Being an enfant terrible at the age of 79 is not a task that can be undertaken lightly. Most men are simple conformists from childhood on. For those with more adventuresome temperaments, a flurry of rebellion in their teens or 20s is usually the prelude to a failure of imagination or will that in turn precedes some kind of domestic establishment. There are children and careers to consider. Who has time to go running off to Ladakh to get shot at? A desk job, with perhaps some rock climbing or motor boating on weekends, isn’t a bad life, compared to many of the alternatives. Better to be led blindfolded to the edge of the pit than to take the entire weight of your existence on your shoulders, and collapse before you ever get there. On the way there will be songs and dances, and the voices of children at play. The fall will come, and then winter, followed by spring. Then it will be summer again.
The truly independent of mind and spirit never listen to these voices. They can’t. They will carve their own paths, which will end up in sorrow and tears most likely. Sometimes madness. Not because it is wrong to have adventures but because that is the human fate, against which they determined long ago to take up arms. They are monsters. Lovable monsters, sometimes, but always monsters. Rebel angels. Reprobates. Rock stars. You name it. We admire them, and hope that they fail, not because of who they are, primarily, but because of how their success or failure makes our own ambitions look petty. In its thirst for order and control, our society today has a special bone to pick with these people, who are mostly though not always male—meaning that they are racist, sexist, white supremacist, egocentric, narcissistic transphobes. To which I answer, is the world really better off without monsters? I don’t think so.
Edward Luttwak is an enfant terrible at 79 because he is gifted, and because he has played the role all his life. He skyrocketed to international attention at the age of 26 with the publication of his first book, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a title that pretty well encapsulates the esprit of a long and distinguished career spent pingponging between various battlefields, the pages of the TLS, and the halls of the Pentagon. In a different country, in a different age, a self-made polyglot expert in military history and geostrategy who could speak half a dozen languages and had a thirst for adventure and occasional bloodshed would be running Indochina, and would then retire to the countryside to write a memoir of his campaigns and fuck the servants.
In America, which takes its uneasy and often forgetful relationship to its own empire as a mark of virtue, Luttwak’s fate was otherwise. Unlike, say, Henry Kissinger, whose chilly Germanic brain made him an influential courtier in six or eight administrations, not to mention incredibly rich—Luttwak would remain a gadfly in the corridors of power. Where Kissinger was cold, Luttwak was hot. Where Kissinger flattered, Luttwak was abrasive, and delighted in puncturing authority. Where Kissinger was cerebral, and talked about systems, Luttwak was hot-blooded, and wanted to touch and feel the stuff that the world is made of. He was too unruly and unflattering and independent-minded to be given any real responsibility for anything. No one wants a bona fide monster as secretary of defense.
On the other hand, Luttwak was too smart, with his big 16-cylinder brain, and too energetic, and too often right, to be banished to some provincial university to teach Byzantine military history to the children of accountants and dentists. Better to keep him in Chevy Chase, and give him contracts to chase after narco-terrorists or to study Chinese expansionism to his heart’s content until he suffers a heart attack.
Well, good luck with that. With the God of Israel firmly on his side, Edward Luttwak will live until he is 120 years old, and continue to delight in skewering his enemies, and baffling D.C. policymakers who prefer more orderly arrangements of dominoes on the table to the messy stuff that the world is actually made of. Long may he thrive.
What follows is a transcript of a recent three-hour-long conversation at Luttwak’s home in Maryland, accompanied by glasses of chilled vodka, from which Luttwak himself notably refrained. The conversation has been edited and condensed for ease of reading, with all the controversial parts left in.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A D.C. WIZARD
David Samuels: Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia. So let’s get it straight.
Edward Luttwak: I was brought up by parents who, at no point, believed that they were Romanian. They were living in Romania, and quite happily. The part of the world that I came from is the only province in the whole of Europe where there was no Holocaust. In Banat, where we lived, nothing happened.
