Putin Is Not Stupid and That’s Good

How to account for the thinking of U.S. official and media hawks who apparently believe Russian President Vladimir Putin can be mousetrapped, or shamed, into invading Ukraine? Part of it seems to be mirror imaging.

The so-called "Blob" that runs US foreign policy recalls George W. Bush and Barack Obama sending tens of thousands of troops to the periphery of Iraq and Afghanistan, and then into those countries, because they could. What they could not do – until well after those invasions failed – was withdraw those forces lest the US be seen as a loser, raising doubts about the value of US commitments elsewhere. Shades of the bogus "domino effect" regarding Vietnam (if South Vietnam fell to the Communists so would the rest of Southeast Asia).

So the Blob sees the Russians massing troops near Ukraine because they can invade Ukraine and so it follows, as night the day, they will – the more so since President Joe Biden has said the US will do nothing to stop them. In the Blob’s purile view, if Moscow "chickened out" at this point the harm to its reputation would be incalculable. Here, for example, is the Washington Post quoting an anonymous official on this theme:

"… you don’t park battle groups … on the border of another country twice and do nothing," he said, referring to an earlier buildup last year. "I think that’s the real fear that I have. [Putin’s] now put them all out there. If he does nothing again … what does that say to the wider international community about the might of Russia?"

Troops Can Be Used for Other Purposes

Well, it all depends. The US uses troops for invasions, but other countries are accustomed to using them as leverage. Usually, that works better.

The US has just given Moscow a respectful and, on some key points, positive response to Russia’s far-reaching security proposals. Most significant, in my view, is Washington’s expressed willingness to address one of Putin’s foremost concerns, offensive missile deployment in parts of eastern Europe within range of Russia’s ICBM force. (See US Makes Putin Offer He Can Hardly Refuse.)

After Moscow was given the US "non-response" to Russia’s proposals, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there is "a kernel of rationality" in the US’s expressed readiness "to discuss a moratorium on deploying short- and medium-range missiles in Europe, something he pointed out President Vladimir V. Putin had earlier proposed. "This was rejected for the past two or three years," Mr. Lavrov said, "and now they are offering to discuss it."

On the Sunday TV talk shows yesterday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, a freshman pledging to join the Blob fraternity, dutifully repeated the dominant mantra. "There is a very distinct possibility that Vladimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine. … It could happen as soon as tomorrow or it could take some weeks yet," Sullivan told Martha Raddatz on ABC. They both devoted the lion’s share of air time to focus on real and imagined dangers, as well as on the (token) steps the US is taking to defend NATO allies that Russia clearly has no intention of attacking.

Sullivan did give a nod to what he called "the two-track approach" deterrence and diplomacy, which he noted the US has been pursuing "for months now."

A ‘Win-Win’?

When the foolishness flowing from the specter of Russia invading Ukraine started to gather steam, I tweeted the following "FALSE ALARM".

OK, I was off by a couple of months. I still believe a deal can be struck which both sides can and will characterize as a win-win; and that, in due course, Putin can pull most of those troops back to garrison with zero loss of face.

Another Debate with Scott Ritter

More recently, I had another mini-debate with my friend and colleague Scott Ritter, who sees things quite differently. (And, fair warning, my views continue to be in the minority.)

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Author: Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In the Sixties he served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then became a CIA analyst for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).