Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

More pathological beliefs about the Ukraine crisis: Putin the master player

By Christopher J. Fettweis Best Defense guest columnist 3) Putin is a master strategist. He plays chess while we play checkers.  One of the most popular metaphors to explain the U.S. reaction to the crisis has been to suggest that while Putin plays chess, President Obama plays checkers. Putin is strategic and clever, in other words, while ...

ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/GettyImages
ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/GettyImages
ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/GettyImages

By Christopher J. Fettweis
Best Defense guest columnist

3) Putin is a master strategist. He plays chess while we play checkers. 
One of the most popular metaphors to explain the U.S. reaction to the crisis has been to suggest that while Putin plays chess, President Obama plays checkers. Putin is strategic and clever, in other words, while Obama is simple and one-dimensional. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee believes checkers gives Obama too much credit; the president is actually only playing marbles.

As political scientist Robert Jervis observed some time ago, for a variety of reasons all "actors tend to see the behavior of others as more centralized, disciplined, and coordinated than it is." In part because they are far more aware of their own internal deliberations and only see the outcomes of those elsewhere, people tend to believe that the other is unified, strategic, and purposeful. As a result, it appears to some that every enemy the United States has ever faced has played chess while Washington merely played checkers. It is never true.

By Christopher J. Fettweis
Best Defense guest columnist

3) Putin is a master strategist. He plays chess while we play checkers. 
One of the most popular metaphors to explain the U.S. reaction to the crisis has been to suggest that while Putin plays chess, President Obama plays checkers. Putin is strategic and clever, in other words, while Obama is simple and one-dimensional. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee believes checkers gives Obama too much credit; the president is actually only playing marbles.

As political scientist Robert Jervis observed some time ago, for a variety of reasons all "actors tend to see the behavior of others as more centralized, disciplined, and coordinated than it is." In part because they are far more aware of their own internal deliberations and only see the outcomes of those elsewhere, people tend to believe that the other is unified, strategic, and purposeful. As a result, it appears to some that every enemy the United States has ever faced has played chess while Washington merely played checkers. It is never true.

(Still more to come.)

Christopher J. Fettweis is associate professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. The thoughts in this essay are extensions of his latest book, The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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