Is Vladimir Putin’s nuclear sabre rattling meant to keep us out of a war or is it meant to keep us from realizing we’re already in one? I don’t think it’s even close: we’re already in a war – a world war, in fact, we just haven’t stopped to see it for what it is yet. For reference, the term “First World War” wasn’t coined until 1939 – twenty years after that catastrophe was thought of as, well, “history”. It wasn’t until the SECOND World War loomed – a product of the First – that we collectively even thought of “WWI” as a “WW”. At the time World War One started, no one thought the world mad enough to do such a thing – and therefore hadn’t pre-thought of the branding. Imagine if someone had been around to nail down “WorldWarOne-dot-com” or any of its variations. Boy, would they be rich today!
We sit here today equally convinced that a world war – World War Three or WWIII (whichever floats your boat) – won’t happen because, why, that’d be nuclear and “nuclear” war hasn’t happened yet. Oy… . For starters, what we call a war can be debilitating if it boxes us in to how we can act in a war-potential situation. The instant Putin rattled his nuclear sabre, he made us entirely reactive. That’s not where we want to be.
Of course we don’t want to provoke a nuclear war. But, when Putin gets to define what that provocation is, we’re in an untenable position. Here’s some quick realpolitik: Putin may be bonkers but he has a plan inside his head and now that he’s a war criminal – while the rest of Russia can’t see the world glaring at Putin, he sure can (and DOES apparently watch Western news). He hates what he sees but he knows where it leads if the other side wins: The Hague.
Putin’s an overgrown ten year old boy who can’t bear not getting his own way. I bet when he was a kid he overturned every board game he was losing – which was probably every single one. Machiavelli could have learned a few things about cynicism from young Vlad. It takes a special breed of cat to not only survive the Soviet spying ranks but to rise up through those ranks, take over the spying agency and then use what he learned as a spy to leverage himself into the Russian presidency. That is what Putin did to gain power. Then, once in power, he played by “the rules” for as long as he had to and then ditched the rules entirely.
In Russia now, Putin is the rules. L’etat c’est Putin. Putin est l’etat.
Putin sees Russia as an abstraction – the mythic Greater Russia that only ever “sorta” was in the ever-more-distant past. It sounds insane to us here in the West. Can we be honest? It’s no different from believing a sky deity had sex with a human virgin to create a man-god born to die for humanity’s sins because a woman ate a piece of fruit she was told not to eat. See where I’m going? Once your mind’s open to fantastical, magical thinking, truly you CAN believe anything – especially if you want to. Those of us who don’t believe in sky deities always hold a little fear inside of us for those who DO believe in sky deities because of what those sky deities sometimes tell their believers to do. We won’t get into the insanity that happens when two sky deity believers get into it because they disagree about the sky deity they supposedly both believe in.
Putin plans to take the world with him if it comes to that. He’ll tell himself he’s doing it for Mother Russia, but then egomaniacal men tell themselves all kinds of dumb bullshit to justify their infantile self-aggrandizement. Doesn’t make a bit of it true. The only people truly capable of stopping Putin are those around him. Those are the people our people should be playing right now – and playing hard. That’s playing hard exactly the way Putin played our people.
Putin approaches everything like the spy he is. It’s all about compromise and subterfuge. He sucks at thinking how an army has to think because – being a spy – he doesn’t trust anyone. If you don’t trust your command structure in the field and confine it to rigid battle plans, your army will find itself screwed when battlefield conditions change and they can’t change with them. Big armies are expensive to run, too. They have to be resupplied and refueled. And, if you don’t give the soldiers in the field a reason to fight? When shit gets real, they may not stand up to the fire. They may turn and run or ditch their vehicles and surrender – anything for some food and a little warmth.
Putin’s got numbers on his side. Bludgeoning power. But bludgeoning people doesn’t win hearts or minds. It manufactures insurrection. That requires a long-term siege and a long term siege of Ukraine while devastating to Ukraine would be far more devastating to Russia. Not that it matters to Putin. Seems he’s always intended to wage this war.
We have to wonder why now? What prompted Putin to gamble now? Does it have anything to do with Putin’s other gamble – the one that worked – the one that put Donald Trump into the White House, kept him there, and nearly kept him there forever? Does Putin’s coming apart at the seams have anything to do with his great intelligence coup – easily the greatest piece of spycraft ever – also coming apart at the seams?
Donald Trump – Donald Trump’s presidency – was, itself, an act of war. Regardless of whether or not we in America ever call it “war”, it WAS an act of war if acts of war are meant to change your relationship with an enemy. We know for a fact (because someone in the room with Putin is acting all “fifth column-like” and leaking documents to the West!) that Putin saw attacking American democracy through a Trump candidacy – and then presidency – as a viable strategy. Is such a thing an act of war?
It better be.
Putin is getting creamed in Ukraine while spending a fortune. He’s got little to show for it. Certainly nothing like what he expected. By contrast, recruiting and nurturing Trump as an intelligence asset made money! Look at how rich Putin and his oligarch pals got by laundering money through Trump casinos or Trump properties! Buying, compromising or even just swaying the rest of the GOP cost peanuts relative to real war but look at the results! Putin nearly destroyed NATO without firing a shot – or spending a ruble (worth less than a penny today).
The Republican Party KNEW “Putin pays [Rohrbacher and] Trump – swear to God” as of June 25, 2016 a full month before Trump bleated “Hey, Russia, if you’re listening…!” which itself was the day before the Republican National Convention began. Get that? The GOP knew Trump was a grave national security threat long before they nominated him and they knew he was a grave national security threat when he reached out to Russia to help him get elected.
We may not think of cyber war as war, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t war. Vlad Putin certainly thinks it is. He certainly conducts it like it’s war and will continue doing so until someone says “stop – that is an act of war!” Unless Putin means “war”, he’ll back down. If he doesn’t stop? We’ll know definitively where he stands.
He won’t stop. He’s always been at war with us. He wants Greater Russia back. He wants to free the Holy Land from the Infidel. He wants to be remembered by history as a god.
Make no mistake: Vladimir Putin thinks of himself as America’s enemy. In his mind, he’s always been at war with us. Every American he compromises now works for him – in his war against America. Those Americans don’t have to like or even know that they work for Vlad Putin. But they are working for him and, in war time, that’s a problem. For them.
Had Putin not attacked Ukraine, it’s entirely possible that Trump would have gotten away with betraying America – that the entire Republican Party would have gotten away with it. We don’t know where Merrick Garland’s head is at where prosecuting Trump is concerned. But Putin doing what he did changed everything. It recast a covert, cyber war as a shooting war and put the whole shooting gallery on TV with much more easily identifiable good guys and bad guys. Cyber wars are Jean LeCarre territory – literary and character driven. Bombs n bullet wars are James Bond. Blowing things up – that’s the draw.
Russia won’t allow anyone inside Russia to call what they’re doing to Ukraine “war” as if calling it something else makes it more palatable. It does not matter what we call this destructive impulse and its manifestations in real life. We must prevent them from happening in the first place.