My parents were international people. In 1938, they went on honeymoon to Bali because KLM introduced service to Bali, so they went. My mother’s family’s house, in Timisoara, is a main tourist attraction. It’s called the Baruch Palace. So my mother’s family were people who had palaces. My father had rented the house where we lived. He didn’t own it. He owned warehouses and railway wagons. I actually saw one in Yugoslavia, in 1963.
My father lost everything, and he arrived in December 1947 to Naples. He then went to Palermo, Sicily, because he figured that Palermo is the only place in the world where he, as an international trader, would be able to become a millionaire in three years, which happened. The reason is that he was well-informed. He read that the British had created the National Health Service and the National Health Service distributed orange juice to pregnant women. They’d been to London. He knew there weren’t too many orange trees there.
So they went to Palermo and bought the green oranges on the tree. When they were ripe, they shipped them to London. He became very rich, very fast. Then, unfortunately, he developed an insane passion for a new technology called polyvinyl chloride, PVC. He went to Milan to set up a factory to electronically meld PVC.
He was not wrong.
I know. But he was very wrong for me because I loved Palermo. The Milanese children would make fun of me. I would break their noses.
Dalya Luttwak (Edward’s wife, an artist, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel): Edward, Edward.
David Samuels: Tell me for three minutes about your upbringing in Palermo, who your classmates were.
Edward Luttwak: We lived in the best part of Palermo because my parents, being Central Europeans, had a total need for opera and classical music. There’s an opera house and a concert hall. They brought over the world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin and other such people. We lived right there.
Many families around us were all aristocratic but they sent their children to boarding school in Tuscany, so they wouldn’t speak the Sicilian dialect. But my parents loved Palermo and they were not going to send me away. The only people who were both rich and nonaristocratic were the Mafia bosses. So I grew up with the Mafia bosses’ children.
Already, by the age of 6, we knew that we couldn’t fight each other because if one wins, then the older brother comes. If the older brother comes, then fathers, then eventually guns might come out. So we already knew all about deterrence and power politics.
Did you make the mistake of assaulting any of the Mafia bosses’ children?
No, no, no, no. We all knew what to do and how to do it. We formed a gang, first of all. Our gang had to control our street, so nobody from the other gangs would come in. Now, there was a socioeconomic gap between us and the others, because aristocrats lived there. In fact, just two years ago, I was in Venice and went to see a childhood friend, the prince Alliata, who runs a foundation that owns an island there. He has a Botticelli in his apartment. I was at Alliata’s house when his father died over Monte Carlo while flying his own plane. All of this was my world in Palermo.
It was a paradise, also because Mondello Beach is right there. The place where they invented ice cream in the 12th century, because there’s snow on the mountains every winter, which they would bring down store in ice wells. It was a place where there were Arabs, Byzantines, Jews, all kinds of people. After centuries, it still had that atmosphere.
So from that paradisiacal place, they sent me to Milan, which was cold, rainy, and gray. They spoke Milanese. I spoke Sicilian. I broke noses. I got kicked out of school. Then I got kicked out of a second school.
My parents then had no choice but to send me to boarding school in England. I didn’t speak a word of English, but my mother knew it well because she had taken English as a third language in Timisoara. She was a woman who did nothing but read books and play tennis. As I say, her family’s house, the Baruch Palace, is one of the main tourist attractions in Timisoara. It’s a spectacular building.
Anyway, they wrote, “He doesn’t speak English, so we don’t know if he’s intelligent or even educable, but it’s all right, Mrs. Luttwak, he can take care of himself.”
What the Italian teachers wanted was no violence. What the British teachers wanted was no running off to teacher crying. Since I could take care of myself, I was fine there. I learned English. Then I went into the school’s British Army Cadet corps, and so forth.
So there we have the making of a multilingual scholar-warrior with an intuitive grasp of grand strategy, who isn’t afraid of broken noses.
