A Bare-Chested Machiavelli

by Victor Davis Hanson

It is unfortunate that Vladimir Putin could not use his formidable diplomatic skills at home to address his own near failing state rather than showcasing them abroad at our expense. Oh, well . . .

Without much effort, his Alice-in-Wonderland proposal of collecting WMD from Assad, in the midst of a civil war no less (does this mean a mandatory 24-hour time-out so that U.N. inspectors can rush in with clipboards and audit the ten warring sides?), all at once seems to have kept his Mediterranean coastal client Bashar Assad not just alive, but with the upper hand in the war just by — in theory, though unlikely in fact — eliminating 1 percent of the combined killing capacity so far demonstrated in the fighting. 

Putin, the leveler of Grozny, and absolutely callous to the first 99,000 killed in Syria, has advertised to the world his humanitarian empathy in preventing an American-led, new escalation of the war, supposedly to be waged over the last 1,000 dead.

He has reminded the “international community” and U.S. allies why they were absolutely baffled over the administration’s hazy aims, contradictory means, and uncertain desired ends, and in effect also reminded them why they were wise not to sign on to such a directionless and capricious agenda. 

He has made a floundering Barack Obama grasp onto a supposed life line, reduced the rhetorician John Kerry to a caricature of John Kerry, and now has almost controlled the entire pulse of the ill-thought-out and poorly planned U.S. preemption — which is being reduced to something like “at least we inspired Putin’s ridiculous idea in the first place and only our threats produced such an unhinged Russian response.” How strange that Putin is supposedly enhancing the Obama administration’s weird notion that it is not who controls and uses WMD that matters, but the mere existence of WMD itself that almost spontaneously kills people.

This charade will last as long as Obama is intent on bombing to recover his own lost credibility over his unfortunate red lines, and as long as Putin can keeping producing a new phantasm as quickly as the prior one disappears. No doubt his well-timed efforts have altered the contents of tonight’s presidential address, and later this week he will do something again to alter the alterations of the presidential address.

One would have thought Putin wielded the huge military, enjoyed the cachet of being a Nobel laureate, was surrounded by just-war theorists, and led the world’s largest democracy and economy.