President George W. Bush encountered a wave of criticism for his recent comments about Vladimir Putin. Following their summit meeting in Slovenia, Bush, you will recall, positively gushed about the Russian president, calling him “a remarkable leader… deeply committed to his country” and saying he had looked Putin “in the eye” and gotten “a sense of his soul.”

The remarks were not only the object of predictable attacks by the rival Democrats, but also by some conservative commentators and leading Republicans, including North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who said he had criticized Clinton administration officials “for using nearly those precise words to describe Mr. Putin” and was “dumbfounded” to hear them coming from Bush. Putin, too, seemed to believe things had been excessively congenial. While during the summit, he did not, contrary to expectations, reject the U.S. national missile defense (NMD) plan out of hand. Almost immediately upon his return to Moscow he warned that Russia might opt to neutralize NMD by adding warheads to its missiles. This time it was Putin who came under attack, with even Russian newspaper warning that his threat could reignite an arms race that Russia could ill afford. As the business newspaper Vedomosti put it, “the spirit of peace” lasted only a week.

Bush, for his part, tried a little spin control, telling Wall Street Journal columnist and former presidential speech writer Peggy Noonan that what he had really had in mind in relation to Russia and its president was the dictum of Noonan’s old boss, Ronald Reagan–“Trust, but verify.” Nonetheless, Texas hospitality remained the order of the day, and Bush reiterated his hopes that Putin would visit him at his ranch before year’s end.