Senator Ted Cruz, that master of turning a promising situation into a disaster, once said that Vladimir Putin was playing chess while Obama was playing checkers, the implication being that Putin was a master International Relations strategist while Obama was simply some yokel sitting on the stoop of the local general store. Considering how much conservatives pay lip service to yokels, one has to wonder how this was considered an insult, but that’s neither here nor there.
What is of some import is that there is a whole class of IR people who continue to complain about how the present administration is dealing with Russia and that US policy towards Russia isn’t coherent nor effective. In fact, I read just yesterday a fairly well written though obviously mistaken blog post which holds to this very position. The obvious question then is what exactly do these critics of the present administration’s policies toward Russia want to happen that isn’t happening?
Just yesterday, both the Senate and House voted unanimously to place further sanctions on Russia, and the president plans to sign that today. The Ruble is collapsing, dragging the Russian economy down with it, and the Russian Central Bank has gone into panic mode, raising interest rates to 17% while blaming the Russian public for the country’s down the drain spiral. The US has also stated they intend to provide more military aid to Ukraine, and somehow – this really is a miracle – Western Europe is on board with the sanctions, including the FRENCH. THE FRENCH, for God sake!
Yet you wouldn’t know it if you listen to the IR pundit class. We’re told that Vladimir Putin is somehow outwitting us, that we are being bamboozled and hoodwinked; that Putin is some sort of master strategist, even while the economic press points out that the Russian economy is eerily close to collapse. So what’s going on?
The only reasonable explanation that comes to mind is that we have manged to silo our thinking so much that we cannot see what is actually happening even when it is right in front of us. By this I mean we place so much emphasis on Putin and what Putin does that we manage to ignore the rest of Russia. For example, did you know that Russia just voted Putin Man of the Year again for the fifteenth time in a row? Focusing only on Putin and Putin’s actions shows just how oblivious we are to understanding the Russian character and the Russian mindset. Russians are quite good at living through hardship. They’ve done it for centuries. And Putin is Russian through and through. We may believe that if he were to go that the next leader would be more pliable, but Russian history shows otherwise.
So while critics of the present administration’s policies focus on the administration and it’s interactions with Putin, they manage to miss the big picture. The administration is doing a fine job handling Putin, but it’s not just Putin we have to worry about. The administration may be playing checkers, Putin may be playing chess, but Russia is playing Stratego.
Update: Seems the administration just also yanked Cuba out from under the Russian rug. Must be that checkers thing again.