Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its rapid stall out from effective Ukrainian resistance, there has been a lot of talk, backed up with appropriate quotes from Sun Tzu and other classic authors on strategy, that we need to contrive some kind of graceful “offramp” for Putin. This seems like unpromising advice.
Time to recall once again the counsel of Churchill, made for a foolishly hopeful American audience in Collier’s magazine in 1937, about why it was unlikely that Hitler’s Germany would embrace peace rather than aggressive conquest, because of the logic of dictatorships:
To relax their grip may be at the same time to release avenging forces. Dictators and those who immediately sustain them cannot quit their offices with the easy disdain—or more often relief—with which an American President or a British Prime Minister submits himself to an adverse popular verdict. For a dictator the choice may be between the throne or the grave. The character of the men who have raised themselves from obscurity to these positions of fierce, dazzling authority does not permit us to believe that they would bow their heads meekly to the stroke of fate. One has the feeling they would go down or conquer fighting, and play the fearful stakes which are in their hands. . .
Thus we are confronted with a situation in Europe abhorrent to its peoples, including the great mass of German and Italian peoples, in which bands of competent, determined men under ruthless leadership find themselves alike unable to go or to stop. It may well be that the choice before Germany is a choice between an internal and an external explosion. But it is not Germany that will really choose. It is only that band of politicians who have obtained this enormous power, whose movements are guided by two or three men, who will decide the supreme issue of peace or war. To this horrible decision they cannot come unbiased. Economic and political ruin stare them in the face, and the only means of escape may be victory in the field. They have the power to make war. They have the incentive to make war; nay, it may well be a compulsion.
Make the suitable adjustments and names swaps, and this passage applies pretty well to the current situation.
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