Thursday, June 19, 2014

International Relations 101: Checkers or Chess?

Illustration of the Red King Snoring from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass by John Tenniel
The United States has to stop playing checkers and start playing chess. The kind of transparency that Snowden and Wikileaks have championed is a nice ideal, but it leaves casualties in its wake when you are playing the board game known as international relations. In checkers you take the man in front of you, but when you play chess you learn that you might have to sacrifice a pawn to spare a more powerful piece. We must return to the world of Machiavelli and realpolitik which is chess in political terms and we may have to learn how to play from those who we’d like to hate. Vladimir Putin is a great chess player who's a master of the art of brinkmanship. He lined up all his ducks in the Crimea and then simply walked away (instead playing The Terminator), coming out the victor though the move might not have seemed economically expedient, in terms of Russia’s relationship to the EU. He called in an IOU with his Syrian client during the chemical weapons crisis and at least for the moment seemed to be ready to step into his adversary’s shoes. Imagine Vladimir Putin claiming the Nobel prize for Peace! For a moment it didn’t seem like a far flung idea. Perhaps Putinism with a human face is what America needs to strive for. It’s nice to have the power to bully and repel bullies in a darkened schoolyard. But like in a computer game with its garish cast of hellions, there’s always going to be someone bigger, stronger, more deadly. Lots of intelligence, in both the real and metaphorical meanings of the word, less carpet bombing and an occasional drone may sound like an uglymix, but these might be the only cocktail that leads to peace, anywhere.

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