Commentary: The Choice of War or Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Rests on the Ability of Parties to View Each Other Differently

A unit of “buttoned up” Russian Federation Army BMP-3s rolls forward  while multiple launch rocket systems, obscured by smoke, fire in the background during Zapad-2021 Exercise (above).According to what is being reported publicly, positions on both sides during the Ukraine crisis are becoming more rigid. The convictions of both are most profound. Each day, the parties move closer to catastrophe. Still, the “game-clock” is not ticking in the red yet, and it is too early for parties to have run out of ideas. In support of the diplomatic process on Ukraine, and help ignite new ideas for successfully resolving the crisis, the intent here is to throw up at least some of the shutters to shed light on what may lie ahead, and to allow interested policymakers, decisionmakers, and analysts to extrapolate ways to encourage new thinking on available solutions from those scenarios during talks. Information that comes in on Putin and his actions, in particular, is seemingly judged via something akin to stare decisis. Whatever Putin has done before, and however the US and its allies have responded, is set as precedent for current conclusions and actions. The turn of events in recent times appear to have been missed. Old approaches may not be viable for new problems as they differ in far more than nuance with those of the past.

When considering the Ukraine crisis, those in Western governments and regional organizations with an interest in understanding the actual state of the matter cannot help but meditate on Putin’s current fixation on NATO. The general impression is that nothing was done by the US, United Kingdom, the EU countries, Ukraine, or NATO to threaten or provoke the Russian leader. NATO has indeed expanded eastward as Putin has decried. Yet, no one in the West would agree that its expansion could reasonably be perceived as threatening. As admirably explained, in brief, on January 26, 2022 by the BBC, only 6% of Russia’s borders touch NATO countries. Russia has good relations with some NATO members, like Italy and Hungary. Russia has even sold weapons systems to NATO member Turkey. Additionally, the presence of NATO on Russia’s border is nothing new. NATO, described as being in the shape of Norway, has been on Russia’s border for more than 70 years. Further, there is no sign that Ukraine, Georgia or other former Soviet republics will be joining NATO any time soon. Beyond the usual, go-to conclusion that Putin’s actions are meant for domestic consumption, hoping to unite the Russian people against a foreign foe, it has been suggested Putin may have made his move now because enough elements, that he has judged as favorable, have aligned to make it the right time to reshape the European security order in a way to benefit Moscow. Purportedly,  Putin hopes to re-establish Russia’s sphere of influence in a way resembling that of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Another popular view is that he is trying to rewrite the results of the Cold War.

Semper in fide quid senseris, non quid dixeris, cogitandum. (In an honorable dealings you should consider what you intended, not what you said or thought.) Rather than attempting to rewrite history, Putin would say that he is interested in getting Western governments to adhere to agreements he insists were reached in the period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Over a decade ago, it was rather popular in foreign policy circles in the US to label Putin as a revanchist, hoping to regain territory in the former Eastern Bloc lost to the US and NATO. Putin, unconcerned with Western labels for him, has stood fast, not retreating one jot from his beliefs on the matter. According to Putin, the agreements he refers to included guarantees that NATO would not expand toward the borders of the then new Russian Federation. The US, United Kingdom, EU countries, and NATO stand fast, too, remaining confident in current circumstances. According to what is being reported publicly, positions on both sides during the Ukraine crisis are becoming more rigid. The convictions of both are most profound. Each day, the parties move closer to catastrophe. The chance of creating harmony and balance feels more distant. A scenario in which Ukraine would be divided East and West much as post-war Germany, following some furious Russian military action is becoming an all too real prospect. That is a hard saying. If that happened, Ukraine would surely reunite once again in the future, but after countless people, two or three generations of Ukrainians will have been torn to pieces and destroyed, an immense amount of human energy will have been tragically squandered in the business of killing, and the enormous potential of so many of its young people will have been lost forever. In the future, it will all be much harder to understand and to reconcile. 

Still, the “game-clock” is not ticking in the red yet, and it is too early for parties to have run out of ideas. In support of the diplomatic process on Ukraine, and help ignite new ideas for successfully resolving the crisis, the intent here is to throw up at least some of the shutters to shed light on what may lie ahead, and to allow interested policymakers, decisionmakers, and analysts to extrapolate ways to encourage new thinking on available solutions from those scenarios during talks. Information that comes in on Putin and his actions, in particular, is seemingly judged via something akin to stare decisis. Whatever Putin has done before and however the US and its allies have responded is set as precedent for current conclusions and actions. The turn of events in recent times appear to have been missed. Old ways of doing things may not be viable for new problems as they differ in far more than nuance with those of the past. Perhaps after thoroughly reflecting on the aggregate information and perspectives old and new, as a collective in the West and in Russia, top officials could become more flexible, discover ways to see things within their values and interests, and advance talks with those new ideas. Consilia res magis dant hominibus quam homines rebus. (Men’s [People’s] plans should be regulated by the circumstances, not circumstances by the plans.)

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above) speaking at a press conference following talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022. The higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. Such appears to be the approach Putin has taken with regard to halting NATO expansion and NATO Membership, and pushing it back with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. With regard to his military build up across from Ukraine in Russia, and Belarus, he most likely believes it will encourage the world to take him seriously. A Russian invasion would surely be adverse to the geostrategic interests, wants and wishes of the US and its Western allies. Perchance Putin believes his plan is working but very slowly. In the West, it would perhaps be said that he is well-off the mark.

Putin’s Threat of Military Action

The higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. Such appears to be the approach Putin has taken with regard to halting NATO expansion and NATO Membership, and pushing it back with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. With regard to his military build up across from Ukraine in Russia, and Belarus, he most likely believes it will encourage the world to take him seriously. A Russian invasion would surely be adverse to the geostrategic interests, wants and wishes of the US and its Western allies. (The tricky bit for Putin is that if he decided to actually invade Ukraine, in order to look credible or just sane, he would need to declare some plausible cause or have the ability to create a pretext, some artifice, to green-light Russia’s invasion. Intervention on behalf of ethnic-Russia was used previously.) Perchance Putin believes his plan is working but very slowly. 

He has seemingly taken the tack of a spider, attempting to draw Western policymakers and decisionmakers into his web. Perchance Putin believes it is working but very slowly. Four years back in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response”–in which greatcharlie was terribly prolix, it was explained that Putin manifests ambush predation in his approach to victims–for lack of a more adequate description of those acts against. In animals and humans, ambush predation is characterized by an animal scanning the environment from a concealed position and then rapidly executing a surprise attack. Animal ambush predators usually remain motionless,  sometimes concealed, and wait for prey to come within ambush distance before pouncing. Ambush predators are often camouflaged, and may be solitary animals. This mode of predation may be less risky for the predator because lying-in-wait reduces exposure to its own predators. If the prey can move faster than the predator, it has a bit of an advantage over the ambush predator; however, if the active predator’s velocity increases, its advantage increases sharply.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the US and its allies are doing on Ukraine and what the Ukrainians would prefer for them to be doing. Putin likely feels that moving against Ukraine would be as difficult as the “Western information blitz” would lead the Ukrainians and the world to believe. He would enjoy demonstrating to Europe and the world that in 2022, US promises to provide support for allies and partners is nothing to signify. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance to roll into Ukraine with relative ease would be his assessment of how inauthentic US assistance for Ukraine’s defense has actually been. To that extent, Putin might project his sense of how Russia was betrayed by the US and EU countries recommended mesmerising ideas for reforms from experts to the government of his predecessor, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, that unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy. Putin would explain that the solutions those Western experts enthusiastically prescribed and euphemistically called the “shock treatment” were experiments. Russia was their guinea pig.

