The Don Corleone of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is playing a game intended to simultaneously injure two major opponents without costing him much at all. For an explanation of why I refer to Putin as a mob boss, see this excellent July 2007 article by chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
Kasparov sounded alarming enough in July, but in light of Putin’s subsequent positioning to be the de facto boss of Russia for at least the next dozen years (a run of two decades), Kasparov is probably a little mild.
Now Michael Ledeen has a cleverly worded article that describes what the sly Putin is up to on the international scene. Whether one agrees with Ledeen or not, his article is pleasurable enough to read that I almost don’t want to give away his conclusions. But the gist of it is that Putin is using sleight of hand to dupe the U.S. (or Israel if that fails) into bombing Iran.
Putin’s plan, maintains Ledeen, is to get “the Americans to face the choice so elegantly stated by Sarkozy and Kouchner: Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran.” Ledeen says that the “complicated stratagem can easily derail.” But what exactly does Putin have to lose if it does fail? Although he won’t have succeeded in destroying the Iranian regime while appearing to have stayed above the fray, he won’t be worse off than he is today. He’ll just have to try a different strategy.
The eerie thing is that it looks like the game is currently going the way Putin wants it to go. The Iranians are working hard (with Russia’s help) to assert their obnoxious dangerousness. The U.S. and its allies are growing increasingly restless with this situation. If they act militarily, Iran will be humbled, but the U.S. will face harsh international and domestic criticism for its actions.
Nobody will blame Russia. In fact, Russia will appear to be standing on the sidelines as the situation spirals downward, sounding like the voice of reason. The cost to Putin if it works out this way will have been relatively minor. And with Iran out of the way, Putin will be able to extend and tighten his grasp in the region.
Why is the U.S. playing so easily into Putin’s hand? Why are we acting like a playing piece on Putin’s chessboard? Shouldn’t we act like a player and turn this dangerous game around before it goes any further?