I begin with the premise that Putin is not a madman, neither insane nor crazy. If your politics requires you to deem otherwise, you cannot reach an agreement with him. Democrats like to believe that Trump and Putin both are insane dictators. By contrast, they perceive Joe Biden to be the epitome of measured contemplation. That says plenty.
I deem Putin to be sensible and logically motivated. Primarily, NATO has not admitted Russia but did accept a theocratic, dictator-driven regime in Recep Erdogan’s Turkey. Putin does not want an oppositional NATO stationed on his western flank, with NATO weapons and armed forces able to strike anything dynamic Russia tries to do. Is that unreasonable?
Putin has acted grievously by invading Ukraine, but his determined opposition to a NATO polity on his border is comprehensible. We Americans have made clear, almost from our founding, that we will not abide foreign countries coming to the Western Hemisphere to engage in mischief. We call it “The Monroe Doctrine.” By 1962 we still were ready to go to nuclear war to get Russian missiles out of Cuba.
(Most college students today would assume our “Monroe Doctrine” has something to do with Marilyn Monroe and her white dress over the New York subway sidewalk air vents. It is what it is. Tear down Teddy Roosevelt monuments, ban naming public schools for Abraham Lincoln. One of these days a bunch of AOC acolytes will start pneumatic-drilling and digging up the pavement of the FDR Drive and moving the cement somewhere. Really, that is the way to honor heroes in the future: skip the school namings, and let pigeons find somewhere else to see a man about a horse. Name highways and freeways for Columbus.)
In addition, Putin wants to be remembered as Putin the Great, akin to Russian historic dominant figures like Catherine the Great and Peter the Great. History has had others: Alexander the Great, André the Giant, Charlemagne (Charles the Great). Others of note have included Vlad the Impaler, Hans the Great, Philp the Fair, Charles the Bald, and Stan the Man. Putin has held various leadership positions the past twenty years: Russian President from 2000-2008 and 2012 until now, Prime Minister from 1999-2000 and 2008-2012. Initially, a guy like him has the goal of holding on, not getting assassinated or impeached-and-ousted. Soon, he sees he can hold on, so redirects his life foci on getting reelectedas often as possible. Then he starts aiming to stay in office even after he is termed-out. (Abu Mazen aka Mahmoud Abbas of the “Palestine Authority,” elected January 2005, now is in the 17th year of his five-year term.) Once they have been in power a long time, as Putin has, they begin thinking more about Wikipedia and legacy.
Russia expanded to an imposing empire during its Stalin-Khrushchev-Brezhnev USSR days. The empire crumbled under Gorbachev. I am happy it crumbled; Putin is not. He does not want to be remembered for losing Russia’s status to China. When states tried to break off from America in the mid-1800s, a Civil War erupted. There were lots of reasons for the Civil War, and almost all are extraneous to this discussion. But one factor — whether major or minor — is that the Union wanted the country to retain its maximized size, not to let states just walk away. That is the same reason California and New York each will not allow large conservative populations to break off from those rabidly progressive states today. It is the reason the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will not accede to split as have other over-sized circuits. (The Fifth, for example, split into a smaller Fifth Circuit and an Eleventh Circuit when it got too big.) The Union simply did not want a half dozen Dixie states breaking off if they could be militarily coerced into remaining part of the Union.
(Note to college kids, especially political science and American history majors: The “Union” was the “North.” “North” is the direction that is on top on most maps. They were for Lincoln and anti-slavery. The “South” was called “Dixie.” It also was called the “Confederacy.” TMI? LOL. “Dixie” has nothing to do with Dixie cups, and you still may drink from them without being expelled from college for systemic racism. Slavery existed in Dixie, also called the “South.” “South” is opposite of “North,” and it usually is on the bottom, but they are not literally living inside the ground. It also just-so-happens that South Dakota is in the North, and North Carolina is in the South. I will explain more about that another day. The other directions are “East” and “West.” “Eastward” sounds like Clint “Eastwood,” and he is to the right, so “East” is to the right. That means only one other side is left. So “West” is “left” on maps.)
Just as Lincoln went to war for five years to retain the South in the Union, Putin wants his empire back. He went to war to hold on to the Republic of Georgia. (College kids: That’s a different Georgia, not where the Atlanta Braves play and where peaches grow. That Georgia has the same name as our Georgia because they both are named for guys named George. It’s like how there is Charleston, West Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina because of kings named “Charles.”)
Putin has warred to take back Crimea, Georgia, and rebuild the empire. He always has wanted Ukraine, too. Putin carefully refrained from invading when George W. Bush or Donald Trump was President. Rather, he carefully engaged empire-building only when Obama and Biden presided. That is not the methodology of a madman but of a logical player. Similarly, he waited for Biden to be in office for an entire year so the invasion would not be seen as a frontal insult against Biden, as if to say “Trump left on Monday, and Biden came in on Tuesday, so I attacked on Tuesday.” Rather, Putin wanted to avoid being overtly insulting, which could have forced Biden into face-saving leadership. He further delayed another three or four weeks beyond a year — well after January 21, 2022 — for the Winter Olympics to play out. That way, universal opposition would not be staged while the entire world would focus at the same place at the same time. This all reflects measured contemplation.
The invasion is a terrible thing.
One response is to make it a million times worse by neoconservatives sending in American boys and adventurously trying to “nation-build.” Bad idea. Hamas and Hezbollah see democracy and free elections, and soon they are electing dictators while showing off their purple-inked fingers. The Arab Muslims of Gaza were bequeathed democracy, so they elected Hamas terrorists.
Better Idea: negotiate a deal that gives Putin and Zelensky each what he really wants and needs.
Here, Ukraine wants to live as a free, independent country. After many centuries of history, they have demonstrated entitlement to that. It would have been nice if they had skipped engaging in centuries of pogroms and anti-Jewish massacres, with some of the worst this past century when their nationalists assisted the German Nazi Einsatzgruppen.
As for Putin, he wants his empire back and wants NATO off his tail.
Ukraine needs somehow to enter into a promise they will never apply to join NATO, will never join NATO even if bequeathed membership, will remain neutral in any NATO-Russia conflicts. If they cannot make that undertaking, I don’t see how they get Putin to back off. By contrast, if they do, then just we gotta figure out how Ukraine remains independent — but also part of Putin’s empire.
I look at Canada. They are independent but are part of the United Kingdom. Here is their Royal Anthem. (And here is one of their finest anthem moments.) Despite their independence, the Canadians also have some kind of affiliation with the Brits. None of them endeavors to win plaudits for cuisine. (“Wanna do Italian or Chinese, or maybe French or Thai tonight? Naah, let’s eat British or Australian. Know where we can find a great Canada restaurant?” Never.)
Really, that cuts the deal. Russia and Putin have no interest in returning to communism anyway. Ukrainians and Russians speak similar languages, have similar cultures. Now that Ukraine has demonstrated to Putin that he cannot just roll over them, Putin may actually prefer getting done. But he absolutely has to emerge the winner. Dictators who lose get assassinated. Therefore, he has to paint any deal as his big win. Let him keep Ukraine out of NATO, add Ukraine to some kind of Russian equivalent of the UK, maybe with their own new anthem, “Take Me Out to the Hockey Rink,” and we all return to watching what else Biden and Pelosi can mess up while Kamala giggles and cackles.
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