Have you ever wondered what terrorists do when they’re not beheading journalists, blowing up shopping malls, or hijacking airplanes? I suspect some of their free time is spent studying the Koran and listening to podcasts explaining the whole 72-virgins for martyrs thing. But other than that, what do they do with their time?
I’ve decided that I think they play chess. Here’s why.
Saturday I played chess with one of the sprouts. Chess is a great teacher of logic, problem solving, and strategy. She is still working on strategy.
After some initial feigning moves, I sacrificed several pieces (a knight, a bishop, and two pawns) in order to get part of the board cleared out with my rooks and queen in place. My daughter was giddy at the prospect of winning, because she was up several pieces. She was already gloating that she was ahead and might actually win this time. Three moves later she was in check, and six moves later, checkmate.
I then explained to her that I wanted her to take my pieces. She was amazed that I would want to lose pieces. I told her that sometimes you make sacrifices in order to get your opponent into a position where they become vulnerable, and to do that you have to make it look like you made a mistake, were careless, or just didn’t know what you’re doing.
Several weeks ago I wrote about (click here) how Vladimir Putin was playing poker with the Ukraine. By the way, he still is. ISIS, though, is playing chess. That is the only conclusion I can come to. Why else would they taunt the United States by beheading journalists in such a public way. They want us to attack. It is a trap.
I don’t know what their reasoning is, but I am quite certain that we are falling right into their hands.
This is just one of those blog posts that can’t stay focused.
1. Botched Execution. Apparently Arizona had a very “Oklahoma-like” moment this past week when it tried to execute a man guilty of murdering his girlfriend and her father. Click here for the WSJ’s report. It took almost 2 hours for him to die. in April the same thing happened in Oklahoma, but it only took 45 minutes for him to die there. Oklahoma has that effect on people–it makes them want to die quicker.
I am not a supporter of the death penalty, and have blogged about that before (click here). However, I am a big supporter of competency. I worry about reports like this because it highlights the growing incompetency of our society. The inability to quickly and effectively kill someone by a state organization whose sole job is to put people to death is troubling. I know that there are many mitigating circumstances, but it is precisely the point that competency falls apart when too many people try to command the situation. Please note, I have no sympathy for this murderer and others like him. Instead, I worry that we can’t even perform the most basic of civil responsibilities.
Apparently we dodged a bullet. What overall lessons can we learn? A) The cosmos is a dangerous place. B. We probably dodge a bullet every day. C. Everything is not predictable. D. You should give thanks for today, because you have electricity and Netflix and smoothies. Tomorrow you might not.
3. Ukraine. It occurs to me that Vladimir Putin is currently playing the role of Kim Kardashian or Miley Cyrus or something. He just can’t help but be in the headlines so he will do almost anything to stay there. The MH17 shoot down was likely a mistake. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to shoot down, on purpose, a civilian airliner. What is not a mistake, though, is that the Russians are giving very powerful anti-aircraft artillery and other weaponry to people who are not really all that expert in using it, and that Russian apparently is firing into Ukraine. Click here for news story.
I told you months ago that Putin was playing poker, not chess. He now knows that he has all the cards, and that the West will fold. At this juncture, it is only a matter of time before Russia annexes all of Ukraine. I suspect it will happen before the end of 2015. The only thing that will stop that is the deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine, and I just don’t think that will happen. We will not call Putin, and as we fold he will rake in the winnings.
I recently heard a commentator (forgive me, I can’t remember who it was or where I heard it, but I did hear it) describe the situation in Crimea as a game. He said that Vladimir Putin was playing chess but President Barack Obama was playing checkers. It was a clever line, but I think the commentator was wrong on two fronts. One, I don’t think President Obama is much to blame for any of this. Sure, he has shown a level of weakness internationally, but none of that has much bearing on what Russia is doing.
The commentator was also wrong in his game analogy. Putin is not playing chess.
He is playing poker.
In 2008 he put his ante into the game with the aggressive actions Russia took toward Georgia in 2008. That was when he sat down at the table, so to speak. The recent move in Crimea is the raising of the stakes. Note that this is not like chess, where pieces are put into positions to strike. The Cold War was chess. The new world game is poker–where one action is made to gauge the response of the other.
I know a thing or two about poker. The Greenbeans love to play poker, and I earned quite a bit of Burger King spending money when I was in college playing poker. Of course I never play for high stakes as it is the enjoyment of cards that I like. Putin, however, is a big spender.
His troops are already in Crimea, and I fully expect him to annex the whole of Ukraine, unless President Obama and NATO call (a poker term, meaning match or raise the bet). It is, at this point, unavoidable. I believe the people in Ukraine know this and that is why they are offering almost no resistance. Some would call the invasion of Ukraine a ‘doubling down’ but they would be wrong. Doubling down is blackjack. Putin is not playing blackjack, remember. He is playing straight poker.
If he invades Ukraine then it is another raising of the stakes. He will raise the stakes again and again, because Putin loves to gamble, especially with other people’s money. There is no risk to him or to Russia, really, if he fails, but the gains could be sizable. He will raise the stakes again by finishing the work in Georgia and then he will go all in by threatening Belarus and the Baltic States. That is when it gets really interesting because the Baltics are all in NATO. To attack them is to attack the United States.
This is truly a high stakes table. If President Obama and NATO do not call Putin now, it will mean much more trouble later. I’ve taught my sprouts that when playing poker it is important to play the other players–know their tendencies, their tells, their weaknesses but you also have to play your cards. Bluff’s don’t often work and usually only succeed in movies and novels. The only way to call him is to sit down with a huge stack of chips and deploy military assets, real people and real weapons on the border in Ukraine, admit Ukraine to NATO immediately, and stop trying to use sanctions and diplomacy. Sanctions and diplomacy is chess. Putin is playing poker.
To date, I can’t fault President Obama much, other than to say he should have seen this coming. This is history. There really should be more historians making White House policy decisions. Back in 2008, before the Georgia crisis even, I read a wonderful little book (it is actually very little) called The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan. Kagan’s argument was that the fall of the Soviet Union did not usher in global peace, but a return to the world in which ideologies, religions, and potentates ruled. In short, the history we learned in school. He seemed particularly clairvoyant on issues regarding Russia and Putin. Here is a brief excerpt, written in 2008:
It is not hard to imagine the tremors along the Euro-Russian fault line erupting in confrontation. A crisis over Ukraine, which wants to join NATO, could provoke Russian belligerence. Conflict between the Georgian government and separatist forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia supported by Russia could spark a military conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow (NOTE–THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED IN 2008 AFTER THIS BOOK WAS PRINTED). What would Europe and the United States do if Russia played hardball in either Ukraine or Georgia? They might well do nothing. Post-modern Europe can scarcely bring itself to contemplate a return of conflict involving a great power and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Nor is the United States eager to take on Russia when it is so absorbed in the Middle East. Nevertheless, a Russian confrontation with Ukraine or George would usher in a brand-new world–or rather a very old world. pp 23-24
Yeah, what he said is what is happening. So, either Putin wins all the chips and walks away, or we call. Those are the only two choices the President has. I’ve quoted these lines many times, but they never let me down in terms of guidance for living. I hope someone sings them in the Presidents ear soon:
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done. From The Gambler, sung by Kenny Rogers