A clash of values
This is not a clash of civilizations. It’s a clash of politics and politicians, and it’s a clash of values. The West has decided that the best way to force Putin to back down is to grab him by his “oligarchs” and squeeze them until he and they cry out in pain and beg us to stop. Putin and his equally delusional lackeys continue to offer the world and the Russian people an enormous platter of steaming hot “caca del toro.” For the non-Spanish speakers, the “rogue diplomat” defines that as “bovine excrement” or plain old-fashioned bullshit. British writer Ernest Benn said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.” If you keep your expectations of politicians low, they will usually meet them. A case in point: During his recent SOTU address, Biden said, “Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he’ll never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” I bet that made any ayatollah watching his speech run to the window to see, fearing that he really meant Teheran. I’m not picking on good old Joe. It was an honest mistake of conflating two words that sound alike. But still. When I hear something that cringeworthy, I feel like I’m bending over and grabbing my ankles for an “inspection” at some hostile international border. And then there’s diplomacy.
Diplomacy is another strange bird, as are diplomats themselves. The original sin of diplomats is to see the world only from their point of view. When that happens, they no longer analyze; they simply apply their own life experiences to the problem instead of remaining objective. What, then, happens to values? According to Machiavelli, values – good or bad – are useless without arms to back them up: even a civil society requires police and a credible judiciary to enforce its laws. Consequently, policymakers aim to project power first and let values take a backseat. That’s what we’re witnessing in Ukraine today. Political scientist Thomas Schelling said, “the power to hurt is bargaining power. To exploit it is diplomacy.” To these thoughts, I add my own definition. Diplomacy is saying, “nice doggy, nice doggy to a threatening wolf until you can find something to kill it with or drive it away.” Crude, without a doubt, but I believe there is more than a grain of truth in these definitions. We must remember that the right choice isn’t always popular, and the popular choice isn’t always right. In times like this, I think of Ronald Reagan’s quote from his inaugural address, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall upon us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall upon us if we do nothing.” What we’re watching now is the West doing something – sanctions.
Now that Putin has unleashed the unimaginable, the US and its European allies are tightening the noose around his oligarchs’ necks in an attempt to strike back without firing a shot. Russia’s top oligarchs have lost $80 billion in recent days. Kremlin kleptocrats are scrambling to move, hide or sell their assets as fast as possible. Oleg Deripaska, the metals oligarch who is close to Putin and has an estimated net worth of about $4 billion, recently tweeted, “Peace is the first priority. Negotiations must start ASAP.” Personally, I don’t believe he’s thinking about saving Ukrainian and Russian lives. I think it’s all about saving his billions. By the way, Deripaska has shifted his superyacht to the Maldives, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty. He and many others are running scared and scurrying about the Indian Ocean to save their luxurious superyachts from seizure. It’s far easier, of course, to move yachts, cars, jets and currencies (think cryptocurrencies) than expensive residences in the UK and the US, many of which are up for sale on the sly. It reminds me of rats abandoning a sinking ship. And what about the children of Russia’s most powerful people? Well, they can forget about attending expensive and exclusive schools in the lying, decadent West. It’s funny how much they pontificate about the evil West but still want their children to be educated there. Not anymore. Too bad, so sad.
A few days ago, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said, “This isn’t the Russian people’s war. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the Russian people oppose it. So, my message to the people of Russia… is that we know many of you want no part of this war… The economic costs that we’ve been forced to impose on Russia are not aimed at you—they are aimed at compelling your government to stop its actions, to stop its aggression.” Granted, it’s almost impossible for the average Russian citizen, let alone a Russian soldier, to obtain truthful information about the invasion (oops, sorry Putin, “special operation of peacekeepers”). Russia recently passed a law making it illegal to spread false information, i.e., the truth, about the war. If found guilty of this “horrendous offense,” a lengthy prison sentence waits you. Russia also shut down its last independent news service. As a veteran, I continue to wonder when Russian soldiers will finally wonder why their Ukrainian brothers and sisters keep trying to kill them if they are peacekeepers, as they’ve been told.
A fart in church
Putin can convene as many meetings as he wants around his famous white table that appears to be almost the size of a decent rugby pitch (OK, a slight exaggeration, but what the hell) to explain why he was simply “forced” to invade Ukraine to save the ethnic Russians from genocide, drug-crazed neo-Nazis and the like, but it won’t work in the long run. That flag won’t fly; that dog won’t hunt or whatever euphemism you prefer, eventually people will wake up and smell the coffee and realize what a sinister psychopath is running their country. In his excellent book “Warrior Politics,” Robert Kaplan says that “bold statesmanship never makes foolhardy bets based on hope; it works near the edges of what seems attainable in a given situation, for even the most given situations can have better and worse outcomes.” Putin and his inner circle of advisors have failed to understand this. Putin and his values stink, to put it bluntly. And now, Putin is about as popular in the rest of the world as a fart in church.