Edward Luttwak is the greatest interview subject I’ve read in a long, long time. Steve Sailer flags the Jewish magazine Tablet’s interview with Luttwak, the veteran national security thinker. Steve writes that he has been seeing Luttwak’s name for years, but until he read this article, “I had no idea what a fun interview he is.” Boy, is that ever true. Set some time aside and read it. It’s bitchy (on Kissinger’s new book about the US-China relationship: “I have to review it for the TLS, but I’ve been delaying it by weeks because I don’t know whether it is a case of senility or utter corruption.”), but also very, very smart. Take, for example, Luttwak’s response when the interviewer, David Samuels, puts a theory to him: that American leadership is doomed to be stupid because you don’t have to be very smart to rise to the top in America’s political system, while countries like Putin’s Russia will have effective leadership because if you’re Vladimir Putin, you will have had to become extremely smart about leadership simply to have survived. What’s wrong with this theory? Samuels asks. Luttwak responds:
Even if your analysis is totally correct, your conclusion is wrong. Think about what it means to work for a Putin, whose natural approach to any problem is deception. For example, he had an affair with this athlete, a gymnast, and he went through two phases. Phase one: He concealed it from his wife. Phase two: He launched a public campaign showing himself to be a macho man. He had photographs of him shooting a rifle, and as a Judo champion, and therefore had the news leaked that he was having an affair. Not only an affair with a young woman, but a gymnast, an athlete. Obviously such a person is much more wily and cunning and able to handle conflict than his American counterpart. But when such a person is the head of a department, the whole department is actually paralyzed and they are all reduced to serfs and valets. Therefore, what gets applied to a problem is only the wisdom of the aforementioned wily head of the department. All the other talent is wasted, all the other knowledge is wasted.
Now you have a choice: You can have a non-wily head of a department and the collective knowledge and wisdom of the whole department, or else you can have a wily head and zero functioning. And that is how the Russian government is currently working. Putin and Medvedev have very little control of the Russian bureaucracy. When you want to deal with them, and I dealt with them this morning, they act in very uncooperative, cagey, and deceptive ways because they are first of all trying to protect their security and stability and benefits from their boss. They have to deceive you because they are deceiving their boss before he even shows up to work. And they are all running little games. So, that’s the alternative. You can have a wily Putin and a stupid government. Or an intelligent government and an innocent head. There’s always is a trade-off. A Putin cannot be an inspiring leader.
Read the whole interview here. Luttwak is very down on the idea that the new Egypt will be anything but functionally Islamist, by the way.