By Michael Brenner
Our political elites evidently have absorbed fully and deeply the proposition that “ignorance is bliss.” The exhibits are too numerous to inventory. A singular current example with profound implication is the notion that Vladimir Putin is the quintessential brutal dictator – power mad, ruthless and with only a tenuous grip on reality. Indeed, it has become commonplace to equate him with Hitler – as done by such leading lights of America’s stellar elites such as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi – as well as ‘opinion makers’ galore. Even 203 noble Nobels lend their collective brains and celebrity credentials to an ‘open letter’ whose first sentence pairs Russia’s attack on Ukraine with Hitler’s assault on Poland in September 1939. These are only the most striking examples of the shortfalls in what passes for general education after 16 years of obligatory residence in American classrooms.
These words are not meant as a defense brief for Putin or Russia’s actions in Ukraine. That is a separate matter. The intent is simply to point out the high risks of making security policy on portentous matters in cultivated ignorance. Sadly, the argument that those who make those decisions should know literally what they are talking about is widely deemed as radical – itself as great a menace as whatever dragons are hovering around us. In Putin’s case, there is absolutely no excuse. He has presented his views on how Russia visualizes its place in the world, relations with the West and the contours/rules of a desired international system more comprehensively, historically informed, and coherently than has any national leader I know of. Shouted declarations “we’re number ONE and always will be” are not his style. The point is that you may be troubled by his conclusions, question his sincerity, suspect hidden strains of thought and character, or denounce certain actions. However, doing so has no credibility unless one has engaged the man based on what is available – not on cartoon sketches. So, too, should we recognize that this is not a one-man show. that it behooves us to consider the more complex reality that is Russian governance and politics.
For that reason, I have appended 4 of Putin’s lengthy public speeches for your attention. Also, a long interview/memoir by Jack Matlock – the United States’ ambassador to Moscow during the crucial years that saw and end to Cold War I. If you are inclined to scan them, your knowledge of the subject already would exceed that of Pelosi, HRC, Biden, Blinken and even Michael McFaul whose atrociously accented, fractured spoken Russian suggests that were he to as much as fix his eye on the Putin manuscripts, he’d struggle through a few paragraphs before intoning that that there is an unmistakable echo of Mein Kempf. And if you are acquainted with any of the 203 noble Nobels you might consider passing on to them the speeches so as to remind them that dedication to intellectual integrity is meant to be universally applied.
Vladimir Putin is a formidable personality who leads a great country that has been experiencing an historic transformation. We will have to deal with him and with it, one way or another. Simply shouting to the skies: “genocidal killer” is dangerous, counter-productive – and, frankly, childish.
Putin’s Speeches in translation:
Putin’s Opening Speech At Davos World Economic Forum 2009
Address by President of the Russian Federation 2014
Russian President Putin’s Speech At The World Economic Forum 2021
The Ambassadorial Series: Deans of U.S.-Russia Diplomacy Transcript of the Ambassador Jack F. Matlock Interview