This tale of geopolitical derp is just the latest cool story to come out of the Pentagon. Marie Antoinette playing peasant while the Real Peasants of the Ile de France (TM) starved only looked bad.
The peanut gallery at Naked Capitalism hit the nail on the head (probably because the Americans do populism better than the French):
That’s an American nickname for him, by the way. One of the entertaining, if disturbing, advantages of hereditary rule in a country with powerful republican sentiments is that it occasionally elevates buffoons to the top of the totem pole, in the process stripping them of their residual decorum. Isn’t it a funny country!
Putin has autism? Well hello, then, I’m General Stroganoff. Prithee, m’lady, would you care to partake of my Beef? Vladimir Putin is dead last among prominent world leaders who might possibly have any condition remotely resembling autism. He has a degree of social savvy and aplomb that hardly exists in official Washington. Bill Clinton is the only recent US president to rival Putin’s social competence. He expresses it very differently, of course, but both of them are naturals. Clinton and Putin have to appeal to different cultural touchstones because they’re trying to manipulate very different countries. Clinton is an Arkansan who uses false modesty to pretend to be a down-home caricature of Truman or Eisenhower; Putin is a KGB alumnus who uses (mostly) understated bravado to mimic the synthesis of Soviet Russian Jack Bauer and a hagiography of Peter the Great. Either of these guys makes the average Washington politician look like a tongue-tied empty suit: John Gigolo “Why the Long Face” Kerry, who is no longer in a position to be fired for the sorts of tendentious, condescending comments that cost him the 2004 presidential election; Kerry’s freakish, socially climbing underlings Victoria Nuland and Jen Psaki; most of Congress; Hillary Clinton, whose presidential candidacy, if you think about it, makes more sense as a shell company for the tacit recoronation of her husband in a Cardinal Richelieu capacity, or maybe as a role switch to satisfy constitutional formalities in the two-for-one deal that some observers always thought the Clinton Administration was, than as a campaign to elect Hillary for the sake of electing Hillary. At least with Bill, the general understanding was that the country may have been under the leadership of a sleazy lech, but at least it wasn’t in the vise grip of some buffoon, as long as Ken Starr was kept out of the way.
The point of a Bill Clinton analogy is that Vladimir Putin is an excellent communicator who knows what the fuck he’s doing. Most Americans don’t know that a Putinism, unlike a Bushism, is the polar opposite of a malapropism. My favorite Putinism is one offering to deal with Islamic radicals by having them circumcised in the classic John Wayne Bobbitt style. It translated something like this: “Ours is a religiously pluralistic country, and we also have specialists on that question. I invite anyone who is interested in becoming an Islamic radical to come to Moscow, where our doctors can cut it off in such a way that it will not grow back.” This is, so to speak, a cut above, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
This bizarre autism accusation is part of an extremely troubling trend in Western government circles towards the Manichean splitting of everything in sight into doubleplusgood or doubleplusbad. There are reasons why splitting is a diagnostic criterion for mental disorders. To be at all competent in life, one has to be able to roughly understand one’s adversaries. Being able to distinguish a person’s moral character from his social skills is not too much to ask.
As Westerners, we should be alarmed that our leaders are either unable or unwilling to make such basic distinctions. Our leaders had trouble assessing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, simultaneously dismissing him as a nut and accusing him of being an existential menace to Israel and its allies. More accurately, he was a religious hardliner who was willing to burn some political capital with moderate and liberal Teheranis in order to build political capital with rural conservatives, and he was a much more effective communicator than he appeared at first glance. In these senses, he’s a sort of Iranian George W. Bush. Western leaders were truly idiotic to play into his agenda when they could have stood back and watched him wear out his welcome with his own constituents by saying too much provocative shit; instead, they insisted on displays of belligerence that convinced Iranians that he was more or less right. With Putin, however, the reckless idiocy is even worse, since Putin is a less divisive and more competent leader than Ahmadinejad was. He’s honest and humble enough with the Russian electorate to make a strong case that he is trying but so far largely failing to pull Russia out of an economic catastrophe orchestrated by nefarious Western powers. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies have been screwing the pooch with two major powers whose main goal is to have a thriving oil trade with other countries.
The splitting is on grotesque display in the recent convention of calling any soldier or policeman working on behalf of an approved allied government or quasi-state actor a “hero,” no matter how useless or dishonorable his conduct, and calling anyone who successfully attacks an allied power a “coward.” The Jordanian King, Abdullah II, has gotten in on this Orwellian trend in the scramble to condemn the immolation of air force pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh by ISIS. In point of fact, what ISIS did to him was neither bravery nor cowardice, but psychopathy straight out of hell. Kasasbeh was the sole prisoner in the custody of several heavily armed guards, any of whom could have shot him dead on sight had he resisted or tried to flee. Nothing is gained by calling these men cowards.
On the other hand, much is lost by calling the 9/11 hijackers cowards. It takes great physical courage to fly a jetliner into an office tower on a suicide mission. The courage required has nothing to do with the good or evil of the mission or whether the mission accomplishes its strategic objectives. Courage and cowardice are on a completely separate axis from good and evil, and even on a separate axis from competence and incompetence. Many armies throughout history have sent brave soldiers on strategically disastrous missions, but these are strategy problems, not cowardice problems.
It should be self-explanatory. In post-9/11 America, it apparently isn’t. If anyone with access to nuclear weapons succeeds in having a true Curtis Le May moment in this death-wish standoff with Russia, it will almost certainly be an American. Vladimir Putin and his entourage are the only reliably cool heads in the room. Our officials are the ones who are the hair-trigger offense trolls thrashing around on the geopolitical stage like bulls in a china shop. It’s doubtful that Putin is offended by the autism smear. He’s proficient in English (by some accounts, he’s fluent), and he’s steady-as-she-goes, so he’s probably thinking, holy shit, these people are completely fucking insane, an entire government of unhinged Le May mini-mes and not a JFK in sight. If he’s rattled, it isn’t because we’ve lost our manners; it’s because we’ve lost our minds.
Let’s make beef, not war.