Thursday, February 05, 2015

Putin's Thought

I saw a couple of pieces on Putin's thinking recently, here and here. I don't know of any reason that these theories ought to be taken especially seriously, but they are at least thought provoking.

The first link is to a 2008 Pentagon study that suggests that Putin has Asperger's, an autism spectrum condition.

Putin's "neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy," wrote Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Studies of his movement, Connors wrote, reveal "that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality."

Since I tend to think that anyone achieving great political power is nuts in some way, this wouldn't surprise me, but I think this sort of diagnosis in absentia is absurd, I don't take it seriously, either. Even if it's true, it's far from clear that it would have important implications.

The second analysis, by Walter Russell Mead, is more concerned with geopolitical strategy, but not necessarily any better founded.

The trouble is that the contemporary Western mind has a hard time grasping a basic truth about both Putin and ourselves; we are not the world, and Putin is not us. There are three subjects on which virtually everybody in the Western policy and intellectual establishments agree: think of them as the core values of the Davoisie: The first is that the rise of a liberal capitalist and more or less democratic and law-based international order is both inevitable and irreversible. The second is that the Davos elite—the financiers, politicians, intellectuals, haute journalists and technocrats who mange the great enterprises, institutions and polities of the contemporary world—know what they are doing and are competent to manage the system they represent. The third is that no serious alternative perspective to the Davos perspective really exists; our establishment believes in its gut that even those who contend with the Davos world order know in their hearts that Davos has and always will have both might and right on its side.

But Putin lives and thinks outside of the Davos box. By Davos standards, Putin is a heretic and a renegade. He thinks the whole post-historical Western consensus is a mix of flapdoodle and folderol. It is, from his perspective, a cocktail of ignorance, arrogance, vanity and hypocrisy, and he wants no part of it.

...

What the West doesn’t understand about Putin is that he doesn’t think the West is as strong as the West thinks that it is. Putin thinks the West has fallen in love with its own prejudices and illusions, and that the imposing structures of the Western world, both NATO and the EU in particular, are hollow facades. Because of this, Putin believes, the West continually embraces foolish foreign policy choices. It overreaches and underresources its foreign policy, and the result is to create a series of opportunities that a hungry power like Russia cannot afford to ignore.

From the Kremlin’s point of view, western power in Europe rests on two platforms. There is the global American hegemony, and then there is Germany, which has emerged as America’s sub-hegemon in Europe. Putin thinks that the Germans aren’t wise enough to rule Europe well, strong enough to rule it by force, or rich enough to rule it through economics and that Washington doesn’t understand that or, if it does, that Washington itself is too distracted or too weak to care. Either way, from Putin’s point of view, Germany’s position is much, much weaker than either Berlin or Washington understands.

At the same time, he believes that the American commitment to Europe is so weak that the United States will not react in a timely or effective fashion as Russia sets about the revision of the European order.

Putin sees Germany as the weaker, nearer, and, in the short term, more dangerous obstacle to his ambitions than the United States. His current policy is aimed incrementally at reducing American hegemony; it is directly aimed at disrupting what Putin sees as Germany’s attempt to create a new post-1990 order in its image and under its aegis.

I have no idea if Putin actually thinks any of that, but story itself has a certain plausibility. It's something someone might think, for sure. And it would help explain his persistent border aggression.