Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

A lot of the comments correctly note that we can't know what is in Putin's heart and it does seem he is a bit more belligerent than it seemed a week ago given his diatribe over the weekend. But the real reason to not expand NATO was not to calm down Putin. It is because the United States has no strategic interest in expanding its defense commitments and nuclear shield to Eastern Europe. It is quite possible that leaving this region alone would lower the temperature. But even if it doesn't, there's no reason to be as engaged with this region the way we are, and inserting ourselves in the complicated politics of this region is (if history is a guide) likely to worsen the situation. It's a credit to the Blob's success that Americans take it for granted that we should be front and center in the vicissitudes of the Ukraine/Russia relationship.

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Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

This is all very good, Bob, and you're correct. One other angle that I hope you'd explore (that follows the cognitive empathy approach) is: why is there a ramp-up against Russia and Putin? if offering NATO membership to Ukraine is something that the West doesn't want, then why do it?

I hear people say it's about selling arms, but that can only explain so much and for a limited number of people involved. What is America (and the West) getting out of all this?

Maybe this is obvious to everyone and I just missed it.

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Feb 22, 2022·edited Feb 22, 2022Liked by Robert Wright

Now I just read this by Thomas Friedman "This is Putin's War. But America and NATO Are Not Innocent Bystanders". It says a lot of what I was thinking about... see here: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/opinion/putin-ukraine-nato.html

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This is a thorough analysis as always, except that the comparison with Hitler rests on some shaky assumptions. Hitler is often portrayed as crazy, irrational, and megalomaniacal, and while it's true that he displayed some of these aspects, to reduce the events that led to WWII and the Holocaust to Hitler's "crazy/evil" character would significantly obscure the underlying causes and conflicts of these calamities. In his two-volume "Hitler," the historian Ian Kershaw makes a good case that Hitler was a rather unremarkable individual--more a product of crazy times, e.g., WWI, ensuing collapse of the Austrian-Hungary Empire, the turmoil of the 1920s, etc., than their chief instigator. Plus, in the first 2-3 years of WWII, he led the war effort quite capably.

That's not to exculpate him from the horrors he helped inflict, but a broader view (often lacking in today's daily mainstream analyses more designed to elicit clicks, but fortunately otherwise characterising this piece) would make it less likely that efforts designed to fan emotions and incite feelings of retribution take hold. Such broad view would help direct more attention to the fact that a lot of today's conflicts are actively fanned by those who profit from them, such as weapons makers, and--unfortunately still under the radar--many news media.

As the writer David Loy says, our age is afflicted by three collective "poisons" (which feed on each other): institutionalized greed (e.g., driven by a never satisfied hunger for ever-increasing profits and consumption), institutionalized ill-will (manifesting as national and international militarization), and institutionalized delusion (promoted largely by profit-making news media but now also by content platforms such as Spotify, Facebook, and YouTube). All of these poisons can be seen at work in the mounting crisis in Europe.

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a) If you write “the nationalist firebrands on prime-time talk shows and in Parliament who have been urging him for years to annex more of Ukraine.”, it should be noted that you are talking about state owned channels.

b) It is not simply popular opinion, it is opinion of Kreml.

c) For instance, Dmitry Kiselyov, most popular of these firebrands, is not just TV-presenter, he is also CEO of state owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya and vice president of state owned VGTRK(All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company)

d) Kiselyov got these posts by Putins decree

e) So, lets not pretend that there are some nationalist firebrands on TV whos wishes Putin has to consider. These are men and women handpicked by Kremlin.

f) And they are not just talking about "to annex more of Ukraine". They are also talking "Ukraine is not country, but territory", "ukrainian language does not exist", "ukrainian people do not exist", "Ukraine has to be part of Russia" and from time to time they also talk about "nuking Warsaw, Kyiev and London".

g) Yeah, Putin does not talk about nuking Warsaw - I guess he is not such a firebrand - but Kremlin view about Ukraine is not much different. Just today foreign minister Lavrov said that Ukraine has no right to sovereignty, Putin yesterday mentioned that giving independence to Ukraine was madness.

h) You are too fixated about NATO. 2014 war was about EU. But fundamentally Russia does not want independent Ukraine.

i) This is core problem. Ukraine wants to be independent, Russia does not want it.

j) because of i) conflict/war between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable.

k) you write "closing Russian-language media outlets—both of which the Ukrainian government has done". Not true.

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The note at the bottom really should have been at the top because it is immensely clear at this point Putin’s reasoning for this aggression is only partly based on the potential future NATO membership of Ukraine. (The 2014 invasion was because of potential EU membership, no?)

It is in fact possible to be so empathetic to something that you end up sane-washing it. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence and the Blob is not actually wrong all the time.

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Does the Blob irrationally equate Putin with Hitler because of domestic politics (Russiagate, failed impeachment, etc.)?

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I would agree with point #1 that Putin is more rational than Hitler with not as many mental health issues as Hitler. I would say it is at least arguable that Hitler was “crazy” see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathography_of_Adolf_Hitler#:~:text=Hitler%20has%20often%20been%20associated,Langer%20and%20Erich%20Fromm.

