The title of this morning’s entry is a clear reference to the 10th James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, starring Roger Moore as the fictional secret agent. At the heart of the story (based on the 10th Ian Fleming 007 novel) is an attempt by a “man without a country” Karl Stromberg to destroy the world order to be replaced by an alternative of his own creation. Today, the post-World War II geopolitical standard is the target of a real-life operative who, like Stromberg, sees success not by defeating his enemies, but setting the stage for his enemies to destroy each other.
The title came to me as I listened to several pundits question why Iran would risk overplaying its hand, seizing an British oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. [NOTE: Although bound for England, the ship is registered in Sweden.] The consensus opinion boiled down to, “if the U.S. sanctions cause Iran economic pain, the Iranians have decided to also cause some pain.” However, that answer still begs the question, “Who benefits in the end?”
What if, in the style of Karl Stromberg (played by Kurt Jurgen), there is a third party manipulating the situation and who might that be? To understand the situation, you first need to determine if this is an isolated event or view it in the context of a larger strategy. And in the latter case are there “dots” that are not yet connected. Like the detectives in any television or film crime story, you put a lot of pictures and notes on a bulletin board to build a case against the prime suspect, someone with the most obvious motive for committing the offense. And then you draw the lines where the data points intersect.
At the center of my board is former KGB director Vladimir Putin, the spy who has devoted his life to avenging the demise of the Soviet Union. And how do you do that? Disrupt the liberal democratic order which has dominated global politics since 1945. Knowing he lacks the resources and military advantage to take on the Western alliance directly, he foments discontent between members of coalition and within each of the sovereign participants. All you have to do is ask yourself, “If I were Putin, what would I do to energize disruptive forces among my enemies?”
- Support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s response to civil protests creating millions of refugees.
- Conduct a disinformation campaign in support of populist candidates in several European elections.
- Manipulate public opinion in favor of Brexit.
- Assist in the election of a U.S. president who games the electoral college to capture the White House despite losing the popular vote.
- Have that president withdraw from an international treaty which pits the U.S. against NATO.
What do all these have in common? Putin’s surrogates represent an activist minority of the population in each of the target nations. Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawhite sect of Islam which makes up just 12 percent of the Syrian population. In the latest United Kingdom public opinion poll, only 44 percent of respondents still support Brexit while 51 percent prefer to remain in the European Union. According to the FiveThirtyEight average of polls, only 42.7 percent approve of Donald Trump’s performance since taking office. A CNN poll just prior to U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement showed 63 percent of Americans preferred staying in the compact. Disinformation results in confusion. Confusion causes apathy. Apathy assures minority rule. Minority rule spurs majority dissatisfaction and political unrest.
Putin tapped into the anger of the Russian people as the West celebrated its Cold War victory. American prosperity increased fueled partly by what became known as “the peace dividend.” In contrast, the Russian economy struggled as the central government lost control of many of the resources in its satellites in the Soviet sphere. The rise of Vladimir Putin was largely due to these factors.
This post began with a movie reference and will end with one. In The Mouse That Roared, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, on the verge of bankruptcy, devises a plan to garner American economic relief. They declare war on the U.S. with the intent of immediately surrendering upon launching an invasion of New York expecting the American government to provide assistance similar to that offered Germany through the Marshall Plan.
The plot of this film was not unlike the situation in the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Having been in Moscow in November 1994, two personal experiences provided insight into Russia’s future. The first was visiting a flea market in Gorky Park. Several acres were covered with tables at which Russians, desperate for any source of income, were selling everything from Soviet army uniforms to kittens. The second was lunch with governor of the Moscow Oblast (region) Anatole Tshelov. He told us the greatest challenge was to figure out how to transform an economy where the government took responsibility for providing basic necessities throughout one’s life to one where individuals were now expected to provide for their own well-being.
In other words, although not physically decimated, like Germany in 1945, Russia needed help to rebuild. In addition, people needed income. That meant they needed work. And without a majority employer like the Soviet military/industrial complex and government purchase of many commodities, jobs were scarce. One possible response, a second Marshall Plan. International investment to upgrade Russian infrastructure and financial capacity. It never materialized.
The lesson? It is one thing to win a war, whether hot or cold. It is quite another to win the peace.
For what it’s worth.