Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cast a Giant Faceplant

I do chuckle sometimes at the notion that Putin has taken a bad "poker hand" (in power) and played it well:

Russia is a nuclear power. But an economic power it is not. Last year, the country’s GDP totaled around $1.6 trillion, less than that of the state of Texas. Nor is its wealth growing: Russia’s GDP in 2017 was smaller than it was in 2013, adjusting for price changes.

And yet there’s no question of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s international influence. Witness his ability to hack bigger, richer countries’ democratic elections, or, as this week’s Helsinki summit highlighted, to cow Donald Trump. The Kremlin’s knack for punching above its weight when it comes to geopolitics is a reminder that wealth sometimes matter less than what you do with it. [emphasis added]

The article is about how Putin siphons off Russian wealth to oligarchs who back him. But that's how the article starts. (And while I'm not happy with the Helsinki press conference optics, I am bewildered at the characterization of the summit.)

My view is that Putin got the West's attention with his actions and rhetoric, but is otherwise effing up royally. That punching by Putin is getting those with more weight to assume a fighting stance.

Remember, in addition to the general decline in Western defense spending, America's military became "unbalanced" with a long focus on fighting insurgents and terrorists, leaving it unprepared for conventional warfare.

In addition, readiness outside of those forces sent to fight in the Obama administration declined with the 2009 planning assumption that America faced no threat of war with a peer or near-peer in the next ten years medium term:

We assume no enemies will match us in the medium term. This is undoubtedly correct. But this also sounds too much like we're instituting the British Ten Year Rule from 1919.

It was a perfectly reasonable rule when adopted by the British government in 1919, which stated the British would not face a war in the next ten years. The rule was formally abolished 13 years later, in 1932. But defense spending did not rebound from its post-1919 collapse, and when war broke out in 1939, the British only barely proved they'd done enough to withstand the German offensive in the opening of the war.

Good grief, if Putin had just kept his mouth shut and his army at home, NATO would have continued to disarm. In a few years of the trend continuing, the fierce warriors of Montenegro could have conquered Germany.

And to add to the evidence, contemplate that Putin has managed to turn Democrats into virulent Russia-haters. We know why, of course. But still, the change is amazing. I bet Putin didn't expect Russia's traditionally useful idiots to stop being useful.

Anyway, stop acting as if Putin is brilliant or a model to follow.