 A unit of Russian Federation T-90M tanks with their long barreled 125-mm main cannon (above). As was discussed in the January 25, 2022 greatcharlie post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the US Intelligence Community had initially concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. Yet, there have not been large additions to the estimated 100,000 Russian troops already deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border. However, they are mostly kept in depots in echelon. Imaginably, the deployment of Russian forces is being executed in a cost effective manner. Nevertheless, the expense for all the petroleum and oil lubricants being used by the armor and mechanized heavy force must be enormous. If Putin wanted to completely terrorize his Ukrainian neighbors, he would be positioning a force of overwhelming superiority with additional forces.

Commitment of the US and Its Allies to Ukraine’s Defense

In The Histories (439 BC), thought by many scholars to be the founding work of history in Western literature, the renowned Hellenic author, Herotodus (484 BC-c. 420 BC), wrote: “No one is so senseless as to choose of his own will war rather than peace, since in peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons.” Truth be told, it seems that even outside of Moscow–especially in Kyiv lately–many believe that the sense of imminent threat of invasion felt in Western capitals and NATO is incommensurate with the rather deliberate speed in which Putin has deployed Russian troops into their present positions. 

As was discussed in the January 25, 2022 greatcharlie post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the US Intelligence Community had initially concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. Yet, there have not been large additions to the estimated 100,000 Russian troops already deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border. However, they are mostly kept in depots in echelon. Imaginably, the deployment of Russian forces is being executed in a cost effective manner. Nevertheless, the expense for all the petroleum and oil lubricants being used by the armor and mechanized heavy force must be enormous. If Putin wanted to completely terrorize his Ukrainian neighbors, he would be positioning a force of overwhelming superiority with additional forces in the mix, likely to include elements of Morskaya Pekhota Rossii (Russian Naval Infantry) or MPR, which has a force of around 12,000 personnel, including 800 frogmen, and Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU, which maintains a force of about 12,000–15,000 Spetznaz, special operations forces, primarily of contract soldiers. Added to that might be some of the well-trained paramilitary units of other bureaucracies such as the Ministerstvo Rossiyskoy Federatsii po delam grazhdanskoy oborony, chrezvychaynym situatsiyam i likvidatsii posledstviy stikhiynykh bedstviy (Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergency Situations and Liquidation of Consequences of Natural Disasters) or EMERCOM, with its 71,000 employees, including paramilitary units, on the alert for emergencies. Of course, the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, would likely be involved with post-invasion population control in captured areas. Urban contingencies are the strong suit of its troops. FSB is generally understood to employ about 66,200 uniformed staff, including about 4,000 Spetsnaz troops. It also employs Border Service personnel of about 160,000–200,000 border guards. Putin would organize a force that left no doubt that its purpose was to conquer and hold ground.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “War must be made as intense and awful as possible in order to make it short, and thus to diminish its horrors.” As the military situation is typically evaluated from the lens of Kyiv and Russian forces are compared with Ukrainian military capabilities, left out of the mix is the influence the Russian Air Force will have on the battlefield. It would be devastating. If the Ukrainians decide to rely on fixed defenses, they seem to be preparing defensive lines near their border, the worse the impact of airpower will be. The Russians will be able to attack in depth repeatedly with airpower. Various warplanes would become force multipliers. Additionally from the air, Ukrainians could expect missions to hold territory in-depth in Ukraine by Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV.

Ukrainian civilians being trained to use small weapons in preparation for war (above). Ukrainian civilians continue to make very brave declarations that in the event of Russian invasion, they will rush to the defense of their towns and cities, create an insurgency, and engage in guerilla warfare. Again, the higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. There is surely a political warfare aspect to all that talk. Deterrence is not limited to bean counting military strength and capabilities and matching them up for both sides. The Ukrainians are making it clear that the war will be far more costly in terms of casualties and strain on resources than might be worth the risk. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.” Perhaps it would be hoped that talk of an insurgency would conjure up thoughts and memories of the dreadful experience of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in which Ukrainian veterans, then Soviet soldiers, shared with their then Russian comrades, and the meat-grinder that was Chechnya in which Russian soldiers endured alone.

Ukrainian civilians continue to make very brave declarations that in the event of Russian invasion, they will rush to the defense of their towns and cities, create an insurgency, and engage in guerilla warfare. Again, the higher that one makes the risk out of proportion to the gain, there is less chance a proposition will be ignored. There is surely a political warfare aspect to all that talk. Deterrence is not limited to bean counting military strength and capabilities and matching them up for both sides. The Ukrainians are making it clear that the war will be far more costly in terms of casualties and strain on resources than might be worth the risk. “Le Petit Caporal“, Napoleon, has also been quoted as saying: “An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.” Perhaps it would be hoped that talk of an insurgency would conjure up thoughts and memories of the dreadful experience of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in which Ukrainian veterans, then Soviet soldiers, shared with their then Russian comrades, and the meat-grinder that was Chechnya in which Russian soldiers endured alone.

Certainly, Russian Federation Army commanders are more convinced by what they see than what they hear in the international newsmedia. Kyiv must also recall that while Putin was Russian Federation President, the civil war in Chechnya was fought to its conclusion. Lessons learned from that experience, and some appear to have been applied here and there in Syria. One obvious tack applied was using more airpower, less ground troops. Urban areas were practically obliterated by high altitude bombing. No pilots were flying on the deck with the Russian government’s property to eyeball targets and check for civilians in the vicinity. Russian ground troops were not invested so much in urban battles. There were no close quarters battles fought by large Russian units. As long as bold declarations to create an insurgency against Russian troops continue, the less chance care will be given to avoiding civilians during a Russian invasion.

