If Vladimir Putin had personally ordered the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 last week, events could not have played into his hands more perfectly. In fact, the result has been so valuable to Putin, that it seems possible that he did take a calculated risk here and order the missile to be fired at the plane.
It wasn't just any plane that was shot down. It was the only plane to cross the combat zone that day that was packed with Dutch nationals. On the surface, it would seem that the last thing Putin would want to do would be to create such friction between him and his biggest western trading partner.
However, what he did immediately after the disaster suggests that, if he did not create this provocation, he has certainly used it in exactly the same way that Hitler used his unopposed invasion of the Rhineland in 1936. At that time, the west was tired of war, as it is now, and indeed, the extensive British and French units that were stationed in the Rhineland didn't fire a shot, but instead quietly withdrew after the German occupation was complete.
The result of this was that Hitler became overconfident, and kept on expanding until he finally started World War II, which ended with the deaths of hundreds of millions of human beings and the almost total destruction of Germany itself.
Whether Putin was responsible or not, the wanton murder of 193 Dutch citizens was a fearsome provocation. And what happened? Nothing. The Dutch government proved to be more interested in its trade with Russia than in its own citizens. The European Union continued to dither, worried that Putin might turn off their gas. Only the United States reacted with any degree of force, promising additional sanctions.
The result was predictable: within days, Putin widened the conflict. The Ukrainian cabinet, realizing that the situation was now hopeless, resigned. Will this lead to a Russianization of the whole Ukraine? It certainly could, as Putin now understands that he won't be opposed. He would dearly like to re-establish the old Russian Empire, which would mean that his next move would be to threaten the Baltic states and, the greatest prize, Poland.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Britain and France finally declared war, and it is likely that NATO would resist in some way, but there is a black swan that might entirely change the game before such an invasion even takes place.
This is the possibility of a nuclear attack on the United States. As I have said in this journal before on many occasions, the danger of nuclear terrorism is very real, and if there is state sponsorship behind it, such an attack is going to happen.
In my book Critical Mass, Vladimir Putin is portrayed as the hidden force behind the nuclear terrorists that the book portrays. The reason for this is simple: he cannot achieve his aims in Europe without reducing American power.
It will be a challenge to get a nuclear weapon into this country, but it is by no means impossible. A weapon capable of destroying a major city could certainly be smuggled in.
It is my belief that the target will be Washington. I have already discussed here just how devastating that will be to American power. Our government is far too concentrated in that city. In Critical Mass, I pointed out that there is no publicly available document of reconstitution. Our enemies know that, too, and therefore know that they can devastate us with a single bomb.
What if Washington disappeared overnight, and along with it the Congress, the President, the Supreme Court and the Pentagon?
Markets would collapse immediately. The dollar would become worthless overnight. Bank runs would bankrupt the nation in a matter of days. The military would struggle to pay its bills, and, in fact, soon cease to be able to buy food and fuel for our far-flung worldwide military establishment. NATO forces would remain intact, but without American leadership, what would that mean? Certainly, it would NOT mean that Western Europe would be willing to oppose a Russian march into the Baltic states and Poland.
This is a very, very dangerous period in world affairs, with structural similarities both to the period between July and August of 1914 and the period between 1936 and 1939.
In fact, history is repeating itself, and unfortunately there is only one player on the field who understands that and knows how to make use of the situation: that is Vladimir Putin.
He is fighting an effective asymmetric war in Ukraine, but the west, which could do the same, is contenting itself with economic sanctions which cannot be sufficiently damaging to really make Putin want to turn around. On the contrary, they are annoying enough to make him want to step up his timetable in order to hasten their end, but not strong enough to make him quit.
The United States has been compromising its own geopolitical power since the Vietnam war. It has been doing this by attempting to use symmetrical forces against enemies who fight asymmetrically, such as the Vietcong. Since Vietnam, we have lost every asymmetrical conflict in which we have been engaged.
What sort of strategy should the west use in Ukraine. Exactly the same one that Putin is using: Arm the Ukrainians but deny it.
We won't of course. Eastern Ukraine will fall to the 'separatists,' that is to say, to Russian armed force. Western Ukraine will survive intact unless Putin decides to take the ultimate gamble, and attack Washington using the asymmetric method of a terrorist go-between.
Does he have the courage to make such an audacious gamble?
We are quite likely to find out, and not so long from now.