Let’s apply your talents to the map on the table in front of us, then. The revelation of the past few months is that the world is dominated by three kingdoms, which everyone talked about as being strong in various dimensions but when put to the test have all turned out to be surprisingly weak. So let’s do a little tour of the three kings of the weak kingdoms, starting with Vladimir Putin.
VLAD’S BAD BET
How does it happen, Edward, that a person who for 20 years was seen as the one true strategist on the planet, a careful man who never miscalculated, has blundered so badly? While other world leaders live in a fantasy world, we can always depend on Vlad with his KGB training to have a realist appraisal of events. Yet every part of his invasion of Ukraine looks like a tremendous miscalculation, and now it looks like he will wind up with Donbas, which no one actually wants, at the price of tens of thousand dead and wounded soldiers and the loss of half his tanks.
No. No. No. It was a terrible mistake, but there are circumstances that provide a level of clarity. I use Twitter, David. You never see my tweets.
Twitter rots people’s brains, so no thank you.
But you did see my early tweets.
“Not enough troops to occupy Ukraine, this is a disaster, finis Putin.”
The fighting started at approximately 1 o’clock in the morning, February 24th. I tweeted before that fighting. On the 23rd, I said, Russia is invading Europe’s biggest country with very small forces, that are counted as 150,000 only by including things like dentists. The actual troop level was more like 110,000.
In another tweet, on February 25, I said, careful poker player Putin who won Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea, without any fight, has gone to the roulette table and put everything there. And then I said, finis Putin, end Putin.
Concurrently, I was having a fight with what you might call the intelligence community. The head of the CIA is a retired ambassador, Mr. Burns, who is a sensible chap. But the director of national intelligence, who comes from the CIA is not. What they forecast for the war was: The Russians move, Zelensky escapes, the government dissolves, and the Ukrainian army left without orders doesn’t fight.
That was the estimate of both the U.S. intelligence community and of the FSB, because in Moscow, they gave the intelligence responsibility to the FSB on the fiction that Ukraine is part of Russia, instead of the SVR [Foreign Intelligence Service].
Now, the fact is that the Americans and the Russians had exactly the same estimate. OK. Exactly the same estimate. Indeed, Biden notoriously offered to evacuate Zelensky.
There are basically three reasons.
First, the military intelligence advisers both on the Russian side and the American side all belong to the same church. This church preaches “fourth-generation warfare,” hybrid warfare, postmodern information warfare—all new stuff, praised as nonkinetic. Kinetic is the term for war fought by blockheads, just people shooting people. They were drunk, both the Russians and the Americans, on this idea that you have cyber this, you have cyber that, and that the Ukrainan soldier—
Once he opens his iPhone, the Ukrainian soldier won’t be able to function mentally anymore, his morale will collapse, and he will lay down his weapons and surrender.
They believed this nonsense. I have gone to war games until basically I got kicked out. Why was that? Because I would go to these war games and I would see these people, even three star generals running the war games. And I would say, fellows, I don’t know where you have been, OK: And I don’t know what experience you have of war. I guess you flew by helicopter, over Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ve had a gun in my hand and I’ve shot somebody and I have his helmet in my study. I have used a bazooka. I have actually been in combat. None of you guys have been in combat, because you have only fought people who had no artillery, no armor, no air power. And you don’t know what you’re talking about. All of this stuff you’re telling me in the war games. I said, no, this is not going to happen. What will happen is that the bloke is going to pick up a gun.
He is not going to be persuaded to surrender via his iPhone.
The Russians believed it too. The Russians were also hybrid warfare enthusiasts in their war colleges and war games, and so on.
So now, this is absolutely not new. In August 1914, when the fighting started in Europe, on the allied side there were Belgian officers, most of whom had fought in the Congo. There were French, who had fought in Indochina, but also in Africa. And British, who had fought everywhere. On the other side were Germans who were completely virgin, had no combat experience, because the only German colonies were Togo—which was very small, and where there was almost no fighting at all—Cameroon, and Pacific Islands. In Tanganyika there was a famous multiyear war but only after 1914. So the Germans had no combat experience, whereas the allies had combat experience that completely misled them.