Justum bellum quibus necessarium, et pia arma quibus nulla nisi in armis relinquitur spes. (War is just to those for whom it is necessary, and to take up arms is a sacred duty with those who have no other hope left.) In the aftermath of an invasion, Ukrainians civilians, thereby any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the FSB as well as the VDV and other well-suited Russian Federation Army units. They would perhaps need to do that long past the point when reasonably the towel might be thrown. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing. Paramilitary police units of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Public Security have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” to assist in the prospective zones. (Putin would likely love to have the Chinese involved in some fashion. He would prefer to share claim to such villainy with China.) It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Troops of the VDV on the move, mounted on a BTR-82A. Those mounted in the foreground are providing overwatch to the left (above). On the face of it, in the aftermath of an invasion, Ukrainians civilians, thereby any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the FSB as well as the VDV and other Russian Federation Army units. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing who have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” to assist in the prospective zones. It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Despite what is being patriotically exclaimed before any unwanted hostilities begin, Ukrainians might consider that political will might not exist in Western capitals after a Russian invasion to arm an insurgency against the Russian Federation Army which would be fought just across its own border in 2022. They only need to look at how Crimea has turned out. For greatcharlie, that is a hard saying. Further, Putin may have a plan for such the contingency of an insurgency supported by Western countries. Putin may choose to up the ante by repositioning several intermediate range missiles westward placing NATO Members at immediate risk of nuclear attack. Reasonable national leaders might believe Putin was being pushed over the edge and insist, out of concern for the well-being of their own countries’ security, that assistance to the insurgency be halted. 

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Putin likely found the “come hell or high water” decision to withdraw from Afghanistan despite conditions on the ground most instructive. The manner in which the US scrambled out of the country higgledy-piggledy was unexpected. When the decision was made to evacuate, policymakers and decisionmakers seemed to give insufficient care as to the lasting impression it would leave on thinking about the current administration in most national capitals, to include Moscow. He could have made the assumption that the US would behave in the same way if Russian forces, in some robust, noisy fashion, charged into Ukraine. In a high stakes game of chicken, until the last moment, one can hope the other guy will flinch.

Ukrainian Military Capabilities 

Truth be told, waiting for Russian forces to get deep enough into Ukraine to face ground units with javelin and stingers would be very polite, but self-defeating. It should be acknowledged that once those systems are fired, Russian commanders would know the positions of those units with the weapons, deduce their comrades similarly armed and their resupply were both nearby. (If they did not already have that information as a product of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, in a process of elimination in the truest sense of the term,, Russian commanders would sufficiently pummel those positions with firepower making the survival of those troops and their equipment unlikely. They would be far more amenable to expending large stockpiles of artillery rounds and rockets than to losing soldiers.

In brief, to really assist Ukraine, to give it a chance to break up and knock back any aggressive move by Russian forces, an abundance, hundreds, of deep strike assets could be provided to Ukraine in order to allow its ground forces to rapidly put direct and indirect fires on Russian armor and mechanized forces inside Russia at their lines of departure, assembly areas, and follow-on units in marshaling yards, and even transport hubs as soon as Russian forces cross the border. They could target equipment and facilities. Artillery units would need to act before superior Russian air assets and rockets and artillery can direct fire on available firing positions. Ukraine would need to operate a sufficient number of artillery pieces and rocket launchers so that enough batteries could potentially survive a blazing opening Russian bombardment. As was true when Russia engaged its troops in the fighting in Syria, the world will doubtlessly see some new, powerful weapons employed for the first time.

Acquiring massive amounts of heavy artillery and rockets and attempting to absorb the system in formations as quickly as possible at this stage would be a challenge. However, Ukrainian forces could rapidly establish highly mobile hybrid task forces of artillery, engineer, transportation, and special forces units which could operate the new weapons. Trained to mass fires on targets, remain highly-mobile, and to survive against an adversary with considerable counter-battery capabilities, the hybrid units could be placed under a new command dedicated to striking at Russian forces in depth to attrit their numbers and in doing so have a decisive impact in the battlefield. Command and control could be managed through rudimentary communications (e.g., Morse code and mirrors, even a relay system, could be used to synchronize attacks on preset coordinates along the likely line of advance, lines of communication, etcetera.). If there is no intention to try to act decisively on day one, it might be better to just let Russian forces move in, with albeit kamikaze-like attacks upon their armored and mechanized formations by small units to delay, disrupt and divert them, and pray for decisive outcome through a long and hard-fought insurgency.  Continue reading

Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.

With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine. 

Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)

To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)

Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington

If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a person in good health..

Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”

However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I.  And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy.  I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader.  We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit.  We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades.  And it depends on what it does.  It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.

While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.

Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.

As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.

Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.

Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the  majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.

Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.

In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.” 

To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.

Conceivably, Putin (above) began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat. 

Conceivably, Putin began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics. 

Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea,  as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)

Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing  significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.

To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that  would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.

Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier. 

To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.

Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)

Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” 

Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.” 

The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public.  With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for  committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.

Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.

To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.

Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.

Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then,  as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election. 

When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.

The Way Forward

Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. 

Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. 

What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)

Amplifying the Truth about the Denuclearization Diplomacy to Counter Flawed Interpretations and Negative Expectations: A Response to Readers’ Comments

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at Panmunjom in June 2019. It is important to hear from our readers, and necessary to directly address their latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue much of our effort has been dedicated to in the past couple of years, in this case the US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy. Although the diplomatic process has been long and there have been no big results yet, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. No reason has yet been found to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Hoping to provide greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here.

Following the publishing of our December 12, 2019 post, “Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, If Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others “, greatcharlie received a number of comments concerning its analyses of the US-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) diplomatic process on denuclearization. Perhaps the top five among those comments would be: discussions in posts are overly optimistic about the negotiations; discussions in posts are too supportive US President Donald Trump; discussions in posts are too understanding of North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un; discussions in posts fail to provide enough information about what is going on inside North Korean foreign and national security policy institutions (a rather immoderate expectation); and, discussions in posts are too critical of using overt sources, specifically US news media broadcasts, publications, and online posts, to draw inferences about the Trump administration’s future actions. All comments on greatcharlie’s work product, with the exception of the churlish few, are welcome. It is important to hear from our readers. It is especially necessary to directly address the latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue to which several of our posts have been dedicated in the past couple of years (in this case, US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy); they question the blog’s outlook; and, their comments arrive in considerable volume. Under the best circumstances, greatcharlie would like to be known for being a voice of common sense. The hope of greatcharlie is to earn its readers through the quality of our work. The hope also is to successfully act as a virtual listening post for our readers, discerning foibles from inside of governments, while being remote from it.

It stands to reason that many observers would have serious reservations about what is happening with the diplomacy on denuclearization and whether there is a genuine path to success under current circumstances. One could say there has been a lack of progress. Each summit between Trump and Kim, to include Hanoi, has been a “nearly but not quite” moment. Kim at first offered real hope that something positive could be constructed, it would be reasonable for some to sense now that he will provide in the end what he been best known for providing: disappointment and pain. To go further, one might presume that the North Koreans were never fully vested in the diplomacy and had not even tried to fully grasp the immense responsibility they shared with their US counterparts at this important point in their country’s history. One might be convinced that they simply sensed some prospect of exploiting, in some way, an opportunity that they still do not fully understand. (If they have surreptitiously taken that path, their greatest test may come soon enough when they must know what to say or do to prevent a war with an unbeatable opponent.) It has been said that a gentleman should know when to leave a party. Nonetheless, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. Struck by that, greatcharlie has not as yet found reason to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Optimism allows one to believe that there may still be some sort of eclectic masonry that Trump can build to create a link between the two countries. (Perchance this is the sort of optimism that some readers find so unsettling.) With the aim of providing greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here. Dicamus bona verba. (Let us speak words of good omen.)