There is a nice chart of who diagnosed Hitler as schizophrenic or psychotic versus all the other options available for Hitler. Also, I (a retired psychotherapist) don’t think Hitler would meet today’s criteria for schizophrenia/psychosis per this:


Additionally, those who classified Hitler as schizophrenic had a much loser criteria to use that word as a diagnosis before say 1980 (most of them were before 1980) which is not comparable to our current more detailed/researched criteria.

I also would suggest Putin has issues that are driving him as well although probably not as many Hitler. See here:


I would be cautious saying Putin’s decisions are the product of a rational mind. Like all of us he has his issues and blind spots that factor into the equation. Also likely he has this issue going on:

“Hubris syndrome is associated with power, more likely to manifest itself the longer the person exercises power and the greater the power they exercise. A syndrome not to be applied to anyone with existing mental illness or brain damage. Usually symptoms abate when the person no longer exercises power.”

Well, bottom line I sure don’t have as deep a view as Bob. Sure past mistakes by the West and political issues within Ukraine like oppression of Russian culture in schools and the media is not a good thing. I do tend to think there is little point in negotiating with Putin and it needs to be done of course. I do think at some point, when and where that is I sure don’t know and there is a point, the only thing that will alter his behavior is the delivery of negative consequences.

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Your clarification of how the Munich syndrome relates to current saber rattling in and around Ukraine is helpful. It is not a history most Americans know at a level permitting comparison with current events revolving around Ukraine. The comments so far are illuminating, as well.

One observation regarding the mental state of Hitler versus Putin: how clear is the governing elite class perception in real time, as opposed what appears in the rear view mirror? Accepting the distinctions in this piece, I am not sure we can accurately discern mental/emotional competence based on current events and the media screens through which our information about those events is delivered. So it is, as well, with the prisms for viewing the past; they often shift as new information is discovered that was unavailable, concealed, or just ignored in earlier times.

One cannot help but wonder if representatives from NATO and/or the EU, Ukraine, and Russia might have agreed to taking the NATO card off the table for Ukraine (perhaps without prejudice?), setting up a jointly administered and carefully audited election in the two small areas Russia is now “occupying”, with all parties agreeing to abide by the vote, whatever its outcome, and Russia taking its Army home, might not have worked a little better than what we have now. Or what we will soon have.

It is amazing how the egos of national leaders can lead multiple powers down a rabbit hole and end up murdering millions, including substantial numbers of their own citizens. More often than not, resulting in zero net gain or worse after all the blood stops flowing. Witness WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, to name a few. Some would add WWII, but I think it’s somewhat an outlier.

In the reality of how we have chosen to organize ourselves on the globe and, given the immense forces of political and economic interests who profit from the warfare industry, I am at a loss to imagine an approach to such dilemmas that could dependably avoid catastrophe. Even if, among the thoughtful participants in this Nonzero dialogue involving I don’t know how many subscribers, we came up with a path forward that made sense, how would our position gain traction where it would make a difference? As a relatively new participant here, there may be an answer I am just missing. If so, I would interested to know. Talk is certainly valuable/essential in figuring out what to do and how to do it. Action is the only thing that makes a difference. What do we take away from this conversation that converts to action?

All of this reminds of the immense challenge represented by Our Great American Experiment which, despite its often amazing successes (and major pratfalls), is currently undergoing major stress cracks induced by emotionally driven fracture zones among the body politic. Everyone, it turns out is wrong. Not just in error; fundamentally and irreversibly wrong, bordering on evil. And this is just within our own borders. Where do we go from there?

It makes Planet of the Apes look like a major accomplishment. Certainly Mother Earth would heave a huge sigh of relief. Okay, Bell, have another beer.

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I dunno; it really seems like Putin was going to forge ahead and try to get the Donbass region at the very least, no matter what was offered.

Washington Post, despite your criticisms, published an article by Paul Sonne and Robyn Dixon that, to me, seemed like a good overview of Putin's likely reasons for doing what he is doing. The authors paint Putin's actions as logical and not at all unexpected given his history, including his history with the Blob, and the attitudes he has expressed in the past. There is not a hint of "No one really knows why Putin is doing this" or "Putin is just weird."


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To add to this, there was a strong belief in 1938 that Germany had been unfairly screwed in 1919 - and there was some truth to this - and making it right would prevent a much greater war. Like you said, this was a mistake - Hitler wanted war and would have found (and did) another excuse even if Chamberlain had given him everything he wanted.

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As I finish your report, I'm wondering if this analysis might also be applied to impenetrable, crazy Trump and Republican supporters and deliver some useful insights into dealing with enough of these neighbors to get movement on our many national and local issues? I mean, some of them are clearly crazy, but are we otherwise disavowing the circumstances that recognition could bring enough on board for things of interests like economic transformation, Medicare for All, and Climate Change mitigation?

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Sorry if this question is obtuse, but how do we know Biden didn't proffer this solution to either Ukraine or NATO?

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