In Praise of Dangerous Leaders

“The one man that terrifies me more than Vladimir Putin right now is Joe Biden”, I said, confident that my dinner companions would rise to the bait. Just to make sure, I added, ‘this would never have happened if Trump was in the White House’. Cue polite, bourgeois outrage – ‘I think Biden’s response has been just what’s needed – measured, cautious…’ Yada yada. ‘Stable’ might have been in there – although Biden’s stability is perhaps better characterised as cerebral inertia.

To be honest, I lost track of all the approving adjectives heaped on the Leader of the Free World. Partly that was because I was distracted by the warnings emanating, silently but pungently, from She Who Must be Obeyed, to the effect of ‘No-one needs another of your contrarian rants – let’s just enjoy our curry.’ But mainly it was because they were so utterly predictable. And that’s exactly what, had I been allowed to, I would have explained was wrong with Biden’s ‘response’.

Let’s leave aside the obvious fact that it’s not really ‘Joe Biden’s’ response at all, but a collection of words prepared for him by the sophomoric handlers who upload them into what remains of his brain, and then watch his public utterances, crossing their fingers that he’ll make it through another presser without repeating his claim that Putin had invaded Russia. The point is that, Biden’s words or not, they all come from the same playbook, and they’re all utterly, lethally predictable.

Lethally? To understand why, you only have to consider Putin, what’s got him to where he now is, and why we can do so little to assist Ukraine in its military affairs – in short, why he scares the bejeezus out of us.

Now it should be noted that Putin’s escapade was not exactly unpredicted – particularly since he stole the Crimea, but with growing intensity since he began, in recent months, disposing his army in positions which only the terminally purblind could fail to perceive as menacing Ukraine. And it must also be granted to Joe Biden that, informed by a CIA seized by an uncommon fit of lucidity, he was among those who warned of Putin’s intentions. But so what? He was unable to persuade a fathomlessly stupid European establishment, and even if he had, its catastrophically unwise dependence on Russian hydrocarbons will take years to unwind, not the weeks that were available.

There are very good reasons why Putin chose to make his Crimea move under an Obama presidency, why he waited out Trump’s term and why he made his big move on Ukraine with Biden in office. In essence, they are that both Obama and Biden are thoroughly reasonable, stable, risk-averse men. For all the superficial chumminess of Trump’s dealings with Putin (and, indeed, with Kim Jong Un and Ji Jin Ping), they exemplify the old adage ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’.

Or do they? Because that’s the secret of Putin’s success, and of why I wish Trump, for all his distasteful vulgarity, were in the White House. While Putin has learned, over the years, that the Obamas and the Bidens – and the Merkels, for that matter – of this world will do anything to defend ‘Western values’ but fight for them, he sensed that Trump, on the hand, just might. Trump was a kindred spirit, and therefore to be treated with caution. Putin, we tell ourselves, would be crazy to escalate the war to the point where NATO becomes actively, kinetically involved. Putin, for that matter, would be crazy to go nuclear. But then Putin might just be crazy. That’s the terrifying logic he is deploying against the West.

Before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, there was an acceptable – if far from perfect – status quo to preserve, and therefore at least a respectable argument in favour of Biden’s ‘calm, measured’ response – let’s be honest, and call it appeasement. There no longer is such a status quo. The Rubicon has been crossed.

The time has come for the West to find a dangerous, unpredictable leader.

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