Kim (center) gesticulating as he talks with North Korean officials. On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, surely the rational and reasonable could recognize the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept his proposal in some form hashed out at the negotiation table. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward with Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump, downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, and then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been tedious. Wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves as lower tier players.

North Korean Diplomacy: Something Fairly Different from the Norm

On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, the rational and reasonable should surely recognize  the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept them in some form, hashed out at the negotiation table. Trump’s proposal would have positive implications for the North Korean people for generations. Kim’s delay in recognizing what could be gained is somewhat perplexing. There have not been mixed messages from US, or anything that could reasonably be interpreted as such, to confuse the North Koreans or throw them off their game. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward from Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump then downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been positively tedious. If Pypngyang could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves, by all reasonable and accepted international diplomatic standards, as lower tier, Mickey Mouse players. Without knowing for certain, it would be wrongful to ascribe what is at the professional core of the North Korean negotiators and their managers in Pyongyang that might be the cause for what they have been doing in the diplomatic process. Parsing out their words and deeds, greatcharlie has been able to draw inferences as to why they have been acting in eccentric ways. (Perhaps policymakers in North Korea would be better labelled policy transmitters for Kim is the only policymaker in North Korea.)

Dissimilar to their US counterparts, who may likely be morally centered by a particular religion, Pyongyang’s policymakers and diplomats are centered by the official ideology of North Korea, that in a way mimics theology, known as juche. Translated from Korean, juche means “independent status of a subject” or simply “independence.” The concept was founded in the 1950s by Chairman Kim Il-sung, Kim’s grandfather, on the idea that Korea suffered for hundreds of years under foreign, specifically Chinese control, and it is determine forever into the future remain independent. To that extent, it will remain independent, North Korea, in nuanced ways has sought to distance itself from the influence of big Socialist powers, at one time, the Soviet Union and China still. Among the nuanced aspects of juche was the promotion of the cult of personality of the “quasi-divine” ruling Kim dynasty ensuring a monolithic leadership. That was officially adopted as the leader doctrine in 1980. Indeed, starting in their early years, North Koreans have been taught  to fanatically cling to the party line of Workers’ Party of Korea and place their faith in the party chairman, the Supreme leader, above all things. Ethnonationalism is also an aspect of juche. There is an emphasis maintaining and celebrating the purity and superiority of North Koreans. There are several other aspects, some equally disconcerting. While so much has been done to distinguish juche from Communists and Socialism, the underpinnings of those political ideologies in its system is clear. Despite any displeasure this comment might cause in Pyongyang, it could be said juche is essentially an avant-garde or disjointed simulacrum of a Communist or Socialist system as intended under the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (To the disapproval and exasperation of many Northeast Asia regional experts and Korea scholars, in previous commentaries on North Korea, greatcharlie has simply labelled the country as being Communist. To clarify, the purpose for doing that was to provide an immediate point of reference to our readers to allow them to better understand how its bureaucracy operates. Further, leaving everything stated here about juche aside, the country that would develop from Kim Il-sung’s movement, North Korea, was originally girded by the sweat, blood, wherewithal, and guidance of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China. To that extent, far more similarities to both of those Communists countries still exist than differences. The intent of stating any of this is neither to extenuate greatcharlie’s choice, nor  offer a mea culpa.)

All members of the society are true believers in juche, and every move they make is colored by the precepts of juche. That certainly holds true for North Korean policymakers and diplomats working on the denuclearization diplomacy. For them, participating in the negotiations has been more than a job. It has been a grand opportunity to faithfully serve Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea and vehemently support and defend North Korean political ideals. Making certain that their performances in the negotiations immaculately adhered to national ideals has very likely been a measure of success for North Korean diplomats. That being the case, likely ever present among them is the stress of potentially making an error politically. Avoiding that means always making certain there is no possibility for the misinterpretation of their actions. Looking toward the North Korean policymakers and diplomats to introduce an ingenious idea to propel the diplomatic process forward would be misguided. What one might expect from the North Korean policymakers and diplomats at best would be a spirited reflex defense of party ideals and expressions of a decades old hostile national bias against the US. As fate would have it, this is essentially what has been observed. Stirred in has been a heavy portion of negative sentiment and caprice toward the US in the public statements of the North Koreans. As much as part of a larger negotiation stratagem, periods of indignant silence from the North Koreans also appears to be a manifestation of the daily travail of officials not to say or do anything that might remotely skirt the party line of the Workers’ Party of Korea. When confronted with either behavior, their US counterparts, as expected, have exhibited classic diplomatic sangfroid and patience. Audi vide, tace, si vis vivere in pace. (Use your ears and eyes, but hold your tongue, if you would live in peace.)

There are issues of competence at play in the North Korean’s actions, too! They lack experience in authentically working with other diplomats or simply conversing with a diverse group of interlocutors Indeed, their limited range of diplomatic skill reflects the fact that they come out of a society alienated from the rest of the world, the so-called hermit kingdom. Diplomats of its UN Mission in New York might have opportunities to interact with their counterparts of other UN member states’ missions in committees. Diplomats in North Korea’s 25 embassies situated in as many countries have opportunities to interact with the outside world. However, they may seldom have the opportunity to authentically practice core skills such as confidence building and give and take in negotiations. Even their contacts with diplomats of a handful of friendly countries, while congenial and business-like, would expectedly be superficial as all important decisions have been normally been made directly between the capitals of those countries and Pyongyang. That being the case, having the experience of interacting with US diplomats has undoubtedly been a learning experience for the North Korean negotiating team whether they admit it or not.

Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiation team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes kind of akin to cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. (Hopefully, that pretense does not belie any artificial intentions of Pyongyang in the diplomacy on denuclearization in general.) In an odd way, that bit of pretense could be what in a way liberates them to act uncoventionally. It is not easy to know what is genuine with the North Koreans. It never has been. A pitfall of being frivolous, though, could be that their inexperience may not allow them to judge just how far off from what is decent they can go. There is a thin line between chaos and order. Potentially, the North Korean negotiators could spoil the entire diplomatic process, albeit unintentionally. Instances in which they seemed to have moved a bit far off the mark might be those occasions when North Korean negotiators have reportedly made platitudinous objections to US proposals. There have also been occasions when doses of pronounced immaturity, crudeness, and impertinence were included in official statements from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

In North Korea, the government insists upon keeping a watchful eye over threats to its system and society. It is understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. Given human nature there was always the threat that could arise from the unsuccessful education of citizens. The security services use techniques to create fear that rival those of the Erinyes in the poems of Aeschylus and are forever hunting for those who may fall short of what is expected or may be “foreign spies.” Citizens live as if plugged into an electric outlet, terrified of crossing the line. To that extent, North Korean policy approaches have been forged by analysts in an environment of fear, and implemented by terror stricken diplomats who in addition to adhering to the precepts of juche, are simply trying to stay around. Although well aware of the danger posed by their own government’s security services, it causes one to wonder why false promises from North Korean diplomats have been commonplace during their past 25 plus years of negotiations with the US. Perhaps it was the human element. Their egos got the best of them and they wandered off toward a bridge too far in the heat of the negotiations. There has not been any of that in the current process. One can be certain  that if something is stated at the negotiation table that billows up the slightest ire in Pyongyang, it will be walked back immediately. Quam multa injusta ac prava fiunt moribus! (How many unjust and improper things are authorized by custom!)

