Tuesday, November 1, 2016

What Does Putin Want?

Why would Vladimir Putin want to interfere in our elections?   For obvious reasons.

On neighboring St. Simon's island, there is a large photo at the Lighthouse museum of the G8 summit on nearby Sea Island.   What is interesting about the photo is that of all the world leaders pictured from 2004, only one remains on the world stage, Vladimir Putin.

Of all these world leaders from 2004, only on remains in power.

Arguably the richest person in the world, Putin rose to power simply by taking it (and his wealth) from others and from the Russian people.  Those who stood in his way were jailed or killed.   Russia is a Kleptocracy, and Putin is the head thief.    He is, however, the de facto leader for life of that country, and that is not about to change anytime soon.   In other words, we are back to where we started with Russian leaders, with despots anointed for life.

What Putin wants, of course, is to keep his wealth and expand it if possible.  He also wants to stay in power.  And to do these things, he needs to expand the power and influence of Russia, to recapture some of its former glory.   Along the way, the Russian people may benefit from this, as they nibble on the crumbs from Putin's feast.    Since they are used to starving, they support Putin wholeheartedly as he promises to bring back their former glory ("Make Russia Great Again!") and improve their standard of living.

World politics is a lot like chess.  There is a lot of gamesmanship involved.   And what weakens your opponent arguably empowers you.   So it is logically in Russia's best interests if the United States became weaker in terms of its economy, military, and influence in the world.   And it would be helpful if Europe was less united under the EU and more divisive and bickering.

This alone doesn't make Putin evil or anything (imprisoning, torturing, and killing his opponents does).  He is merely playing the world chess game and doing better at it than his predecessors.   And some would argue, better than we are.

Some in the United States would just assume walk away from the game.   After all, why do we need to interact and intervene in countries with value systems so opposed to ours, and as the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrates, countries that will never accept our Western values.  The idea that Democracy would flourish in 3rd world countries now seems laughable, but at the time of the G8 summit, that was exactly Bush's plan.

From Putin's perspective, the strategy is simple.   Disruption, disinformation, disorganization.   Putin thus loves Trump as Trump is a "disrupter" of the existing system.   Trump also makes noises about leaving NATO and leaving Europe, Japan, and South Korea undefended.   Trump also is a divisive figure in the US.   People are actually talking about reverting to civil war if he doesn't win.   That certainly would weaken the US on the world stage.  His isolationist agenda would mean that the US would have a diminished impact on the world stage, leaving a path open to opportunists and dictators.

Economically, Trump is a disaster for the US and a windfall for Putin.   If Trump's protectionist ideas were enacted, our economy would suffer - if not crash - and our economic impact on the world would be diminished.  Russia and China would be the major players on the world stage, which of course is exactly what Putin wants.

Of course, it isn't just Putin who wants to see Trump elected.   North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un has endorsed Trump (through his propaganda branch) as a "wise choice" for America.   Trump's promise to leave South Korea undefended from attacks from the North is, of course, the main reason why.

One of the most ruthless dictators in the world endorses Donald Trump and the world fails to take notice, because some e-mails were found which might have stuff or something.  Or not.

But I doubt it ends with Kim Jong Un.  Philippine Dictator Rodrigo Duarte isn't exactly endorsing Trump, although he seems to be playing a playful version of the Reality Television drama that both politicians seem to revel in.   Duarte wants to re-align his country with China and throw out the US, including any military presence.   Trump's isolationist stance would seem to dovetail with that dictator's goals admirably.

And the same could be said to be true with Venezuela as well - or Cuba for that matter.   Rather than engage the world - which is a messy process that often ends in setbacks and disasters - Trump would rather turn tail and ride home, hunkering down in his bunker and shutting out the rest of the world.

Isolationism is, of course, nothing new, and in fact it defines America for almost its entire existence.  "No foreign entanglements!" was the battle cry of the first Century of our existence, while "no more foreign wars!" was the mantra of the second.  America had to be drawn, kicking and screaming, into both World Wars, and emerged as a superpower not by design, but by default.

We can't blame Putin for being Putin.   He will do what he thinks is in the best interests of Russia and his own financial empire.   We would be foolish to expect him to do otherwise.   The reason he is intervening in Syria is simply to expand his influence in the region by re-installing Bashar al-Assad as the head of State there, and quashing any rebellion or dissent.   The result will be, of course, that Assad will be beholden to Russia, and Russia will have a strong ally in the region, much as we do with Saudi Arabia et al.

And yes, these can sometimes be odious allies.   Sadly, the world isn't divided into good guys and bad guys, and we don't always get to choose.   When it comes to the Middle East, we really are looking at a "basket of deplorables" in every corner - including even Israel.   (I have a friend who decries that Israel is a "terrorist country" but of course he fails to recognize exactly how odious the governments of all the neighboring countries are - including the Palestinians.    Israel may have its flaws, but relatively speaking, it is at the top of the middle-eastern dung heap, which of course, isn't saying much.  If you think Israel is a bastion of freedom in the Middle East, think again.   Like its Arab neighbors, it has its share of religious fundamentalists.  Same shit, different house).

It is, of course, comforting to sometimes think, "Hey, fuck the rest of the world.  Let them figure out things on their own.   Let's concentrate on our own prosperity here at home!"   It would be nice to retreat to our lair and be insular and safe.

The problem is, it is just a fantasy.   While we are retreating, others would be advancing.   And in short order, the safety of our insular lair would be at risk.  Isolationism, like protectionism, has never been shown to work, and both have resulted in disastrous consequences for the United States (or indeed, any country).

We need to think carefully about electing a candidate who is endorsed by our enemies.   There has to be a reason they like him.   And it is not a reason that is favorable to us.