It took six months or so for the allies to realize that any officer who had combat experience in the colonies was a menace and should be sent back to do logistics and stuff like that, because they have no idea what it means to fight a drilled European force. Right? So this has happened before.
Both the Russians and the Americans were intoxicated with false war doctrines, which were given a false idea of veracity, because they supposedly came from combat experience. All these people had ribbons on their ribbons, campaign ribbons galore. But the war games, none of them were with Afghans or Iraqis. They were with Chinese and Russians.
RUSSIA’S FAILED COUP DE MAIN
So what exactly was the Russian strategy, aside from terrifying the Ukrainians through terrible tweets? They had a plan.
The Russians carried out a classic coup de main. A coup de main is like a coup d’etat, except it’s done in a foreign country. They helicoptered these troops to Kyiv. They come from an air assault brigade, they were vaguely elite forces. They landed by helicopter in the Antonov airfield, which is not Kyiv’s airport. That airport is on the other side. Boryspil.
They landed there because the Antonov factory makes very big airplanes, and so there is a very long runway. The Antonov factory is closed, so the only people there are people who are described in the Western press as national guard. OK. They are not national guard. They are gendarmerie, they are like Italian Carabinieri or something like that. They are middle-aged guys who are guarding something. These fellows are assaulted by Russian airborne troops.
So they telephoned their headquarters, which called the presidency. Whereupon the landscape is, instead of running away, the defense minister and the mayor of Kyiv, all these people, they call and say: Whoever you are, go to the Antonov field. The message is: Go to Hostomel, meaning the locality of the Antonov field, and whoever you are—single soldiers, units, guards, go there, with whatever means you can. They went by motorcycle, by taxi, whatever.
Now, when a group of disparate guards, soldiers, and policemen attack a cohesive elite unit with automatic weapons, what should have happened is a massacre. Instead, what happened was that these Ukrainians who got there were absolutely ferocious and bounced them right out of the airfield into the woods.
Now the purpose of the Russians who came by helicopter was to secure the runway for the arrival of the airborne troops who were loaded on the Ilyushin 76, which is the big Russian aircraft. They were going to bring in many more troops. With the first lot of 1,500 or so, they were supposed to be driving into Kyiv with these eight-wheel armored vehicles that came straight down from Belarus by going across the border. These are very fast vehicles that can reasonably drive at 80 kilometers an hour. So once the airborne troops get off the planes, they get on those vehicles, drive to the center of Kyiv and capture all the key headquarters just as in a coup d’etat. That was the plan.
Meantime, there’s a very long armored column being assembled at the border to do the triumphal entry into Kyiv and impress everybody there, and in the world, by an endless procession of armored vehicles, making the Russian army look immense. Armored vehicles would be streaming through central Kyiv in an unending parade for hours. Every reporter in the world would say, my God, the majesty. That is the column that was then stranded.
Picked apart by drones.
All of this was predicated on the fact that cyber war, hybrid war, this information warfare, targeting the social media mind, would do its job. And none of it worked. Because what happened was that the gendermerie telephoned Kyiv, and people in Kyiv telephoned each other, and they jumped into vehicles, got there. So the first of the 76s was blown up on the runway. And the others seeing a big fight ...
Said, we’re not landing.
And then, the column, the ceremonial victory column ...
Was stuck very badly. Because when a 50-ton tank is stopped completely, to restart it from velocity zero to moving velocity uses a lot of fuel. So after a few stops and starts, they run out of fuel.
Which was not part of the calculations.
That’s correct. It was supposed to be a rolling parade, and it was all designed according to theories of hybrid war, fourth-generation warfare, designed to crush resistance.
The important point is this. The Americans believed this mumbo-jumbo just the same as the Russians did. They all believed this nonsense, because none of them has real combat experience. They don’t know things. They were completely wrong about warfare.
