Let me tell you a story. My ultimate purpose is to talk about the Russian jets buzzing one of our ships in a strafing formation, but first I want to tell you a story.
When I was in the Navy on the USS Tusk (SS 428)– the picture attached is one of me obscuring the view of the torpedo tubes — we were once in the Mediterranean industriously putting your tax dollars to work. On one occasion, we snuck up on a Russian destroyer, went to battle stations, and surfaced right next to her. Surprise! Hi!
A great deal has been made of how close the Russian jet came to our ship, and so I need to confess that we were pretty close to the Russkies as well. How close? Well, they were within earshot. A number of our sailors went up on our sail and spent some time yelling words of encouragement to them. Their sailors obviously were speaking Russian, but their replies to us were of the same nature, and so there was a great time of mutual edification. When we were done sailing alongside them, we submerged and went away.
Good times, good times.
We were not on the brink of war, but we were at battle stations. This kind of back-and-forth harassment matters, but not in the way people usually think.
If you have been reading here long, you probably know that I generally take a dim view of Vladimir Putin. But I do not take a dim view of his competence. He has a weak hand that he plays very well, and we have one of the strongest hands ever (talking about the cards) being held by one of the weakest hands ever (talking about the feckless presidential fingers).
It is as though Vladimir Putin came over here, arranged to buy a used Jeep Cherokee, and drove over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in order to spin brodies on the White House lawn. The security team there is awaiting directions from inside, and everyone is looking at one another nervously. The head of the Secret Service has been instructed from higher up “not to take the bait.”
Flexing, flyting, trash talking, and psych ops have been part of warfare from time immemorial. They have also been, when the people involved understand what is actually going on, one of the ways that wars are averted. When one of the parties falters at a time when the contest is costing them nothing, the message is sent that they are more likely to falter when the costs are significant. Weakness in the little things telegraphs weakness in the greater things.
During the Berlin airlift, back when the Cold War was pretty hot, the Russians laid down the requirement that the planes flying supplies to West Berlin had to fly within a specified corridor. You may fly in the supplies, but you must do it within this specified place. The Americans responded by requiring their planes to fly anywhere but that specified place.
This should be a common sense observation. A lot of gunfights have broken out in the saloon because of men staring coldly at one another across the room. That is true. But it is equally true that a lot of gunfights were averted that way also.
You do not avoid a kicking contest by letting the Secretary of State tape a “kick me” sign to the back of your shirt. That’s not the way to do it.
It is easy for those who have imbibed the pacifist vibe that surrounds us to think of these jets playing brinksman to our ships as doing something straight off the playground, as though the whole thing were beyond childish. Rather, it would be more to the point to see showdowns on the playground as training for something that men need to know how to do. In junior high, the whole thing is lots of bluster. With grown men and nation states, the whole thing is lots of bluster also, but with a handful of players who see the situation in a clear-eyed way. Quite apart from whether he is being godly, Putin is not being a bullying dimwit.
Control of the conversation is in large measure control of the conflict. This is manifested in different ways and at different times. Of course it is not a one-size-fits all approach, and every situation needs to measured and evaluated in its own context. When Jesus stood before Pilate not saying anything, it was Pilate who was afraid (John 19:8-9). When Paul testified before Felix in chains, (Acts 23:25), it was Felix who trembled. Mordecai would not bend before the powerful Haman (Est. 3:2), and that is one of the reasons how Haman came to be hanged. Goliath vaunted himself, and the men of Israel fled from his words (1 Sam. 17:24). And when David went out to meet him, there was an exchange of words first (1 Sam. 17:44,46).
David and Goliath both shared a great deal of common ground. They were both going to feed the other one to the birds — and they both said so. Those who dismiss this kind of thing as extraneous are simply demonstrating high levels of naivete.