the disastrous war in Chechnya and terrorist attacks on the homeland as the pretext for rolling back Russian civil liberties and democratic institutions. Similarly Bush has used the war in Iraq and 9/11 as ever ready excuses for his imperial presidency.

The Bush administration has spied on our library records, phone conversations, and bank records and then castigated the free press for freely reporting on it. We’ve just learned that he personally stopped a Justice Department inquiry into the domestic surveillance program. And of course there are the presidential signing statements, which even some conservatives consider to be unconstitutional.

Maybe what Bush saw when he looked into Putin’s authoritarian soul was a reflection of himself.