Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Odessa, 1890-1900. A bad place for Tsarist troops. Photographium.
It's hard to imagine David Brooks confiding his secret thoughts to a diary, but if he did I'm sure it would show in particular the spectacle of a man hiding from himself: a resentful debate with everyone who's ever offended him, from literary critics to ex–significant others, covering up the cold-sweat terror that their disrespect might be justified. And if Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin kept a diary it would be the same kind of wounded, truculent response to the insults he won't publicly acknowledge, trying to prove not to them but to his own frightened heart what the heart knows is wrong.

But when Brooks tries to devise a secret Putin voice in one of those channeling columns, it's the jauntily confident voice of a DC Comics supervillain, and the views are Brooks's own:

Machiavelli was right. Fortune is a woman; only the audacious win her love. That’s why my technique has always been to create facts on the ground. Act first, while everyone else dithers. Force them to react to my reality. That’s why I alone am Mr. Big on the world stage. Heroes drive history, and I will not be ignored!
I believe it was old Mr. Safire who invented the channeling genre as a kind of adman's gambit for giving the impression he knew more than he did, and young Ms. Dowd who refined it into a vehicle for retailing gossip too infantile and unsourced to publish in a straight form, and unembarrassable shtik on the Jay Leno level. I can't quickly find an example, but here's one from a related technique, the secret celebrity conversation, in Dowd's imaginary Barack (or "Barry" as she likes to call him) Obama, in 2008:
“Hillary, I don’t trust you. And Michelle hates your guts. Look, the Senate is a wonderful place. I enjoyed my two months there. You’ve never made the most of the experience because you were so busy using it as a launching pad.”
Brooks, of course, doesn't do gossip, and he used up his supply of shtik years ago. His intellectual poverty in a job like this makes old Mr. Safire look like Henry James; all he's got is his prejudices, and an agenda, which in this case would be to concern-troll President Obama for failing to bring forth for the good the vigor and decisiveness that Putin brings for evil.
First, I’m going to evict the Westerners from Ukraine. I liked it better when the West conquered countries with the 82nd Airborne; now they just use the I.M.F. Fortunately, as one expert put it, they always bring a baguette to a knife fight. The West will not actually spend the money necessary to keep Ukraine out of bankruptcy. They won’t want to hand it over to corrupt officials who will immediately ship it to London....
Then I’ll insinuate myself and manipulate electoral reform law. I can squeeze them with oil and gas supplies. I’m already enlisting Russian troops to preserve the Crimea. If the country threatens to split up, there’s always the Georgia solution. Send in the troops. The West won’t like it, but what will they do? If they try to hurt me, I’ll stop cooperating on Syria, Iran and the places that really matter to them.

Oh right, Russia is definitely going to go occupy the territories of South and East Ukraine with their close to 24 million inhabitants just like Abkhazia. Just as the 82nd Airborne took Afghanistan and Iraq when David Brooks was serving as a Keyboard Commando in the previous American Empire. Luckily, Putin, while no doubt a very bad man and a fearful man and indifferent to human suffering, may not bring a baguette but he doesn't bring a bazooka to a knife fight either.

Yes, it is likely that there are Russian troupes troops (I didn't mean to suggest they were purely theatrical) on their way to Crimea as reported in an extraordinary storm of excitement from the wingnut press: Alex Jones, beforeitsnews (and may never become news), International Business Times. It's a more or less inevitable development given the 25,000 Russian sailors at their base in Sevastopol, who need to be protected, in a very unstable situation, but there's no reason to think of it as a prelude to World War III.

Yes, he can squeeze them with oil and gas supplies. And money too (incidentally the current crop of corrupt officials has run away and the next lot is not installed yet, making it a very good time to give the country some money, whatever imaginary Putin may think). What destroyed Yanukovych, in fact, was not his tyranny or outrageously bad taste but his breaking of a very solemn campaign promise, without which he could not have been elected, that he would push forward Ukraine's membership in the EU. When he yielded to Putin's oil and gas and money blackmail and his personal connections with Russia instead is when he lit up the Maidan. If Putin wants to press the next president still harder, it is really not going to work.

Yes, Putin can stop cooperating on diplomatic negotiations in Syria and Iran and maybe they can leave the Middle East Quartet too (Brooks has a hard time remembering that one), but he is as desperate for the respect of the West as any Russian despot has ever been (and they all have been, for centuries),  or as David Brooks is for, say, the respect of Tom Friedman, who you can see him trying to impress today (no hope that he will, of course: Friedman is merely wrong about almost everything, not completely uninformed). It's not going to happen.

Which is not to say that things are not pretty frightening in Ukraine at the moment for a number of reasons, of which Putin's personal anxieties are one. But Brooks's bloodthirsty language is not appropriate, and would be pretty unhelpful if anybody listened to it. Fortunately, that won't happen either.
Grigoriy Myasoedev, Embarkment in Yalta, 1890. Wikipaintings.
Driftglass is quite a bit more fun than me today, having gotten the cartoon aspect some hours earlier than I did
gobbets of interior-monologue villainy so cartoonish it virtually Bwahahahas!!! --
and the whole thing of how idiotic it is for Brooks to imagine he has a concept of how Putin thinks; while I seem for a change to be angrier than he is. I did come up with my own bwahahaha before I saw his, though. Just so you know.

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