The scene is a familiar one. Vladimir Putin is at the desk whence he has uttered his increasingly deranged speeches over the last few weeks.
An off-camera voice is heard. “Vladimir Vladimirovich, it has been determined that you are impaired in your thinking. You are psikh. Given your advanced age and the unlikelihood of cure, the remedy is to be one with which you are familiar.” Does a flash of panic appear in the former KGB lieutenant colonel’s eyes?
The pistol is heard, first the cartridge being chambered, the slide racked back and dropped forward into battery, then the sharp report as a little red-black dot appears in the despot’s forehead. He slumps onto the desk. For weeks, people will wonder at the lack of blood; some in the West who are themselves not far from psikh will claim for decades that this proves that Putin was not really killed, that he is alive and preparing to rise again. Those who are especially crazy welcome it.
I’ve taken a little liberty in describing the scene; in Soviet-Russian tradition, it would take place in the dank basement of a government building, with the leaden message coming from behind. Oh, the stories the basement of the Lubyanka could tell!
I do not know a single person of good will who would not welcome the event fictionalized above, not even those who, like me, would pray for Putin’s immortal soul. Whether a tyrant forfeits his life is our business, but what happens to him after that is infinitely above our competence, thank God.
It’s been an inspiring and tragic week. Ukraine’s actor president, who looks like a very young John Goodman, has showed the world’s poseurs what genuine courage is. So has his wife. So have uncounted tens of thousands of plain old Ukrainians, ordinary people, shopkeepers and students. They have been afraid but haven’t shown it and, most important, haven’t let it affect their resolve to do what’s right. Could you do it? I hope I could, but cannot be sure and would just as soon forego the opportunity to find out.
Wars begin for strange reasons; the path to hostilities is seldom a straight one. In this case, Putin’s thoughts of Ukraine are not unlike Donald Trump’s toward the 2020 election — an obsession that drove an unstable mind over the edge into madness. Armed with a made-up version of events as his justification, he managed to stew in the heated cauldron between his ears the idea that it was his holy mission to put things right. (I’m talking about Putin here, and I’m sad that the clarification is necessary.)
We’re seeing the outcome. And we’re hoping that cooler heads will prevail and that someone in his ever-tightening inner circle will see the wisdom in and necessity of putting Putin to sleep. That intelligent Russian adviser can think of Putin as a once-beloved pet that now has rabies and must be put down, if that makes the job easier.
The world isn’t all (or even any) “and they lived happily ever after,” because life continues beyond the current problem. Anytime we seek an instant solution, we’re obligated to let our thinking be moderated — not paralyzed — by the concomitant thought, “And then what?”
The odds are extremely good that whatever replaces the Russian despot we hope to watch achieve corpsitude on live (except for Putin) television will be an improvement. But our concern must not stop there. We need to make sure that the offending country does not end up embittered and vengeful.
The reason is simple and well known to any student of 20^th^ century history. World War I left Germany deservedly humiliated. The Weimar Republic that followed was, like Putin’s skull today, a stewpot of bitterness, anger, and political and economic failure — the ingredients that led Germany, beginning in 1933, to follow another angry madman, leading to the events of 1938 to 1945 in Europe.
So if — I think when — Russia gets crushed in its current lunacy, we must be quick not to punish the country but instead to show it a better way.
“The longest-lasting crime of Putin and the communists is the economic one they committed against their own country,” a close friend of mine who knows about these things said to me Monday. “Russia is resource-rich. It’s a $2-trillion economy, which is itself a crime. We can say, ‘Look: You can have freedom and a $10-trillion economy, and we’re happy to help you get there.”
Following the mistake following World War I, that’s what we did with Germany after World War II, and it worked out pretty well, I think most everyone would agree.
As much as we’d like to extract severe punishment on Russia for its atrocities in Ukraine, we need to let justice prevail. Sure, there are some in Putin’s coterie whose only value to the world would come in testing the stretchiness of ropes — good ropes aren’t very stretchy at all — and following the appropriate trials they should be put to work at that quick but important task. There should be a few modest sanctions, not the least being the substantial disarmament of Russia, because it has shown it’s not fit to play with big-boy toys. (Bear in mind: it was not until this week that Germany decided to re-arm following World War II, and that came only because of Russia’s adventurism.) But mostly we should extend a hand, not so much because we’re nice people (though I hope we all want to be that, too) but because doing so is to everyone’s advantage, including ours.
I’m a little fearful that this is not what would happen. Europe has historically been very cross about those who invade other European countries, and given its reaction to Russia’s current hegemony it’s not likely to make an exception this time. (I mean — Finland sent weapons to Ukraine, as did perennially neutral Sweden. Even always-neutral Switzerland — Switzerland! — imposed crippling economic sanctions on Russia.) Never a leader, Joe “Bugout” Biden continued his career of followership by pointing to Europe’s sanctions and saying, “through my strong leadership, us too.” (Or, as The Washington Post put it, “Surprised by the unusually rapid European decision, the White House scrambled over the weekend to catch up in drafting its own related measures, according to one American and one European official.”) Could the president finally get advantage from his trademark angry timidity by calming Europe in the days following a Russian defeat? Maybe, but I fear he’d blow that, too.
