Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin
Yeah, I’ll admit that I’m disappointed that Obama canceled the summit with me next month. Oh well. Still, giving Snowden asylum is a big political winner for me at home, and that’s that.
Yeah, I’m a dictator and everything, but it always helps to have a strong base of support--and flipping the bird to the Americans is a great way to get the average Ivan to say, “Way to go! That’ll stick it to Uncle Sam!”
Besides, even if Obama says he won’t hold the summit, our foreign and defense ministers are still going forward with their meeting this coming Friday. The Americans, you see, are still eager to make progress on Syria--well, a nyet to that. We’re helping Assad in Damascus because we want him to win. The Americans--well, they don’t know what they want. They kinda sorta want the Sunni rebels to win, but of course, they want those same rebels to “respect human rights.”
And what the US really wants is some sort of “negotiated settlement.” I guess that’s so the State Department can have something to do. Yup, another “peace conference” where the diplomats all get to dress nicely and talk and talk and talk--and put everyone to sleep.
What dopes they are. The Americans need to understand: When you’re fighting a war, you fight to win, period. If the Americans are seeking “peace” and if we are seeking victory--well, the side with the clearer objectives wins.
Now okay, things could change. Let’s just suppose that the Saudis bribe me into abandoning Assad. Yes, that would be fine. Assad might be my guy, but nations don’t have permanent allies, they only have permanent interests. And my interest is Russia--and me.
(As an aside, you might be wondering why I’m being so candid, but hey, I’m not worried. Americans are so oblivious to foreign affairs these days, I can say whatever I want, and get away with it.)
Back to my dealings with the Obama administration. If I simply tell my guys--Lavrov at the foreign ministry and Shoigu at defense--that they should show a little leg on some issue that the Americans really care about, like gay rights or global warming or arms control, well, I’ll soon enough have Obama eating out of my hand, again.
So we can promise to review, say, the new anti-gay rights rules we’ve enacted. I’ll probably have to do that, anyway, so that the Sochi Olympics come off without a hitch next year. But if I say I’m doing it because John Kerry asked me too--that’ll send a thrill up the Americans’ leg.
Or maybe we’ll say that we agree on the need to do something about the climate--as long as the Americans go first. But if we merely say we need to do something, Obama’s core supporters around the world will adore him further--heck, they might even give him another Nobel Peace Prize.
I can always change my mind later, anyway. I mean, we Russians want more hydrocarbon use. Not only is oil our number one economic product, but have you ever been to Siberia? Let that frozen place warm up five or ten degrees, and it’ll be another Iowa--fertile and hospitable. Sounds good to me, even if Beverly Hills billionaires don’t like it.
Then there’s another issue that I can dangle in front of the Americans: arms control. That’s been an obsession of the American establishment for decades, an obsession that Obama reaffirmed in June. Look, it’s fine with me if the Americans want to disarm. I just don’t think my country should. And we won’t.
Remember, Russia was built on iron and blood. The Americans don’t understand that. They had an easy time conquering a mostly empty frontier, inhabited only by disorganized savages. Well, we did the exact same thing in Siberia. Yet at the same time, we were fending off invasions from serious enemies with real armies--Magyars, Mongols, Poles, Swedes, Napoleon, and Hitler. In the end, we won against all of them, but not without great cost. Those wars made us what we are today. Americans have no idea.
Indeed, the Americans sit there, atop that wonderful temperate landmass of theirs, thinking that their security and prosperity is the result of their own doing. As somebody once said, people in the U.S. were born on third base and think they hit a triple. Let the Americans fight a Borodino, or a Stalingrad, and let’s see if they win. Until then, until they are really tested, I will count the Americans as weak--but lucky. Very lucky. But that luck won’t hold forever.
Speaking of luck, we Russians have had some really bad luck over the past few decades. My predecessors--that publicity hound Gorbachev, that drunken idiot Yeltsin--did their best to suck up to the Americans: they agreed to disarm, they agreed to give up territory--and so they did, in fact, lose almost everything. And that’s why the Soviet Union collapsed. It wasn’t us, it wasn’t the system, it was them--those two blockheads.
I meant it in 2005 when I said that the collapse of the USSR was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” And, of course, I was just simply saying out loud what every true Russian thinks. That’s why I swear upon Holy Mother Russia that I will spend every day for the rest of my life thinking about how to reclaim the whole territory of the Russian Empire in 1914--basically the same boundaries of the Soviet Union. Come home, Ukraine, Baltics, and all the rest of the former Soviet republics--like it or not.
