A Game of Dare

A Game of Dare

Ukraine: The bit they have not yet decided to invade

President Biden is playing the game of dare. I expect you have already seen that. In case you didn’t notice it, you might like to recall your childhood days when Dare was an important way of establishing the pecking order. The Dared is threatened with punishment if they do, and loss of face if they don’t. The Darer is threatened with war if they do and loss of face if they don’t. The Game of Dare always starts with “You wouldn’t dare (do the wicked thing the Dared is threatening to do)”. In the Biden version, he would clearly prefer to lose face than to go to war and find half the United States in favour of such a move and the other half against it. In fact, the politics of Washington is playing an even bigger part in deciding the future of Ukraine than Mr Putin.

Don’t believe it? Then please explain why the President is repeatedly warning us of imminent bombardment of Ukraine which never comes. It may come. Mr Putin’s considerations of face are certainly just as large as President Biden’s. After all the Botox treatment Mr Putin has had he can, of course, keep a straighter face than his counterpart who, as far as I know, has had no such rejuvenation attempts. All that is an added variant of the Game of Dare. It’s known as Hanging on to Office. In both cases I fancy their fingertips are getting pretty sore. 

To date President Biden is ‘woozing’ the game. It’s expressed that way because neither side can win and both sides must lose. Usually, the real loser is the one who loses most face. In this case, as I say, the loss of face is certainly less irksome to President Biden than to Mr Putin whose very future may be put in jeopardy by losing this particular bit of face. But Mr Putin is playing his hand pretty astutely so far, too. It is costing him horrendous theoretical sums of money, except that many of the costs are fixed and would be incurred in any case. The move on the subordinate territories will cost more. I don’t know the economics of military stand-by but I guess they are as variable as the boss wants them to be. It’s a poor CEO who cannot manoeuvre the economics of war.

Is a Game of Dare credible in the case of Ukraine or any other relatively minor territory? It certainly seems to be to Mr Putin. I don’t think it is being played fairly by President Biden. His threat of retaliation, when you boil it down, is a missing bowl of porridge. That isn’t war – because nobody wants war. Except perhaps Mr Putin, who probably really doesn’t because the costs do escalate dramatically when the bullets are live and the shells, nuclear. If true, how will the stand-off end?

I had a long talk with President Poroshenko, the last President of Ukraine, when he was in Singapore pre-Covid. His worry was corruption inside Ukraine. I wonder what he makes of the present situation. I think he might agree that President Biden, under pressure from at least half the world, including half the United States, will back down and settle for a five year moratorium on Ukraine joining NATO. Mr Putin will keep troops apparently at the ready for any hint of a break in this undertaking. The troops will get bored and may start shooting anyway. In practice, the can of dealing with the problem will be (politically) kicked untidily down the road.

OK, so how does your game of Dare end?

Good morning

John Bittleston

Guesses welcome at mentors@terriicmentors.com