Barack Obama’s cancellation of his Russian visit is the normal sort of diplomat payback for insult and injury — in this case the asylum offered Edward Snowden in the face of administration pleas to send him home for punishment. But with Obama, as with everything with Obama, the about-face invokes irony, hypocrisy, and paradox, because it is just the sort of normal Neanderthal tit-for-tat that was not supposed to happen under an Obama pathbreaking foreign policy.

He entered office chastising the Bush administration for its failure to talk with the Iranians and Syrians. The subtext was that Bush lacked both his own charm and insight into human character that together would produce results that Texan right-wingers stuck in Cold War prisms could hardly appreciate.

The Snowden putdown proved the proverbial icing on the cake, given that the Obama administration had always combined the worst of both diplomatic worlds with Putin, as it so often does with its empty redlines and deadlines: loud sermonizing without commensurate toughness. . . . Putin — earlier than other leaders — grasped that the U.S. was back to a utopian Jimmy Carter mode. And so, not content in finding advantage, he also seeks fun in publicly humiliating the U.S. He was always an unapologetic Russian nationalist, stung by the loss of prestige after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but reenergized by huge oil revenues. His stock and trade has always been pointing out Western moral hypocrisies — from supporting cruel anti-democratic Islamists to distorting U.N. resolutions on no-fly zones and humanitarian aid in Libya.

In that sense, he is the perfect antithesis to Obama.

What cruel synthesis is even now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born?