I want to tell you, that if the NATO forces had gone to war, it would be just the same.
The Americans believed this mumbo-jumbo just the same as the Russians did. They all believed this nonsense, because none of them has real combat experience.
TWITTER AS INTELLECTUAL BLOCKCHAIN
The American intelligence community is now boasting about its involvement in the killing of 15 Russian generals.
You really don’t see my tweets, because I tweeted about that.
I’ll open a Twitter account when they pay me a minimum of $4 a word to tweet. It will be worth it, I promise.
So what did you say?
President Biden immediately intervened. I’ve known Joe Biden for 40 years. I tweeted that whoever it is who’s leaking this information, which is, by the way, misleading, they need to be punished. Immediately, Biden then went public, and then I tweeted, “President Biden has publicly called on these intelligence heads to stop these leaks.”
What’s the point of antagonizing this guy, of adding to his humiliation, and revealing U.S. capacities? Isn’t that a no-no?
Bureaucrats boasting, saying, “Oh, those generals, we did it.” You know how you kill a general? You don’t need intelligence to kill the general, all you need is a radio receiver, because you don’t have to decipher the communication. You are doing traffic analysis, you are determining that from this place, there’s a lot of radio messages coming and going.
Therefore someone important is there.
You don’t have to know what it is, it could be a Chinese laundry that was just set up, but most likely it’s a command post. That’s all it was, and the intelligence people were boasting about it.
Do you know how blockchain works?
Yes, my son has made me a believer in the almighty blockchain.
It creates an irrevocable past. A tweet is a blockchain of statements. Before tweets, we only had “I told you so.” Now you can say, “Look it up, it’s right there.” For me, professionally, it’s been quite important.
This is the one case where Biden picked it up immediately. This time there was immediate action. They were boasting, and suddenly the president makes a front-page statement saying, “Shut up about this.”
THE NICOTINE CRISIS
Why do educated people believe in obvious stupidities like the crushing power of hybrid warfare in such a herdlike way? A big reason of course is class interest—they are getting rich off it. Now there is also the role of Twitter and other networked social platforms in reinforcing the dominance of the mass mind, and punishing dissenters from the consensus from which everyone else is making money.
A reason that is less well-explored, I believe, is the West’s war on nicotine. The massive brain outages we see throughout the West, and particularly in America, are in no small part due to the war on smoking, which both makes people smarter and kills them before they become senile.
Absolutely. One book I’ve never written, is “The Impact of the Arrival of Nicotine and the Scientific Revolution.” A big jump in intellectual achievement that took place among Europeans, all of whom smoked. The social history of nicotine begins with the sharpening of the brain. I stopped smoking long ago but still I miss it.
So what’s your solution?
Nicotine patches. You may not like it aesthetically, and I agree, but it actually does give your brain the fix that it needs. Take away my nicotine patches, and I am immediately 5-10 IQ points stupider, which I can’t afford.
Are you on them now?
Yeah. I’m permanently addicted to nicotine patches, which have the advantage of not causing a slow, painful death from lung cancer.
I have been thinking about that. An easy remedy for the stupidity of mankind is to go back to nicotine.
Anyway, all of these are very important factors, war games, intoxicated people ...
The fourth-generation hybrid warfare thesis. I buy it. And that’s why the United States, in public, is offering Zelensky a free ride out of Ukraine.
They wanted to show that they are not just doing nothing. I’m the president of the United States. I’m taking action! I’m saving the poor man’s life.
Because my holy doctrines tell me that it’s inevitable that the Ukrainians are going to collapse.
WHY THE CIA MUST BE ABOLISHED
When I heard about the intelligence assessment that forecast a swift Russian victory I blew up and I said, this is total rubbish and it’s dangerous. Why? Because it’s shared with the Germans. So the Germans say, we will not stop certification of Nord Stream 2, because Putin will inevitably win.
And we will not allow any 40-year-old weapons we sent to Estonia to go to Ukraine.
