Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Mind of Vladimir Putin

The current war in Ukraine has produced a mountain of pure stupidity. From John Kerry to Hillary Clinton to Anne Applebaum to David Brooks talking empty heads have used the war to promote themselves. 

They have all essayed, for better or mostly for worse, to offer pseudo-intelligent explanations for why Putin is doing what he is doing. Some offer the latest in psycho pseudoscience and suggest that Putin is a megalomaniac or a pathological narcissist. Others have a more theological perspective and believe that they are witnessing a final conflict in the war between liberal democracy and authoritarianism, that is between good and evil.

That these are all unsound and largely misleading does not seem to count. Saying something stupid seems to be the order of the day.

With a few exceptions, happily enough. Yesterday, one Chris Miller, of Tufts university, said something that I find thoroughly intelligent and persuasive. He said it in a New York Times op-ed. The truth is, if we do not know why Putin is doing what he is doing, we will be as inept as the hapless Biden administration. I will mention in passing that Miller is something of an expert in Putin.

Anyway, Miller conjectures that Putin goes to war because when he has done so in the past, he has won. As opposed to other world leaders, who are terrified of losing, Putin likes to win. We have seen it at home, and we know that our own leaders are on the side of being scared of losing.

One does not know, at this date, the ultimate outcome, but we cannot fail to notice that the American media seems thrilled at the Ukrainian resistance and is peddling the narrative, namely, that he who risks largely loses largely. That is the new American thesis; unfortunately, wars do not often end in three days. 

Anyway, Miller offers an explanation of Vladimir Putin:

There is no world leader today with a better track record when it comes to using military power than President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Whether against Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014 or in Syria since 2015, the Russian military has repeatedly converted battlefield successes into political victories. Russia’s rearmament over the past decade and a half has been unmatched by a comparable increase in Western capabilities. So it is no surprise why Russia feels emboldened to use its military power while the West stands by.

That’s about as clear and concise as it comes. It makes perfect sense. It makes such good sense that our talking heads and politicians have missed the point entirely.

Miller offers some details:

 The invasion of Georgia in 2008 lasted five days but forced that country into humiliating political concessions. In Ukraine in 2014, regular Russian military units were deployed at scale for a few weeks, but this proved enough to force Kyiv to sign a painful peace deal. When Russia intervened in Syria in 2015, some Western analysts predicted a disaster along the lines of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began in 1979 and ended, after a decade of quagmire, in retreat. Instead, Syria’s civil war served as a testing ground for Russia’s most advanced weaponry.

While America has been mastering the art of losing wars, while fighting against the weather and ridding the ranks of white counterrevolutionaries in the ranks, Putin has improved his military:

 Yet as we have searched for Russian phantoms behind every misinformed Facebook post, Russia has replaced the poorly equipped army it inherited from the Soviet Union with a modern fighting force, featuring everything from new missiles to advanced electronic warfare systems. Today the threat to Europe’s security is not hybrid warfare but hard power, visible in the cruise missiles that have struck across Ukraine.

Will Putin get bogged down in Ukraine? Will he send in a battalion of feminists to explain the sexist implications of the artistic representation of urinals-- as we did in Afghanistan? Unlikely, don’t you think?

Here is Miller’s prediction, worth evaluating:

However, we should not simply assume that Ukraine will become Putin’s Afghanistan or his Iraq because other leaders have made their own errors. Mr. Putin could simply choose to destroy Ukraine and leave the West to pick up the pieces. Such a dismembered, dysfunctional Ukraine could well suit his interests. Russia’s recent wars have been carefully calculated and limited in cost. There’s no guarantee that this conflict won’t be, too.

So, the Biden administration chose to fight an information war, by filling the airways with intelligence about Russian military plans. The purpose was simple: to manipulate Putin’s mind. It might have seemed to be good therapy, but it did not work. He saw it as a bluff and called it.

And then, Miller concludes that our blind adolescent faith that the arc of history is moving in our direction is naive and dangerous. If we think that we are going to deter any aggressor by shutting down energy production and making the military more diverse, we are dangerously delusional.

The U.S. strategy of making public intelligence about Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine was clever, but Mr. Putin has called our bluff. It was once popular to mock the Russian president for his 19th-century worldview, but his use of military power to bolster Russia’s influence has worked in the 21st century. The West’s assumption that the arc of history naturally bends in its direction is looking na├»ve. So, too, is the decision to let our military advantage slip. Soft power and economic influence are fine capabilities to have, but they cannot stop Russian armor as it rolls toward Kyiv.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Biden should invade Canada.

John Fisher said...

Anonymous - we failed twice attempting to invade Canada. I'm pretty sure Biden couldn't pull it off.

Anonymous said...

Putin knows that Biden is weak. As I keep saying, the STUPID is STRONG in this one.

IamDevo said...

I thought Putin would continue his past, largely successful tactic of taking a small bite in Ukraine, as he had in other instances, all of which resulted in increasing Russian hegemony over its "near abroad" neighbors. I was prepared to admit that I had erred in my belief, but now I am beginning to wonder if I was correct, albeit underestimating the amount of "nibbling" Putin would do to achieve his ends. I think that recent developments might show I was correct, unless it is the case that Putin will yet unleash his full military capabilities and destroy Ukrainian infrastructure and its population. Even in that case, a physically and economically devastated Ukraine serves his purpose of excluding western European/American influence on his border. That will encourage an increase in the already hemorrhaging population out of the country, creating a vast wasteland buffer zone. Sort of another Chernobyl, without the nasty radiation. Just speculating here; only time will tell.

Ares Olympus said...

"The U.S. strategy of making public intelligence about Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine was clever, but Mr. Putin has called our bluff."

What bluff? Overall it has made Putin look like a zombie actor in a bad movie where the plot was spoiled and he went to see it anyway, all after the Kremlin denied Biden's Intel as "hysteria". So embarrassing.

I admit I doubted as well, presumed Putin's ploy was just a repeat of 2014, claiming Russians were being persecuted to justify a takeover, this time of eastern Ukraine. And if he had stopped with that, probably he could have gotten away with it.

I do agree with the analysis that Putin probably saw the easy fall of "US-backed" corrupt Afghan government by the Taliban could be matched with the easy fall of "US-backed" corrupt Ukrainian government. Oops, bad bet.

Now all Putin's oligarch friends are at risk of having billions of dollars in assets in western countries confiscated, and presumably sold and they can be used for rebuilding Kyiv and other cities destroyed by Russian's invasion.

What does Putin'd mind now have to show for himself now? Putting his nuclear weapons on the highest level, defensively of course, but if WW3 does come out of this with Western cities getting nuked, Putin will be able to take credit as being the investigator of a modern nuclear holocaust - no city has even been attacked with a hydrogen bomb so far. No one believes he'll do that, and yet, here we are, and fear won't help us face him down.

abrahemcackowski said...
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