The Master Strategist: Vladimir Putin
Strategy, as defined by Lawrence Freedman, is the ability to think from short-term, to long-term, addressing causes not symptoms, and taking action in advance to achieve goals. No other leader shows more dedication to the idea of “strategy” than President Vladimir Putin when dealing with the US.
In contrast to the West, Putin has developed a strategy consistent with one over arching idea: control of his region. This isn’t an accident. It is evident in Russia’s invasion of Georgia, annexation of Crimea, and in Eastern Ukraine. Now, we can see this strategy expanding to Syria, as Putin facilitates the Assad regime to stay in power. In each circumstance, Russia has out-maneuvered the West. NATO has not become involved, and the US has not been able to stop Putin from continuing his expansion of regional influence.
While Russia’s economy isn’t capable of supporting an all out war with the US or NATO, Putin is certainly able to stir up trouble in strategic areas like the Black Sea, the Middle East, and other post-Soviet countries. The US is reactive in all of these circumstances, while Russia has been entirely proactive. Russia has a goal, capabilities, and a drive to maintain and exert its regional power and exclude the West. The US has only half-heartedly reacted to the events in Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, etc, not adhering to the original plan of action (Let’s not forget Obama’s “red line” fiasco).
What to do now? Clearly, the winner in this situation is currently Russia. If strategy is thinking long-term, the US has none because it is too preoccupied being reactive to Russian aggression. The US needs to identify goals, capabilities, and then a plan of action. These goals and plan need to have a regional focus. Then the United States, and the President, needs to be committed to carrying out the plan. The US cannot continue to promise action and then shy away when that action is directly confronted. There is nothing worse for a nation’s reputation than diluting its threats, and the US has been committed to doing just that in conjunction with Putin’s strategic aggression.