That’s right. We will not supply one round. These are the 122-millimeter howitzers, which had belonged to the East German army, taken over by the West German army. And the Estonians wanted to donate them to Ukraine. And the Germans said, you can’t do it because they were briefly German.
This was all based on the German assessment that, because the intervention would be immediately successful, there’s no point in disrupting our economy. Kyiv will fall in 24 hours. That was disastrous, because Putin watched the Germans. They are his big customers, and he’s German-oriented, he speaks German. The German announcements gave him a green light.
You’re saying that the German assessment was based on the U.S. assessment.
Entirely based on the U.S. assessment. Now, the German BND [Federal Intelligence Service] is a useless organization of time servers. They simply relayed the U.S. assessment. So, bad intelligence destroyed deterrence, because the wrong intelligence about what would happen in Ukraine fed into the German policy, which had the effect of inviting Putin in. If the Germans had told Putin on February 23rd what they would do on February 25th, he would never have invaded. OK.
If you go through the tweets of those days, I started tweeting about the intelligence community, just saying, “17 agencies,” or is it 18, I forget, “none of whom believe in speaking foreign languages, who were all in Kyiv, had no idea who the Ukrainians were. They confused the Ukrainians with some other people that surrendered,” and things like that. I started attacking them head on, and then I started pushing for something that I am pushing for, trying to recruit senators to hold a series of hearings on the performance of the intelligence community, not merely then, but in other cases. Like their estimate that Kabul would hold out for two years, even without any U.S. assistance. The CIA always has a briefer at the White House who is often a rather attractive woman, who packages things to make presidents happy.
The CIA’s assessments that Kabul would resist the Taliban for a long time and that Kyiv would fall in 24 hours are sufficient grounds for emptying out its buildings, fumigating them thoroughly, and restaffing with people who are actually interested in foreign countries and therefore know a language or two really well, and have traveled the world.
The intelligence community increases its budget and power every year despite repeated large-scale failures combined with a complete absence of accountability that suggests that Americans would be much safer if the CIA were abolished. To what extent do you think this is caused by what appears to be an innate American inability to obtain and evaluate human intelligence, as opposed to electronic collection—at which America excels.
All of it, 100%. There’s a complete absence of human intelligence. If there were any human intelligence in Kabul, they would’ve overheard people in the bazaar laughing at the fact that if you pay a little extra, you entered the Afghan army as an officer. [The CIA] never go in the streets, they had no idea who the Afghans were.
But Edward, if Zelensky had fled, would their assessment have been right? And if so, does the joint Russian and American failure simply come down to the unexpected bravery of one man?
No. It wasn’t Zelensky not leaving, it was that by the time when the buildup threats and the warnings started and they started accumulating forces and this was going on, this group of people compacted into a core that was determined to fight. The mayor of Kyiv was this—
I’ve spent time with him, yeah.
He is exactly what he seems to be, a large, belligerent guy, a world champion boxer. Is that guy really going to give up because of pictures on his iPhone? No. Every instinct he has tells him to fight.
Now a coup de main is like a coup d’etat. If there are a few determined people in front of the presidential palace, there’s no difference, it’s over. That’s why every coup in the world has always been based on neutralizing whoever is nearby. Any mobile force near the capital has to be specifically neutralized. Instead, hundreds of people showed up with their rifles at the airfield in Kyiv.
DINNERS WITH VLAD, AND THE NEED FOR A DIRTY, CONTEMPTIBLE COMPROMISE
How well do you actually know Vladimir Putin?
I was in Leningrad with Putin in 1990, and I used to invite him to the only two decent restaurants in town at the time, which were in Finnish-operated hotels called Pribaltika and Pokasia which only accepted foreign currency. At the time, he was a poorly paid municipal employee, right? He socialized with other poorly paid municipal employees.