Under ordinary circumstances, one thinking in ordinary ways might expect that North Korean policy makers and diplomats would eventually recognize that there is a need for them to become climatized to a true international environment. The clear choice would be to try to tidy things up and to transition to a new line of not political, but professional thinking. However, expecting the North Koreans to catch the Holy Ghost and see the error in their ways would be out of court. Except for Kim, North Koreans, at least officially, do not engage introspection. The government believes it has provided them with a clear path to follow.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong (center), stands with the North Korean foreign policy officials at Panmunjom in June 2019. Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiations team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the negotiating table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes a bit akin to a cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. Indeed, that bit of pretense could be what liberates them to act uncoventionally.

How North Korean Attitudes and Behavior Are Perceived

Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in the West, Pyongyang approaches have resembled some huge masquerade, performed as a way to avoid engaging in the authentic diplomacy of give and take. The North Korean’s aspiration appears instead to be wearing the Trump administration down and compel its acquiescence to a default agreement under which all key North Korean goals would be attained. Those goals would include retaining their nuclear weapons and delivery systems at level of their choosing and ending the economically devastating sanctions imposed by the US. There are likely others in the Washington who believe Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it. (Those feelings seem well evinced by the hostile countenance of North Korean negotiators’ faces in the few publicly available photos of them. As opposed to concealing any gesture of internal thought, their faces betray an almost immeasurable anger that can barely be contained. One might also be led to believe that the North Korean negotiation team’s sullen and stoic faces might be the result of having had the Hell posted out of them at some point.)

Presumably, North Korean policy makers and diplomats could not care less about what their US counterparts think of their style. That is not exactly a perspective conducive to building confidence and forging a fruitful working relationship. If the North Koreans were to give it a moment’s thought, they would likely discover that far from being beguiled by their behavior, US negotiators on the other side of the table find coping with the whole cabaret they have been putting on during diplomatic process very unsatisfying to say the least. One might go as far as state that US negotiators may personally feel the process may no longer be worth the candle. Yet, being well-trained, imbued with true diplomatic acumen, exceptionally experienced, and just plain professional, they will remain figuratively strapped in place. They certainly will not walk away from the drawn out process that has featured dismal interactions with the North Koreans.

Pyongyang apparently never read, and accordingly never had the chance to heed, greatcharlie’s advisement not become distracted by the rants and ramblings on Trump’s foreign and national security policy in the US news media. It appears that this us precisely what they have done. From the North Korean’s repertoire verbal attacks against the US, one can discern similarities with US news media’s favorite criticisms of Trump administration. A top US news media criticism of the Trump administration’s effort at denuclearization diplomacy is that a well-thought out, reasonable negotiating strategy is absent. A parallel to that would be the statement of North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Myong Gil that whether Pyongyang breaks its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and missile testing “entirely depends on the stance of the United States.” Perhaps a misplace patrician aesthetic has founded that absolutely absurd idea, endlessly presented by the US news media, is that in diplomatic settings, Trump is unaware of etiquette and unable to properly present himself as President of the US. Moreover, it is also frequently posited that Trump has displayed an alleged barbaric, “gangster mentality”, that has tainted his personal interactions and diplomatic efforts with European allies at G7, G20, and NATO summits. Echoing these preposterous sentiments, have been official statements emanating from the North Korean Foreign Ministry referring to the denuclearization diplomacy as the “sickening negotiations” and threats that talks will not be resumed unless Washington takes measures to ensure a “complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.” Additionally, what has become rather kitsch reaction is the US news media insistence upon declaring anything Trump is doing as being solely directed at supporting his reelection or personal gain. Not thinking, but simply mimicking that ludicrous idea, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “abusing the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for its domestic political events.” Quis nescit primam esse historic legem, ne quid falsi dicere audeat?; deinde ne quid veri non audeat? (Who does not know that it is the first law of history not to dare to say anything that is false?; and, the second not to dare say anything that is not true?)

Group photo of Kim (center) and his leadership team in Pyongyang. Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in Washington, Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it.

Pyongyang’s Perceptions of Where Washington Is Headed

In news US media outlets today, bits of news about the efforts of an administration in office is highlighted or hidden by reporters depending upon whether they fit the narrative, positive or negative, that the outlet holds of that administration. To that extent, the news, as opposed to being reported in a fair and balanced way, is decidedly curated. As a staunch proponent of the right of freedom of speech as entitled under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, greatcharlie certainly believes critics of US government activities, particularly the press, the Fourth Estate, should have free hand to express themselves.  However, along with that right of free express comes a reasonable expectation that news media outlets, particularly in the arena of international affairs, will act prudently in presenting information. Professional ethics alone should guide behavior in news media outlets with regard to presenting information that is known to be false or cannot be substantiated. Even more, presenting questionable information that may have an undesirable, deleterious, and even destructive impact on their own country’s success must be avoided. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who, to be more forthright, are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him that may be based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency.

Ex falsis, ut ab ipsis didicimus, verum effici non protest. (From the false, as they have themselves taught us, we can obtain nothing true.) Trump’s adversaries seem to feel a compulsive need to express from a soapbox overly simplistic views about him and his administration’s efforts to the point of extravagance. What was one of the worst direct allegations made by his adversaries in the news media was the shameful declaration that “Trump is a Russian spy.” For those willing to submit to reality, the final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, Robert Mueller, known as the the Mueller Report, should have knocked down any concerns the fantastic allegation might be true. Anyone who understood what that falsehood would have entailed to be true would hardly have uttered such complete nonsense without feeling foolish or guilty. At the same time, many at very high levels inside and outside of government, most of whom had albeit possessed an untutored expertise in the subject matter, clearly believed it all. Strangely, it appears that vacuous pronouncements about “Trump’s espionage” were rooted in “facts” on how the “spy world” works from productions of the entertainment industry. Trying to make any sense of it, one might believe that instead of being concerned with foreign and national security policy, his adversaries were writing spy novels or novels of political intrigue. (Perhaps the intent among some of them is to publish a roman à clef on this period at some point down the line.)

