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January 07, 2017

Defeating Putin is the Best Revenge

No matter whether Russian hacking was one of the decisive factors in the endgame of a close election, the best thing to do about Vladimir Putin is to defeat him. He has been successful in what I suspect was his original aim when everyone “knew” HRC was going to win: he has damaged faith in our electoral process. He is also providing an excuse to ignore what is wrong in America for those who don’t like the election results and don’t want to look at why the election was so close in the first place or why Trump was nominated or why Bernie Sanders almost was.

These are not the worst of Putin’s sins by far. There is the annexation of Crimea, the unspeakable horror of Syria to which he is a major contributor, the murder of political opponents at home and abroad, and kleptocracy on an unimaginable scale – and that’s just the stuff we know about. Like a tornado sucking in dirt, his strength is sucking in support from sizable minorities (I hope) in allied countries. Wavering leaders, scared by American weakness, are flocking to placate him. A recent poll even showed that support for Putin among American Republicans has increased.

Trump’s twitter assertion that we’ll solve the world’s problems together is absurd. It’s as dumb as Obama and Clinton’s reset button, George Bush seeing something good in Putin’s eyes, or hapless John Kerry “negotiating” a series of truces in Syria, which lasted exactly as long as Russia wanted them to tactically.

So how do we beat Putin? Hint: it’s not by threatening him with “consequences”; it’s not be telling him to “cut it out”; President Obama tried these already. Even sanctions, some of which have teeth, have not been effective. Putin respects nothing but strength; Putin won’t respond to anything but force. Strength now, literally, can avoid war later.

We need to crash the Russian economy. That’s what happened with Reagan’s then unpopular deployment of missiles to Europe. Russia and its unhappy satellites couldn’t afford the ensuing arms race. The satellites broke free; the wall came down; and there was glasnost, for a while, in mother Russia.

Fortunately, we have an easy and peaceful way to defang Putin: flood the world with American oil and natural gas. At above $50/barrel for oil Russia can probably squeak by; that’s why they agreed to a production cut with OPEC. If we step into that breech by quickly permitting LNG and oil export terminals, allowing pipelines to be built from our incredibly productive oil and gas fields to the sea, and getting rid of the ridiculous restrictions on exports designed to subsidize domestic refiners, there is no way that Russia will be able to earn enough oil revenue to keep its economy afloat.

I’m not suggesting we put public money into pipelines and export terminals; if we just issue permits expeditiously and do not allow vandals to interfere with construction, private funding for these infrastructure projects is a much better bet than getting Mexico to pay for a wall. The drillers are already starting to take their rigs out of mothballs even with the incentive of $50 oil and despite inadequate takeaway capacity.

Yes, there’ll be collateral damage: Saudi Arabia, what’s left of the tyrannical regime in Venezuela, and the market for ISIS-controlled oil. But our allies’ backbones will be strengthened knowing there is cheap American gas and oil available to protect them from Russian energy blackmail via Gazprom. Arab oil embargos are already a non-weapon because it’s so clear that American energy can flow into the breach.

The second part of the anti-Putin campaign is a quick buildup of American military strength. We need to deploy well-armed troops to the Baltics and along the Russian frontier. We should be willing to arm those who, like the Ukrainians, are willing to fight against Russia. This will NOT lead to an arm’s race as long as we deploy the energy-supply weapon at the same time. Russia won’t be able to pay for it.

A collapsing Russian economy and clear military inferiority will affect Russian “elections”, and hopefully will lead to regime change. Putin, if still alive after a change of power, can blame the US.

If we unleash our energy weapon and rebuild our military as only we can, it won’t matter whether the President calls Putin a thug or a genius; he’ll be washed up. May be better to let him save as much face as possible, as long as we’re winning.

The good news is that Trump is for both increasing our energy production and military strength. Will those who are decrying Russian attempts to influence our election support taking effective steps against Putin? Will Trump be able to channel their anti-Putin outrage to gain their support for a strong counter-attack? Does he want to? It’s a stretch on both sides of the cultural gulf.

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