Even then, when nobody knew that Russia was a capitalist country, you couldn’t buy any land for a villa on the Baltic shore, too expensive. Putin and his friends couldn’t afford it. So they found land on a less beautiful lake, one farther away from the city, and they established the Ozero cooperative. It was a legal entity, even in Soviet times, called a cooperativa. The members of that cooperative are the people now known as the biggest of Putin’s oligarchs and his inner circle, his alternative government.
Why were you inviting him to dinner every night?
I was in Leningrad working for the Italian oil company AGIP, part of ENI. It’s a bit of a tragic story. The head of AGIP hired me to go to facilitate the donation to the city of Leningrad of a copy of the Bocconi business school of Milan. They hired me to negotiate that gift with a counterpart, the deputy of Sobchak, the recently elected mayor of Leningrad, who was the first freely elected public official in the Soviet Union. The deputy’s job was to interact with foreigners like me. That was Putin.
Putin and I could speak of course, because he’s a German-speaker, as I am. So I was doing this thing for this head of operations of AGIP who then got caught up within two years in a huge political scandal and ended up in pre-trial detention at the San Vittore prison where he hung himself.
What were your impressions of Putin when you knew him?
He was a disciplined person. He was poorly dressed. He was a poor municipal employee, he and his wife. They couldn’t go into the foreign currency shop, which meant they couldn’t have a decent meal at the hotels, which only took foreign currency.
Now tell me what you thought of him as a working partner.
He seemed quite serious, careful. That was a lot of the original conversations. When I first met him, I met him with the Italian, OK, who came with all the panoply of the chief executive of an oil company, with a sort of magnificent appearance. Putin was very modest. I was modest.
And then the Italian went off and I did all these negotiations. And every evening we would continue working over dinner because then he could get decent food at these foreign currency places.
Was he attentive to detail?
Yeah. Very much. He was a municipal employee, and he was very focused on the details of his work. But we did have personal conversations. One of them was about Jews.
Did he tell you the famous story about his Jewish teacher from childhood?
No. The story he told me was completely different than the story that [Russian Chief Rabbi Berel] Lazar has told the world.
The story he told me was that he knows about all the Jewish festivals. And that is because they were in a communal apartment growing up, where they shared a bathroom and kitchen with another family. The family was a Jewish family. Is that what Lazar said?
Yeah. Lazar told me that.
They had two children. He was a single child. And so he would eat that food and he got to know about the holidays.
How do you expect this Ukrainian war to end?
Well, how I would like it to end is with a weak and contemptible compromise. I would like it to end with the Russians being offered the opportunity to have a properly supervised plebiscite in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and may the best man win. Putin can turn around and tell the Russian people he won a great victory, the right of plebiscites for the poor Russians. If he loses the plebiscites, so be it. To have a plebiscite you have to have first a negotiation, which requires an armistice. To have an armistice you have to have a cease-fire. The moment there is a cease-fire, you lift all the sanctions, so that the Russians have a reason to respect the cease-fire. Lift them all at once. And that’s how we get out.
Now there is a victory party here in Washington that wants the Ukrainians to first kick out all the Russians, and then Putin will fall, and then maybe we will put the Russian generals on trial for their crimes.
I don’t want any of that stuff. I’m completely opposed to it. They need to have a dirty, contemptible compromise.
THE FARCE OF THE CHINESE CENTURY
In February of this year, at the Olympics in Beijing, Xi Jinping, who according to Chinese Communist propaganda is master of planet Earth, signs his famous “no limits” pact with Putin, who is going to take Ukraine, neutralize Germany, and crack NATO, paving the way for the Chinese century, whose inevitability has already been recognized by such luminaries as Henry Kissinger and Graham Allison. So is it right to see Russia as China’s hammer?
Things may be different now, but until then, I have to tell you that the Chinese were very respectful of the Russians. The Russians were extremely confident that the Chinese could always outwit them in business and become rich and all that. But wait till they have to fight, only Russia can do it.
