Losing by the rules vs. playing to win

If one must play a game of “geopolitics” with Moscow, being able to make unpredictable moves could be the winner. So far, it’s worked like this:

“OK, I’ve broken the rules again. Whatcha gonna do?”


“Go ahead. But if you cut Swift off, it will be a declaration of war.”

“Not touching Swift but slapping your oligarchs. They’ll get angry and kick out Putin.”

“Wow. You guys are clever.”

And so on. At every turn, Moscow knows broadly what to expect and braces up for it. Sanctions are hurting but feel like a manageable chronic disease.

Apart from the sanctions, the West must have made behind-the-scenes moves. We might have been able to glimpse some, such as corruption scandals and leaks from offshore. But has the US used much of the information it is supposed to have gleaned over years of global electronic surveillance? Has it ever broken the rules of the new global game in a big, nasty way, and hit the opponent below the belt?

In well-reared girls and boys, guilt and the instinct to obey the rules are reflexes, ineradicable ghosts in the machine.

(Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities.) One of the male characters in this unfolding tragicomedy grew up in the streets – or, rather, in the well-like yards – of Leningrad. On the other side of the stage, someone is getting called “the Bad Boy of US Foreign Policy.” Despite having been properly reared in his time, he seems remarkably free from the sense of guilt and the obedience instinct. Could he be the only antagonist with a chance for a fast win?

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