There are a few things on TV I simply can’t watch, as I will wake up 6 hours later with drool running down my face. Texas Hold ’em poker on ESPN Ocho is chief among them. These games can go on for hours. There is invariably at least one player who bluffs his or her way into the final table while being dealt average cards.
This week we’ve watched the unthinkable unfold in Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin is the player who somehow made it to the final table with very average cards. Russia has a GDP of approximately $1.5 trillion and a per capita GDP of approximately $10k. This compared to the United States GDP of around $20 trillion and per capita GDP of $59k. When a game with a chip disparity of this significance begins, the only way the player with fewer chips moves on is better cards…or deception.
While Putin has been dealt some decent cards (Russia has many natural resources in demand and cyber capabilities), he is a master of deception. In The Man Without A Face, Marsha Green outlines Putin’s life from his early days in the KGB to his rise to President of post-perestroika Russia. Here is the melody line: this man is an asocial thug that will destroy anyone or anything who he perceives to be a threat. If you want to take a dirt nap in modern day Russia, pose a credible threat to the public narrative Vladimir Putin has personally authored for himself.
“A country which does not respect the rights of its own citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors.”
— Andrei Sakharov
Why, you may ask, is this man still relevant given Russian’s economic station in the world? When you have an asocial leader like Putin, an asocial response must be delivered by his people or other world leaders to neutralize the problem. There is no diplomacy with the asocial. They are not interested in negotiating. They are interested in eliminating threats, real or imagined. Putin has accumulated power by bluffing his way past the diplomats and high minded leaders of the West. He doesn’t need better ideas, he just needs to agitate the fringes of western democracies and watch them tear into each other. Once done primarily with diplomacy, we now have targeted social media campaigns achieving the same end. It is not by accident the Russians promoted the candidacy of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It is hard to focus on your international enemies when you are most agitated by the one’s with the yard sign next door.
It is interesting how many memes we are seeing on social media about how our current dilemma would differ if the 2020 election had turned out differently. We don’t need an asocial president. We need a President that will match disagreeable behavior without becoming disagreeable. Both JFK and Ronald Reagan managed not to blink in their moments of truth, while not becoming their Cold War counterparts. Our world leaders may have figured out Vladimir Putin falls in the asocial category just in time to avoid outright war in Europe. Unfortunately, it happened too late for the brave Ukrainians who are having to illustrate daily what courage looks like. All due to diplomatic dithering and twenty years of folding hands.
We all have people in our system who play with a small pile of chips and survive on deference from the diplomatic. Can you identify these people? Does your system tolerate this behavior? If so, your chronic pain is likely about to find acute status.