Does hegemony require a grand design? In a world where a thousand gilded oligarchs, billionaire sheiks, and Silicon deities rule the human future, we should not be surprised to discover that greed breeds reptilian minds. What I find most remarkable about these strange days – as thermobaric bombs melt shopping malls and fires rage in nuclear reactors – is the inability of our supermen to validate their power in any plausible narrative of the near future.
By all accounts, Putin, who surrounds himself with as much astrology, mysticism and perversion as the terminal Romanovs, sincerely believes that he must save the Ukrainians from being Ukrainians lest the celestial destiny of the Rus becomes impossible. The present must be smashed in order to make an imaginary past the future.
Far from the arch-strongman and master-deceiver admired by Trump, Orbán and Bolsonaro, Putin is simply ruthless, impetuous and prone to panic. The people in the streets of Kiev and Moscow who laughed away the threat until the missiles started falling, were naive only in expecting that no rational leader would sacrifice the 21st-century Russian economy to raise a faux double-eagle over the Dnieper.
Indeed, no rational leader would.
On the other shore, Biden conducts a nonstop seance with Dean Acheson and all the ghosts of Cold Wars past. The White House is visionless in the wilderness it helped to create. All the think tanks and genius minds that supposedly guide the Clinton-Obama wing of the Democratic Party are in their own way as lizard-brained as the soothsayers in the Kremlin. They can’t imagine any other intellectual framework for declining American power than nuclear-tipped competition with Russia and China. (One could almost hear the sigh of relief as Putin lifted the mental burden of having to think global strategy in the Anthropocene). In the end, Biden has turned out to be the same warmonger in power that we feared Hilary Clinton would be. Although Eastern Europe now distracts, who can doubt Biden’s determination to seek confrontation in the South China Sea – waters far more dangerous than the Black Sea?