Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Is Putin putting the mad back into madman?

As if on cue from my blog post yesterday that compared Russian president Vladimir Putin and former U.S. president Richard Nixon, Putin today obliged with two perfect illustrations of the 'madman theory' I was referring to.

Holding what New Republic journalist Julia Ioffe described as a "dada press conference", the Russian president rambled and roamed.  I'll let Julia fill in the gaps from her article (the whole thing is worth a read):

"And much of that, by the way, is direct quotes."

This was swiftly followed by the announcement that Russia had test-launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The important thing to remember about the 'madman' theory, of course, is that it is designed to make your opponent think you are mad, unhinged, and so desperate that you might do just about anything.
It has a long pedigree, particularly on the Korean peninsula, where South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, was a keen practitioner (it is thought by some that it was from Rhee that Nixon picked up the tactic), and is still popular with the Kim dynasty in Pyongyang.

The New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz picked up on the theme on his Facebook page this afternoon.

So the bottom line is, don't panic!  Julia Ioffe believes that Putin's incoherence is a result of him receiving bad information.  Maybe I am a bit naive, but I think that he is more intelligent than that, and that his incoherence today was intentional and contrived, and designed to accompany the missile launch announcement, just to keep John Kerry on his toes as he visits Kiev today.

In the interests of fairness, however, I should probably direct you to this report from last November, entitled Is Putin going mad?, in the course of which a serious and senior journalist was forced to wonder 
Putin's bizarre utterances during Merkel's visit help paint a puzzling, even alarming picture. Is he in a fit state to run the country?
 So, you know, either the man who controls the second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world and who has just invaded a neighbouring country is either pretending to be mad, or actually is mad.  Or maybe he's just so good at the madman theory that he's been practicing for this moment for months.

I'll let you ponder that while I go and make dinner...

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