Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Existentialism, Fascism, Human Rights
Note: Coming up for air (briefly). Still writing the dissertation. My plan is to post Tuesday – Friday of next week. Blogging will be my sanity in an insane world.
Using pictures out of Ukraine showing a crumpled metallic airframe, open-source analysts of the conflict there say they have identified images of a new sort of Russian-made drone, one that the manufacturer says can select and strike targets through inputted coordinates or autonomously. When soldiers give the Kalashnikov ZALA Aero KUB-BLA loitering munition an uploaded image, the system is capable of “real-time recognition and classification of detected objects” using artificial intelligence (AI), according to the Netherlands-based organization Pax for Peace (citing Jane’s International Defence Review). In other words, analysts appear to have spotted a killer robot on the battlefield.
Russia may have used a killer robot in Ukraine. Now what? Zachary Kallenborn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
And we have Switchblades.
President Biden signed a bill allocating 800 million dollars of military aid short of an official no-fly zone by either US forces or NATO. It does include anti-aircraft missiles and drones, specifically the Switchblade. Both organizations have argued establishment of a no-fly zone isn’t casual: it means enemy planes will be challenged in the air, and enemy planes, Russian planes, if not retreating, will be shot down. We then go from World War Two and one half to WWIII.
Wars are like avalanches. They may start with a snow flurry someone rounds into a snowball. Someone, a child perhaps, throws it innocently. As it descends the incline of a mountain, it gathers speed and adds mass. By the time it reaches civilization, the accumulated mass and momentum make it all but impossible to divert or stop. It starts with a snow flurry, then it escalates. Tit for tat. Switchblades for Kalashnikovs.
There are some things that give me simultaneously hope and concern:
Casualties: The Russians have lost more troops in three weeks than the US lost in 20 years in Afghanistan.
Cyberwarfare: It hasn’t happened. The Russian GRU used ransomware to shut down Colonial Pipeline. The threat of shutting down power in Ukraine (or here): hasn’t happened.
Putin was a mid-level bureaucrat in the KGB, and not looked at as an asset. He had one main talent of getting kompromat – compromising information – and using it to leverage someone to betray their country for Russia. His problem is like his Manchurian Candidate in America that he pushed into the presidency, he’s a malignant narcissist, and quite the opposite of a “strongman.” He, like the former faux billionaire host of “The Apprentice,” is acting. Two euphemisms come to mind: “fake it until you make it” and “faking the funk.”
To answer that question, you have to understand the power and information ecosystems around dictators. I’ve studied and interviewed despots across the globe for more than a decade. In my research, I’ve persistently encountered a stubborn myth—of the savvy strongman, the rational, calculating despot who can play the long game because he (and it’s typically a he) doesn’t have to worry about pesky polls or angry voters. Our elected leaders, this view suggests, are no match for the tyrant who gazes into the next decade rather than fretting about next year’s election.
Reality doesn’t conform to that rosy theory.
Autocrats such as Putin eventually succumb to what may be called the “dictator trap.” The strategies they use to stay in power tend to trigger their eventual downfall. Rather than being long-term planners, many make catastrophic short-term errors—the kinds of errors that would likely have been avoided in democratic systems. They hear only from sycophants and get bad advice. They misunderstand their population. They don’t see threats coming until it’s too late. And unlike elected leaders who leave the office to riches, book tours, and the glitzy lifestyle of a statesman, many dictators who miscalculate leave office in a casket, a possibility that makes them even more likely to double down.
Vladimir Putin Has Fallen Into the Dictator Trap, Brian Klaas, The Atlantic
At Nuremberg, Hermann Goering was asked by Gustave Gilbert as to “why he and the others had been such abject “yes men,” Goering replied: “Please show me a ‘no man’ in Germany who is not six feet under the ground today.”
Yes Men and No Men: Hermann Goering and Johannes Steinhoff in the Age of Trump, The Inglorious Padre Steve’s World
The “Dictator’s Trap” is set by his narcissism (it almost always is a male pronoun leader). Unable to “handle the truth,” he surrounds himself with yes men, whose careers and livelihoods are directly proportional to their degree of sycophancy. In sadistic cases, their lives depend on kowtowing to limbo levels. People do tend to get shot, poisoned, die of radiation poisoning, and fall spontaneously out of windows in the eleven-time zone prison known as Russia. He’s also such a pathological liar, and so keenly good at gaslighting, he has a tendency to believe his [own] press, thus gaslighting himself.
I don’t speak Russian. However, the body language in this rant (Twitter link below) is shouting to the rooftops. This man is panicking.
He didn’t house arrest his intelligence chiefs because he’s displeased: they’re KGB like him. He’s isolating the competition for power before he outright eliminates them.
I don’t speak Russian, but I can tell when someone is terrified:
This is not only a nutball fascist rant, but man, it is *full* of projection. Putin’s own inner circle could be the people he’s talking about – and especially their children, who are watching all of this from London and Paris, and New York. Tom Nichols, @RadioFreeTom
When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. Sun Tzu, “The Art of War.”