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Monday, March 17, 2014

The Toothless, The Boneless, & The Heartless (Not Brainless)

One of the reasons I did like George W. Bush was that, for a politician, he was relatively guileless.  I did not think he was a fool or an idiot (a dear liberal friend once told me that he really was an idiot, and if she’d known two decades ago he had a snowball’s chance of being elected president, she would have preempted this by dropping a barbell on his head when they were both working out at the gym in Austin), but I do think he displayed a remarkable naivete at times, born of his open personality—the most notable of which was when, on meeting with Vladimir Putin, he declared that he could see the Russian President’s “soul”.

Recently, a close friend told me that she was filing for divorce from her husband, and that she was going to attempt to explain the necessity of this decision to her pastors.  I did not hold out much hope that they would be immediately supportive.  Not that they would necessarily doubt her because she was a woman (“Oh, she’s exaggerating the issues in a typical female fashion”), but because they, being good solid—but  younger, and not well-informed—guys themselves, who really do treat women well, might not yet fathom that another man might treat his wife with so little regard.  It’s only when you understand (have experienced as a victim, or recognize such threads in yourself—that, but for the grace of God you would act upon) the depths of depravity of which humanity is capable—that you can act with prompt justice in such situations.  I think Mr. Bush's assessment of Mr. Putin was much along the lines of the youthful pastors'.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am open-hearted.  I, too, am not a guileful person, and I have been occasionally naïve.  I tend to try to see the best in people.  However, I have spent the last twenty years studying Russia and Russian history, and to see my blithe reflection in the eyes of the chief of state of that Federation would be silly.  On the other hand, I think it is extremely simplistic to write him off as “evil”, lumping the man with Kim Jung Un and Hitler.  Putin is a shrewd leader, not a frothing ideologue, operating in the classic manner of the Autocrat of All the Russias, and his methods, however deplorable from the perspective of the West, have shown a finesse and understanding of the geopolitical environment that surpasses much of our leaderships’.

Firstly, I was impressed by the Medvedev/Putin “good cop/bad cop” routine that rolled over the international media’s immediate questions about the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.  It was almost a pleasure to see the old excuse about protecting co-ethnics from threats (a rationale presented repeatedly in confrontations with Ottoman Turkey, etc., during the last several centuries) dusted off and reused.  Offering Russian citizenship to any who wanted it on the peninsula was a brilliant stroke—Sunday’s plebiscite was really an unnecessary gesture after the general rush to the passport office (to put this in perspective, it was as if the US offered automatic American citizenship to everyone in the Yucatan, and then two weeks later encouraged local leadership to hold a vote on joining our Union; Russian citizenship is almost as difficult to attain, and as regionally desirable). 

All that is missing now is some dramatic “smoking gun” provocation to legitimate Russian “protective occupation” of the rest of Ukraine.  Perhaps a few famous ethnically Russian Ukrainians will be murdered, or a small pogrom can be arranged—the imperial government employed these tactics to tamp down dissent in the borderlands in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Or an apartment block or two will explode—Mr. Putin is alleged to have used this means (acts of terrorism ascribed to Caucasian Muslim terrorists) to spur public support for dramatically escalating the campaign against the Chechens.  Rhetorically linking the Ukrainian revolutionary movement to the LGBQT rights efforts espoused by the EU and the Obama administration has certainly allied Orthodox and Muslim Russians behind their President, and made allies of Russia in countries around the Black Sea.  Mr. Putin knows that the militarily toothless EU is dependent on Russia’s oil, and will not fight to defend Ukraine’s straightforward (and mostly straight) democracy.  He knows, too, that the US will offer no stiffer resistance to Crimean annexation (and the probable absorption of greater Ukraine) than selective economic sanctions—and whereas one can more or less blockade a (smallish) country like Iran, I think it about as efficacious as Napoleon’s attempted shut-out of the British and its allies via the Continental System to think that an enormous country like Russia can really be made to feel punitive damages from the freezing of isolated assets abroad.

Despite his much-touted KGB background, I find Putin's behavior more in line with Peter the Great than the Bolsheviks, from his very selective repressions to his promotion of greater Russian power and technology.  Putin is no Stalin—literally: he is the “Man of the Way” rather than the “Man of Steel” (“put’” is the Russian word for “way”—thus “Sputnik” was “one going on the way with” aka “Companion”).  Coincidentally, the first time I visited Odessa, there was a banner at the front of the newly-renovated Presbyterian church, the verse from the Gospel of John, which reads in English, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…”.  If only the people of Ukraine would see protection from “the Way” against this similarly-titled earthly leader--they'll see none from the West, despite our guarantees of national sovereignty when "On the Border" gave up its residual Warsaw Pact nuclear arsenal to Russia a quarter century ago.  Whatever happens, I trust that Christians there will fear only God and honor their king, whether he be Vladimir Putin or some sovereign they are able to select for themselves. 

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