Vigorous as ever are the endless exertions that Trump has done this or that lurid or generally inappropriate thing. Those pundits with the gumption to state such things publicly seem to have been provided an open invitation to flood broadcast, print, and online news media with their breathtaking, multi-layered rumors, cluttered with ambiguities and contradictions. To be blunt, one should always suspect that the stories they hear in the US news media are lies. Perchance, such views expressed on Trump reveal the limits of their intellectual power, and more sadly, the sensibilities of the times, banal and tasteless. Added to all of that, Trump clearly makes a satisfying target for the misguided passion of reporters and pundits. For those who can recall the degree of professionalism and intellectual acuity that journalists of those same news media outlets once displayed in an era not so long ago, it all becomes too heartbreaking to watch. Current journalists from those outlets now seem so completely estranged from that high-level of performance.

Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn the lesson that is dangerous to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching endless incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel. Some countries based their policy decisions on the many absurdities about Trump found in the US news media enough so that they brought their relations with the US perilously close to ruin. As aforementioned, questionable information from the news media has surely provided the push from behind to both flawed and completely incorrect inferences and judgments made in Pyongyang. To that extent, the US news media  has undoubtedly played a role in making efforts of the US negotiation team to establish an intimate relationship with the North Koreans more difficult.

Trump at his inauguration on January 20, 2017. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency. Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn how dangerous it is to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel.

Nodum in scirpo quærere. (To look for a knot in the rushes (I.e., to look for difficulty where none exists.) Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party who hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. Their premise was that during a phone call that Trump had on July 5, 2019 with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump sought to coerce him to initiate an investigation of an election opponent in return for the release of military aid he was withholding. It was very unusual interpretation of the phone call given the official transcript of the call released by Trump indicated nothing of the sort. It was all initiated by claims of an alleged whistle blower who never heard the phone conversation. Supposed fact-finding hearings insisted upon by House Democrats lifted the veil on nothing but hearsay and alarmist presumptions. (Res ipsa loquitor! If they truly do not understand that the world does not work in that way, how apparent it becomes that some officials from the US intelligence services, through their briefings, have failed to provide Members of Congress with a thorough understanding of intelligence work, particularly tradecraft.) Observing events, greatcharlie admittedly hoped that the smallest spark of decency would have caused House Democrats to find some way to stop moving down their destructive path. Instead, they pushed through the two articles, accusing him of betraying the country for his own political benefit and obstructing a Congressional investigation into his actions. That drastic step taken was more about House Democrats feelings about Trump than about his actual actions. Democrats in Congress, through their legislative action, have memorialized the schism between themselves and Trump.

To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big. However, what observers in foreign capitals should actually note is that there are two chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The US Senate, which also has a say in how US foreign policy is conducted, is controlled by Trump’s Republican Party which has fully supported his efforts and can continue to achieve much to support the US President without their Democrat counterparts in House. Those observers in foreign capitals should further note that Trump has actually acquired a remarkable record of success on a plethora of foreign policy issues. Still, most importantly, observers in foreign capitals should note that House Democrats, have not as yet recognized or acquiesced to the truth that they may have all been useful idiots in a larger, darker plan of dishonorable individuals within the government, and some outside, to force Trump from office. The true nature of the very apparent criminal conspiracy is currently under investigation by the highest ranking law enforcement officials in the US. They will twinkle out the conspirators of this abominable enterprise–hidden most likely within the intelligence services–and reveal the full nature of their heinous plans. More than just tge House Democrats, the news will undoubtedly perplex and unravel all those individuals who have been so certain of Trump’s guilt in all of the nonsense propagated. (There will most likely be a tidal wave excessive emotional outbursts, likely be akin to those unsightly ones seen in the camp of Hilary Clinton when was announced that she had lost the 2016 US Presidential Election.)

Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party, who currently hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big.

Getting an Improved Grip on the Situation

Unlike a mystery, all challenges, much as puzzles, have solutions. They simply need to be found. As outlined earlier here, there are political, professional, and personal issues that doubtlessly preoccupy the North Koreans and stand as obstacles to constructive negotiations. However, there may indeed be a way make interactions between negotiating teams rewarding and thereby potentially useful to Kim in moving the diplomatic process on denuclearization forward. Right now the negotiations, ironically, have been a tool that has allowed Pyongyang to stall it, intentionally or unintentionally. If an issue takes one into deep waters, one must often dive deeper into it in order to develop a sound theory, to find solutions. Sometimes that can be done by making connections between a matter at hand with similar yet remote issues that already have answers. If Pyongyang can again forgive greatcharlie’s honesty, it must be stated that dealing with its foreign policy apparatus, and particularly its Foreign Ministry, seems akin to trying to interact with a young adult, just beginning to understand his or her place in the world.

The young adult, teenager to be more precise, may typically spend time and exert energy strongly protesting vehemently complaining, and tearfully fretting and frowning about one thing or another. However, whatever may actually be at the root of what irritating or pressuring them more often will not be articulated. The teenager will expect a responsible adult, to whom they may choose to express their feelings, to supernaturally possess some understanding of not only what is disturbing them, but it’s cause. Failure to do so will elicit the words that nearly every teenager may have stated or thought at some point, “You don’t get me!”

In order to get to the root of the problem means creating conversation, talking it out. That will usually responsible adult to try to hear them out while ignoring criticism and accusations mostly without merit. It would not be the proper time for ordinary repartee. When opportunities arise to get a word in edgewise, the adult can discuss similar situations from experience, and say things that will draw questions from the teenager. Discussing situations from which commonalities of  experiences can be recognized will also support communication. A conscious effort should be made by the adult to supply a vocabulary that the teenagers can incorporate to express their experiences thus supporting a more productive exchange. Further, by taking these steps, a figurative bridge might be constructed which may support other fruitful exchanges with the teenager in the future. Notably, if teenagers are not correctly mentored in a way that is right and proper by caring adults, they can very well fall prey to their contemporaries and other adult who will not have their best interests at heart. In a similar way, North Korea could fall prey to its northern neighbors, the Russian Federation and China, which only seek to promote their respective interests.

Conceptualizing along such lines, an approach might be developed that might potentially provide US negotiators with a way to work more effectively with the North Koreans. Of course, the North Koreans, themselves, must be open to any approach in the end. However, if US negotiators could convince them to share, without pretension, their bedrock concerns, things could really get started. Certainly, the North Koreans’ laser focus during negotiations will remain pursuing specific goals as instructed by Pyongyang. However, other than an all or nothing frontal assault, they may not have considered better ways to pursue those goals via talks. Demonstrating to the North Koreans at the negotiation table that there are alternative ways to mutually satisfy the aims of both countries may resonate with them. It could very well provide them with work product that they might be pleased to report back home. Virtus est vitium fugere, et sapienta prima stultitia caruisse. (To flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and the beginning of wisdom is to have gotten rid of folly.)

It is important to note that what is presented here does not infantilize the North Korean policymakers and diplomats. That is far from its intent. What is presented here acknowledges a pattern of behavior, identifies an instance of similar behavior unrelated to foreign policy from which an understanding of it can be furthered, and provides a starting point from which strategy for working constructively under such conditions might be more easily conceptualized. (One might muse lightheartedly on how much easier it would be for Washington to interact with Pyongyang, if US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could staff the US negotiation team with clairvoyants and precognitive empaths!)

