Here’s what Putin needs to stop losing: A good columnist

Mr President, there may be an unorthodox way to avoid further humiliation in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin leads a meeting via videoconference in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (Alexei Babushkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin leads a meeting via videoconference in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 [Alexei Babushkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]

As a rule, I am not in the habit of offering unsolicited advice to men like Vladimir Putin, responsible for the deaths of countless innocents.

I have decided to make an exception on this urgent occasion because it’s clear that the smug thug with a wispy-haired combover is in a bit of a geopolitical pickle that he has to get out of before he reaches for the nuclear codes.

Putin thought Ukraine was Czechoslovakia circa summer 1968. Sure, Ukrainians might mount a spirited fight, but the harrowing sight of an endless conga line of Russian tanks would put a quick end to any real resistance.

A shaken Kyiv would, in due and largely bloodless course, return to the Motherland’s always welcoming bosom. At the most, plucky Ukraine might give it a good, noble go in spite of the awful odds. Sort of how a bunch of brave, white-clad-from-head-to-toe Finns on cross-country skis once held out for a long time in the face of Soviet invaders.

Alas, Putin is being taught a stiff, disorienting lesson: it’s best not to mess with Ukrainians who seem to be getting by with a little help from their friends.

So, like every other failed imperialist, Putin keeps spinning the wheel of generic generals to try to stave off what looks like the inevitable: retreat or negotiate an exit ramp off the human catastrophe of his foolish making.

But, wait, Mr President, there may be an unorthodox way to avoid further humiliation. Rather than turn to another dour, medal-laden, do-as-he’s-told Russian general, hire a columnist to show you how to fix what has, until now, gone so unexpectedly wrong.

That’s right. A columnist. At this dire point, what do you have to lose, sir? It’s all right to ask for help. Russia is at what a lot of bad, cliché-addicted Western columnists call an “inflection point”. You’re just asking for help in the wrong places, including at the majestic Kremlin.

You’ve been a columnist yourself, Mr President. Once, you were published in the venerable New York Times, where you cautioned Western leaders from attacking Syria. Your column included this prophetic paragraph.

“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders,” you wrote in 2013. “It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

It’s a shame you didn’t take your own prescient advice, sir. Oh well, live and not learn.

As a member of the fraternity, you know that columnists have a solution for every problem – big or small – that confronts and bedevils this mad, mixed-up world. Who better to recruit for advice and direction given that your gratuitous invasion hasn’t unfolded the way you had hoped for “on the ground”.

Beyond the likelihood that Earth is hurtling towards extinction as it keeps get hotter year after year, I can’t think of another matter that requires the singular attention of a columnist for hire than the disastrous war that was supposed to be over within hours of you starting it.

It would, I suppose, be preferable to turn to a Russian columnist. Fair warning, though: if he or she remotely shares the grating certitude of many English-language columnists, they will be blinded by hubris, harbour few doubts, and will not tolerate introspection. That sounds a lot like you too, Mr President. Forgive me, I digress.

I assure you that the know-it-all all the time columnist will offer you – in a thousand words or less – the elusive prescription to steer Russia out of the quagmire that you and your grovelling sycophants are responsible for.

Satisfaction guaranteed.

But given your, to put it charitably, uncharitable habit of silencing, jailing, maybe even arranging the sudden demise of – please note, sir, I wrote “maybe” – pesky, contrarian Russians, perhaps taking on a Moscow-based columnist as a wartime consigliere isn’t in the offing.

Not to worry, there is a happy excess of top-tier candidates. One of my colleagues at Al Jazeera wrote a fine piece earlier this month listing several reasons why you have failed in Ukraine.

You thought your big stick would bludgeon Ukrainians into capitulation. You were convinced the Biden administration and NATO would not respond decisively. Finally, your vanity and cocksure temperament made you sure that Ukraine would be crushed. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Since you insist on surrounding yourself – like any other autocrat – with agreeable “yes men”, I doubt my wise, iconoclastic opinion-page partner would be the ideal choice.

OK. Why not approach these two marquee American columnists – Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman? They had a brief chat recently on CNN about what you are likely to do given that the liberation of Ukraine from marauding neo-Nazis has flopped. It’s so bad your people have been doing a passable impersonation of Dr Strangelove with all this crazy talk of launching a “limited” atomic strike.

Anyway, the segment was called Putin’s Next Move. You see, the clairvoyant duo already knows what you’re going to do, despite, to my knowledge, neither columnist speaking or reading Russian and sitting comfortably in front of television cameras thousands of miles from the real front.

You may recall, Mr President, that both Zakaria and Friedman were for invading Iraq before they were against you invading Ukraine. (Bad.) You may also remember that Friedman was a big fan of your “reformist” agenda for a vibrant, capitalist Russia emerging from its Cold War coma. (Good.) In 2001, he wrote a long, remarkable hagiography of you disguised as a “think piece” which ended with this gooey line: “So keep rooting for Putin.” (Great.)

The “rooting” has ended. These days, Friedman says you’ve been blowing up natural gas pipelines as part of a bigger plan to have oil and gas prices spike and force Europeans, in particular, to choose between “heating or eating” this winter. Then, Ukraine will be obliged to “cut a dirty deal” with you.

There you have it, Mr President: your problems solved in a nice, neat 50-second soundbite.

Sounds like Friedman’s your man.

Still, I would be remiss in not sharing my own opinion, as an opinion columnist. You’re losing, Mr President. Forget “saving face”. Start saving lives. Stop the killing. Let Ukrainians return to their homes to rebuild their shattered country as best they can. And allow Russian soldiers to return to their mothers – alive.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.