Hopes placed in Biden invariably lead to disappointment. In the State of the Union address last night, he rattled on about rest homes. Rest homes! He seems more concerned about his next place of residence than the duties attendant to his current one. State of the Union? Senate candidate Blake Masters saved us all some time: “The state of the Union is: energy dependent, wide open border, flooded with fentanyl, and $4 gas — but at least we have a National Gender Strategy!” Sorry to say, Biden is mutteringly senile and before that he was a ward-heeling mediocrity. Without his having agreed long ago to be political figurehead for sketchy labor unions, he’d just be a storefront lawyer in the low-rent section near the courthouse, between two bail bond offices. (That’s if he didn’t go into corporate law, in which case he’d be a disbarred lawyer recently given early release on account of his age and mental decline.)
I saw it written yesterday, “The President has united us — but it’s the President of Ukraine.”
By comparison, in his speech last night — don’t you just know that if you shook hands you’d find his handshake weak and slightly damp? — Bugout Joe spoke of Ukraine, but in self-congratulatory terms as if the war were over and he, personally, won it. With his usual masterful oratory, he spoke of “The hearts and souls of the Uranian people.” (He also informed us that “We’ve got more corporations in America than any other state in America,” and went on let us speculate that he watches Fox News and buys both “Relief Factor” and “Balance of Nature,” and maybe the sleep remedy Mike Huckabee thumps for: “I’ve ordered more pills than anyone in the world has.”
Ukraine will emerge triumphant, but the bow Biden takes afterwards will be undeserved. His one contribution might be, as the writer Dan McLaughlin put it, “In Russia, Biden finally putting to good use his expertise in economic ruin.”
I am, you might correctly say, assuming facts not in evidence as to Ukraine winning the war, now or later. For one thing, Russia hasn’t been defeated. Actually, the goal is less the defeat of Russia than the defeat of Putin. Does anyone doubt that the first order after Putin begins his journey toward room temperature will be the disengagement of the soldiers in Ukraine? One hopes that he knows this, but that also assumes facts not in evidence.
After a life of assassinating people for the KGB and on his own account, after a career making sure that death can come from anyone, from any direction, whether expected or not, he has to be haunted, at least, and likely terrified. He has also gone “full tonto” as the Brit defense minister put it. He has gone nuts. Where will it come from? he has to be wondering. Which familiar face will deliver the polonium-laced tea or the slug? Will it come from the sky, as if he were an ordinary Iranian terrorist?
Or maybe he, with some terminal illness, just doesn’t care and is taking a shot at a legacy — if he’s going to end, the world can, too. Whatever the motivation, he’s pretty clearly on his own and hoping that fear of him will be enough to see his project through to the end. He might have actually thought that he would be welcomed as a liberator in Ukraine, instead of what happened, which included even Russian-speaking Ukrainians taking some delight in berating Russian soldiers and shooting them.
Meanwhile, we’re learning that he tricked his soldiers into going to Ukraine in the first place, that many are surrendering, and that their morale is nonexistent. His artillery has the bravado that comes with being able to blow things up from a distance, but his infantry wants to go home.
As always, there are those who want to take things to dangerous extremes, which in this case means establishing a “no-fly” zone over Ukraine. Such things need to be enforced — easy if you’re grounding Iraqi planes, but not easy if you’re trying to ground Russian missiles. And it would lead to an all-out world war, which some of us would not welcome.
On the other side there are different, pro-Putin nutjobs. Yeah, there are some wackadoodle Putin supporters on the neo-Nazi right, but also extreme lefty Democrats and, in their way kookiest of all, the envirocrazies. Our nation’s chief envirowhiner, the largely forgotten (for good reason) John Kerry, responded to the likely invasion of Ukraine by saying — I’m not making this up — “I hope President Putin will help us to stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate.” And you’re paying his salary.
Europe has awakened from its sleep and has reminded us that it is older and more experienced than we are. Germany is re-arming, as mentioned above, but there’s more: the country is building two new liquefied natural gas terminals and stockpiling coal and gas. Unlike our own bratty eco-children, Germany’s Green Party is not only going along with it, but it’s in charge of the project. (We’d be able to supply the gas to those LNG terminals, too, if only Biden could get permission from his dominatrix, a junior congresswoman from New York.) Perfectly sound from both environmental and energy independence standpoints, France has announced it will build 14 new nuclear power plants.
Those things would be a good idea even without a Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, here we should do what we can to increase our energy production, though that probably involves sending Bugout Joe off to that rest home he’s apparently admiring. It requires telling the extremely loud but extremely tiny minority to sit the hell down and shut the hell up and in any case ignoring them, so it would have to be after this November’s election. I was just yesterday looking at pictures from four years ago of Ohio University students, probably none of whom were paying full freight — they expect you to pay off their student loans — and most of whom, I would bet, were seeking degrees in the various Departments of Useless Studies, demonstrating on the local courthouse steps. They were waving communist and socialist banners. They, too, deserve to be ignored, now and forever. (As does CBS — yes, it surprisingly still exists — which yesterday discovered — horrors! — that transgenderism is not high on the to-do list in Kyiv.)
Even so, I keep getting drawn to an interesting anomaly, a paradox, derived from where we began: At this moment, in this world, 92 grains of copper-jacketed lead in the right place is worth more than 10 tons of gold.
And at a shielded hideout deep in the Urals, there is someone who could make that happen.