Some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie does not subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right.

The Way Forward

Confessedly, greatcharlie feels a certain piquancy about receiving comments for they serve as proof positive that readers take a real interest in what is posted on the blog. Equally pleasing is the thought that prior posts have stirred debate on the issue of diplomacy on denuclearization to some degree. Still, it remains a tad troubling to know that some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie will never subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening with regard to the diplomacy of denuclearization. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right. Our intent is to keep gnawing at the subject of diplomacy on denuclearization. The hope is that our readers will continue to give our posts the concentration that is sought from them.

In composing this precis of greatcharlie’s thinking on the diplomatic process on denuclearization in response to readers’ comments, it became very clear that our readers have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the issue. Interestingly though, us-them arguments and hints of the rhetoric of good versus evil were common features of their responses. Questions were also frequently raised as to why the US would even want to negotiate with Pyongyang given its disobliging stance. Perhaps the best response to all of that would be that Trump did not stumble into the diplomatic process on denuclearization. He knew the history of US-North Korea relations and jumped in knowing that there would be a lot of hard work entailed without an immediate solution. The work may be challenging, but the prize of success is greater peace and security in Northeast Asia, and greater degree of peace and security in the world. That is certainly worth pursuing. Prudens futuri temporis exitum caliginosa nocte premit Deus; ridetque, si mortalis ultra fas trepidat. (God in His wisdom veils in darkness of night the events of the future; and smiles if a mortal is unduly solicitous about what he is not permitted to know.)

Commentary: Telephone Vigilance Must Be Intensified as Trump’s Conversations with Foreign Leaders Are Leaked and Interpreted by Adversaries

US President Donald Trump (right) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) in New York on September 26, 2019. An August 2019 whistleblower complaint coming out of the US Intelligence Community claimed Trump, in a telephone conversation with Zelensky in July 2019 withheld military aid in return for the investigation of a political opponent. A transcript of the conversation proved Trump statements were upright. Zelensky denied pressure was placed on him. Still, rival political leaders in the US Congress have interpreted Trump’s statements as being criminal. An impeachment inquiry has been initiated. While contending with that and halting leaks, administration officials must determine how to manage Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders and mitigate adversaries’ flighty interpretations of them.

No matter what projects are created by or presented to the team, proper execution, proper performance is always required to achieve success. A team’s time and energy should always be directed toward objectives that the team was formed to achieve, not pursuits beyond its power. Use of the team’s full powers along the lines of excellence, entails doing all of the right things and doing all things right. For many teams, doing things right can be a matter of life or death. As a matter of survival, performing tasks exactly right is the only option. If you are a team that is under rather extraordinary scrutiny or facing a maelstrom of criticism and attacks in the political arena, doing things exactly right is imperative for another type of survival. Recently, US President Donald Trump, the team leader of the current US administration and the executive branch of the US Government, handled a conversation on a foreign policy issue in conjunction with another country in what he thought was the right way with the intent of being virtuous. However, the words he used were interpreted as being dead wrong by critics, detractors, political opponents, all of whom at this point could be qualified as his adversaries. His rebus pronuntiatus, igitur, eum esse hostem scivisti. (When these things had been announced, thereby you knew that he was an enemy.)

Among the pertinent facts in that situation, the US news media in September 2019, brought attention to an August 12, 2019 whistleblower complaint coming out of the US Intelligence Community that claimed Trump, in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 11, 2019, pressured the Ukrainian leader, supposedly demanding a quid pro quo arrangement for military assistance in return for the investigation of a political adversary and his son. An official transcript of the conversation proved that everything that Trump said was completely upright, and never exceeded what is decent. Nevertheless, small portions of the transcript have been interpreted by rival political leaders in the Democrat Party in the US Congress to the extent that they allege the US President “pressured the Ukrainian President much as an organized crime boss.” Many legal experts are trying to understand how exactly they got that far out there. Those Democrats, for whom it is conceivable that Trump acted improperly, have been characterized by Trump’s defenders as voices of deception and hypocrisy. It was eventually revealed that whistleblower’s complaint received an odd push forward from the shadows when a recent change in intelligence community whistleblower procedures made complaints based on hearsay about the Trump-Zelensky telephone call acceptable! Astute and somber and counterintelligence specialists might find it all to be “an embarrassing chain of events.” Trump did not initially take a truly belligerent posture toward his adversaries attacks. It was in fact his decision, presumably to help cauterize tension, to declassify and release transcripts of the July telephone conversation with Zelensky and the August whistleblower complaint. It was the right thing to do. However, Trump’s adversaries were not struck by his act of defusion. Zelensky, himself, on September 26, 2019, publicly denied that he was pressured by Trump to do anything. Yet, Trump’s adversaries kept up their attacks.

Adversaries, seeking to figuratively swing Trump by the ears, without a doubt want Trump’s team, his administration, to fail in everything, and want force him out of office. The implications and the indications now are that Trump faces the threat of impeachment from Democrats in the US Congress. Therein lies cause and effect. It all appears to be daylight madness. The full consequence of such action will be known soon enough.

Trump and his aides and advisers are fully aware that they must form an effective defense against untrue statements and slanderous accusations by adversaries. As this particular case has proven, it has become a necessity for them to wall off the administration from hostile claims concerning Trump’s confidential conversations with foreign leaders and officials. There have also been mysterious leaks of information from previous calls between Trump and other foreign leaders. The confidentiality of such conversations should be preserved. Some technical steps that had already been taken in that respect. They included classifying and safely archiving transcripts of conversations. Yet, adversaries publicly declared the handling of transcripts in that manner as unvirtuous, even criminal. Additional technical steps taken to protect transcripts of Trump’s future conversations with foreign leaders would most likely draw similar public accusations and attacks. As for foreign leaders observing this situation from their capitals, they have likely been disappointed, dismayed, and mystified by what has occurred. With good reason, many may conclude that its is no longer worth the candle to speak with Trump confidentially about matters of great importance knowing that their words may somehow find their way into the US news media. It is unlikeky that Trump’s interaction with foreign leaders, or interactions with them by any future US Presidents could be kept in a capsule.

What has happened with the Zelensky telephone call has turned an important aspect of diplomacy, furtive conversations between the US President and foreign leaders, on its head. The ability of the leaders to be personal, familiar, frank, even fiery, may very well been lost. They can still talk by telephone, but conversations will surely be different, more controlled, less substantive. Even then, there would be concern over the potential for leaks to the US news media or whistleblower complaints which, as aforementioned, can now be filed based on hearsay. Making a simple statement concerning a complicated bilateral matter must now be considered an error if it could be interpreted by adversaries as inappropriate, even criminal. Weighty conversations on such matters will now need to transpire face-to-face, sub rosa, when foreign leaders visit the White House. The Trump team should not standby and allow itself to become the victim of those who seek to destroy it, those who want to create a negative situation for the administration. A path to navigate that would allow the administration to avoid similar problems with adversaries in the future must be created by the Trump team. Hypothetically, Trump could standby and hope that Republicans will gain a majority of seats in the US House of Representatives and maintain control of the US Senate, and thereby end the problem. However, it would be best to respond proactively. The administration must get a handle on the situation. Praeterita mutare non possumus, sed futura providere debemos. (We cannot change the past, but we anticipate the future.)

