Let’s have a theological discussion. Does Putin have a soul?
About Cardinal Richelieu, Kissinger wrote, “the charting genius of a new concept of centralized statecraft and foreign policy based on the balance of power.” The Texas National Security Review article is an excellent description of the first modern statement of diplomacy, Raison d’Etat, (Reason of State) which Oxford Languages defines as “a purely political reason for action on the part of a ruler or government, especially where a departure from openness, justice, or honesty is involved.”
Richelieu was First Minister of France from 12 August 1624 – 4 December 1642. Until the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, sovereigns such as the King of France were formally vassals of the Holy Roman Empire. Religion was the partner of diplomacy, until Richelieu. With alliances in disregard of religion, he was thought evil by those who did not accept his rationale, for the state. On his death, a luminary said, paraphrasing,
“If there is no Hell, Richelieu has lived a very good life.”
This is the ancient version of “Did he have a soul?”
Richelieu’s deviousness inherits from Machiavelli’s The Prince. With the extensive documentation of Richelieu’s diplomacy, there began a tradition that continues to the current day:
- Suspension of moral standards when in conflict with the needs of the state. (Chechnya, Syria, Ukraine.)
- Disingenuous communication.
- Alliances that serve balance of power, including states with which there is doctrinal conflict.
Talleyrand, 1797-1815, was even more devious, to the extent that the multiple regimes of France, instead of executing him, found him useful. On hearing of his death, Austrian diplomat Metternich said, “I wonder what he means by that?” Modern diplo-speak was flowering, not to inform, but to mislead.
Richelieu’s ghost resurrects in the person of Bismarck, who created modern Germany. His machinations so increased the power of Germany that balance-of-power in Europe was destroyed, ultimately causing the Great War, World War 1.
The ghost of Richelieu, through Bismarck, was the ultimate cause of the Great War, which caused World War 2, which caused the Cold War. This is not to say that without Richelieu there would have been no war. His heritage provided the specific tripwires, fuses and explosions of record.
Among those who consider war inevitable, Richelieu is avidly studied. His students think, if war is inevitable, at least have it on the best terms. Until the invasion of Ukraine, Europe had forgotten how to write history in dripping blood. The disadvantage of historical anticipation is repetition.
Vladimir Putin is an intellectual man. He reads and re-reads the history and practice of diplomacy. His favorite author is undoubtedly Henry Kissinger. If you want to know an intellectual, read the books he reads. You’ll have a deeper understanding of the man than any amount of spy-work provides.
Now back to the question of both Bush and Biden: Does Putin have a soul? The administration’s internal dialog had better be more sophisticated than that; I expect that it is. But this “soul/no-soul” label, offered to the electorate as insight, has dumbing-down dangers. Simplifying a complex individual who is himself a child of history discards available insight into Putin’s mind. This is so important to the game, Richelieu’s game, Putin’s game, our game.
So do you still think Putin’s soul is the right question, or will you put some mental muscle into it? Are handshakes and gifts central, or is the center somewhere else?
To be continued shortly.