So you can see, I have a lot of work ahead of me.
Since I have to think long term, I’m not going to be completely mean to the Americans. I’ll probably give Snowden back one of these days--after we’re done with him. Yes, of course, we had all the stuff on his computers within the first few hours of his arrival at Sheremetyevo, but we need some more time to pull out of his head every last thing he knows. We’re good at that sort of work.
Meanwhile, I’ll have fun with Obama. He’s just as cynical as me, I see, albeit not as shrewd or smart. I loved it when he said on Jay Leno the other night, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” And what did the media do? Those useful idiots of his? Not much. If Obama get can get away with a whopper like that--if he can lie like a commissar--then he still might be able to be “flexible” in his second term, meaning we’ll make some kind of deal on something. For example, they say that presidential libraries are expensive, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve got my oligarchs on speed-dial--I can help.
Then there’s Hillary Clinton. Remember that “reset” of Russian-American relations in 2009? The one where the State Department couldn’t even translate the word “reset” properly? Did she learn anything from that? Or from the chilling of our diplomacy since? It doesn’t seem that she did. But her lack of a learning curve doesn’t seem to matter to the American voters. Hillary is likely to win the next American presidential election, running simply on domestic feminist identity politics. Fine with me.
Look, over the long run, I can see that Russian-American relations could chill all the way down to another Cold War. We all know what happened in the 40s and 50s, as the great powers squared off; I’m enough of a student of history to see that friction in the future, too, is inevitable. The difference is, I’m ready--and the Americans aren’t. And I’m in this for the long run.
Here’s how I see the future correlation of forces: Russia will enter Cold War 2.0 in a weaker position than the old USSR, but we have stronger allies. If I play it right, Russia will be part of a Eurasian alliance with China, and maybe Iran--that’s a good bloc.
Happily, neither Russia nor China are burdened by orthodox communism; folks in Moscow and Beijing gave up, long ago, trying to run the economy based on their reading of old books from Marx or Lenin or Mao. Look, nobody loves Stalin more than me, but in the 60 years since his death, we have come to see that what works best is our leader-driven hybrid of pure communism and pure laissez-faire. Call it “Market Leninism,” call it whatever you want; the idea is that the state will direct the economy toward certain goals, notably, military production. Not everyone is happy, of course, but dictatorship means never having to say you're sorry.
Today, the Americans are moving in a strange direction. When they wake up, years hence, and realize that they are in Cold War 2.0, they will realize that they have outsourced much of their economic strength. If the Chinese are a future enemy, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Americans to continue to give them their stuff.
Meanwhile, as for the American strength that remains, the environmentalists, in pursuit of their green goals, have been busy trying to shut it all down.
Eventually, they will realize that their political correctness on homeland security was near suicidal--and hopefully, it will be.
Look, I am all in favor, obviously, of domestic surveillance.
But back to the Snowden case for a moment: Suppose the Snowden thing had happened in Russia. That is, a Russian Snowden had fled the country with the top secrets of the Russian equivalent of the NSA. Now what do you suppose I would have done? Me, with my background in Stalinism? Can you say, “Lubyanka”? I would never say to the Russian equivalent of Gen. Keith Alexander, “Dude, hey, no problem. Better luck next time. Now go mislead Congress some more.”
That’s basically what Obama said to the guy who let Snowden happen--I still trust you, carry on. Alexander is still on the job, more than two months after the Snowden escapade went public, and there’s no indication that he’s in any kind of trouble. That’s pathetic on the Americans’ part. What sort of signal does that send? To leaders? To followers? But again, I’ll take it.
Indeed, as I think about the next Cold War, I can only think of one area in which America is stronger than 60 or 70 years ago. And that is, today, there’s no “fifth column” of ideologically committed communists and fellow travelers inside the US government, as there was back then. Alas, in the future we won’t likely have the benefit of good traitors such as Lauchlin Currie, Ted Hall, the Rosenbergs, or Harry Dexter White. Or, sigh, that loyal soldier to the end, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Oh well, you can’t have everything. But come to think of it, we will have K Street. Even if we will lack zealots who work for free, we can find lobbyists who work for hire. What was it that Lenin said about the capitalists selling us the rope we need to hang them? I’ve read that Lenin didn’t actually ever say that. Fine, then I’ll say it. I love that kind of free market.
So as I think about things, long term, I am starting to like our chances. And did I mention that I like Hillary in ’16? She’d be great.