As best stated by the English poet Alexander Pope in his 1711 work “An Essay on Criticism, Part II”, “To err is human.” Reducing the possibility of “errors” and even correcting slip-ups, in a telephone conversation with foreign leaders is the new challenge for Trump’s team. When an error, a true mistake, a misspoken phrase, or a statement that would invite a negative interpretation by adversaries, is discerned during a telephone conversation with a foreign leader, Trump and his team must be willing to back up, take a new look at the situation. Team leaders must move as fast as necessary to correct the problem. In effect, the need will be to get the toothpaste back into the tube. Trump must be willing, as part of the response once alerted of an error, to pause, even halt a conversation. The need may occasionally arise to call a foreign leader back to correct a statement or statements if there is cause for concern. Foreign leaders would likely be aware of why Trump would be taking such steps. After all, worldwide attention has been given to the difficulties Trump’s adversaries have caused for him. Due diligence should be performed after every conversation. Further, it would behoove Trump team members to conduct an after action debriefing with the President after every call. Moreover, before the call is made, a review more thorough than before of what will be said and what should be avoided must be conducted by Trump and his team.

Whosoever among the “sentinels” so to speak from Trump’s team that might perform such an important team accountability task on telephone calls with foreign leaders would be Trump’s closest, most trusted aides and advisers. In the selection of that group, it would be just fine for Trump to be finicky. Given their concern over the well-being of the President, the government, and the country, those aides and advisers will know errors when they hear them for they will ring bells. The cautious instinct will raise their heads. Ensuring what is said is correct and lawful may not be enough. Aides and advisers must begin to think as Trump’s adversaries think. They must know what adversaries will turn their ears toward, and consider their possible flighty interpretations of his words. Sadly, it appears that nothing could be considered out of court. True, there are those who already stand present when such calls take place. However, previously, they unlikely had the green light to interrupt a call or call the attention of the President to errors that may have been made innocently. The process of involving aides and advisers, hand picked ones, on telephone calls must be intensified.

Mone me, amabo te, si erro. (Warn me, please, if I err.) When errors are detected, Trump must be provided with a sufficient set of options, clear steps to use in response. One cannot avoid mistakes just by ignoring them. A team leader certainly should not keep on doing what is unsuccessful, hoping that if nothing is done, everything will be work out. There is no room to take such a risk. Sometimes errors made in such conversations will not be immediately apparent to anyone on the team. Errors can come out of nowhere. Trump’s team must now be on the watch for them. If Trump’s team fails to focus in that way, it will be remiss.

This solution to avoiding errors whenever Trump picks up the telephone to speak to a leader overseas appears as a sort of self-imposed, real-time oversight by his team. Make no mistake, insisting on that level of team accountability will mean insisting upon a near Monastic existence for the US President when it comes to calls with foreign leaders. Although it is all for the best, it is still a distasteful development. Let us not forget, none of this is about Trump per se. Rather, it is about finding a way to defeat the destructive tactics, techniques, procedures and methods of his adversaries.

Life is full of distractions that insinuate themselves into one’s thinking at an inconvenient time. Considering what a US President must think about daily, decision making, the requirements of the position, just being in the harness of leadership, small errors certainly seem more likely due to unconscious distraction by extraneous matters. As Trump is already well-aware, he must make a conscious effort must also be made by all leaders to remain focused on the mission of the team and keep the best interests of the US public and his administration at heart.

One might expect that there would be some concern over how an evaluation of an error by a Trump aide or adviser during telephone conversation with a foreign leader might be perceived by the US President. Trump will need to be certain that a team member calling attention problem would absolutely acting in the best interest of the administration and the country. If a member of the Trump team is more than capable of knowing what must be done right and when things are going wrong, that team member should feel comfortable enough to say what needs to be said, to set things right. All team members must believe that their concerns will be heard and acted upon. Indeed, all team members involved should be encouraged to chime in before it is too late. Some might refer to this as “bringing truth to power.” Good team members can be honest, even frank about another member’s errors when they are noticed. Being unwilling to speak up in order to avoid disappointing the President because of sentiment would be a mistake. (Many aides and advisers love the President and such protective feelings actually exist.) Some may avoid piping up for fear of being terminated. Among the best approaches available to alert anyone about their errors are: to point out and warn; to explain and suggest; and at times, to counsel and coach. The thing to avoid is being antagonistic. Admonitions and warnings after the fact are less likely to strengthen drive, hone focus, and sharpen thinking. Rather, they can have a deleterious effect. There is a slender thread that exists between helping and hurting in such cases and team members must avoid being a corrosive element.

Abeunt studia in mores. (Practices passionately pursued become habits.) A leader must establish, manifest and promote a team’s values and ideals, standards, and practices. A leader must never let team believe concern over mistakes and corrections is small. Trump team members must not get the idea that any matter which might serve the needs of the administration might not be serious enough or should be taken lightly. Any thoughts, ideas must be given more than just an academic interest and should be shared. Trump must encourage team members to speak up and openly engage in the team accountability process. It is essential for Trump to respond in a welcoming, positive manner when they do. Responding constructively to errors should become part of the Trump team’s culture. It must be emphasized among team members that regardless of their place from top to bottom on the table of organization, their aggregate time, energy and effort, their synergy, will be used in the most efficacious way possible to ensure the administration’s success.

Post malam segetem, serendum est. (After a bad crop, immediately begin to sow.) Trump’s adversaries believe that the innocent words Trump used in his conversation with Zelensky were open to their interpretation. Accordingly, a means to deter such interpretations of Trump’s  statements is needed by the administration. If the US President and members of his administration want things to be right, the must address the problem. If not, this may prove to be just the beginning of efforts by Trump’s adversaries to interpret and act punitively in response to practically every utterance he might make. The impact of their onslaught will very likely impact bilateral relations between the US and every country in the world. The diplomacy of denuclearization with North Korean will be put in jeopardy. (Foreign leaders might ask: “What can you discuss with Trump and be certain that you will not see your words in the US news media? How can Trump help me if he cannot help himself?”) One might suspect that his adversaries want to create that situation. Perhaps White House officials might not be too interested in greatcharlie’s meditations on how the administration should respond to future attacks over Trump’s telephone calls with foreign leaders. Still, the nontechnical method mentioned here, increased “telephone vigilance” to some degree could help prevent such problems in the future. For Trump and his team, making the adjustment will have its challenges. Using this approach will not mean all struggles with adversaries will end. Trump’s adversaries will very likely perpetuate their unseemly, hostile behavior regarding his conversations with foreign leaders until the end of his second term. However, with proper measure, the team will be better able to defeat unwarranted, distracting, political and personal attacks.