Because of the presidential conferences that Putin invited me to, once he became president of Russia, I also went to Vladivostok. Once, when I had a few extra days, I went along the border, down to the Amur river. I noticed that all along the border, the Russians were all behaving very much like the masters of the situation. Even though the Chinese towns across were much more built-up, more modern, richer looking. Still, the Chinese were very respectful of the Russians
Russian man big, Chinese man small-boned.
That’s right. So I don’t think there was that master-poodle relationship.
No, I don’t mean master-poodle. But the Chinese economy is obviously a lot more sophisticated and powerful, and the Russians have brute force that they could bring—so that’s the match.
The Russians have never confronted anybody who wasn’t richer than them and more advanced than them. The French and Napoleon were more advanced than the Russians. The Germans were more advanced.
There’s been a Russian-Chinese foreign policy condominium for the last decade—let me finish, and then you can tell me why I’m wrong. In Syria, when you look at the Russian deployment there, there was always a Chinese warship that would be tagging along with the four Russian warships. Then if you look at Mongolia, the population is 20-to-1 Chinese, and the Russians had to give the Chinese a 50% interest in all the mining interests there. So Russians were more aggressive, they were actually going to fight in Syria and other places, or sending in the Wagner Group, but in the end, they are more like paid mercenaries than a global empire. The world they fought for was going to be inherited by the Chinese, not by Russia.
That’s what the Chinese would believe, yes, but the Russians didn’t think that. Actually, if you went to Moscow, people would tell you, “Oh my God, Siberia is being lost to China, there are all these Chinese.” When you leave Moscow and you go to Khabarovsk, which is on the border, they’d say, “What a joke, the number of Chinese here is no greater than it was 20 years ago. And we can crush them.”
In Vladivostok, there is a wonderful female scholar at the Navy University, this is the university run by the Russian Navy. She wrote an article about Chinese border policy and about active claims and dormant claims. In that article, she says that the Chinese are advancing many territorial claims against the Japanese, for the Senkakus, against the Philippines, against the Indonesians for the Natuna offshore, and for almost the whole of Arunachal state in India and part of Ladakh. Then she said, “And then there are the dormant claims that will be activated when the Chinese feel strong enough to do so.” Two of them, the most important, are the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Beijing Convention of 1860, involving the transfer of the maritime provinces to Russia.
Now, the official translation of Vladivostok into Chinese is a straight transliteration, Fúlādíwòsītuōkè, that is Vladivostok in Chinese characters. But unofficially, they use Haishenwai, which is not of course Chinese, it’s Manchurian, because the whole Chinese claim to Manchuria, Tibet, and Xinjiang is bogus because they were all under Manchu rule when the Chinese themselves were under the rule of the Manchu. It’s like Sri Lanka claiming to rule India because both were ruled by the British, and this false claim is the basis of everything there.
XI SLAUGHTERS THE GOLDEN GOOSE OF SHANGHAI
Why did Xi lock down Shanghai? You have a city of 25 million people with an enormous concentration of factories that serve Western supply chains, especially at the higher ends of the technology ladder, and then you lock it down for several months. You say people can’t leave their apartments. You stop all the factories dead, ships can’t go in or out of the port. The value that you are destroying in those three months is enormous, and at least some of those Western countries will move their production elsewhere. Isn’t he killing the golden goose?
It is the fate of Xi Jinping to be punished for whatever he does that was well-meant—and if not well-meant, at least comprehensible, understandable. First, he looks around and decides that income disparity in China had become excessive, so he starts taking action in regard to business in general and in regard to the real estate market to stop. You know there’s a Gini Index, to stop China going right over the Gini Index.
Now, that however has the effect of slowing down the Chinese economy much more than they realized. The second thing that happened is that he takes on high tech, primarily because of his personal jealousy of Jack Ma. Because when Jack Ma holds a convention, there are 20,000 people who are absolutely enthusiastic about him, which is very unlike the meetings of the Communist Party. So Jack Ma’s followers go crazy when they see him, and he’s jealous of that, so he decides to move against Alibaba, and he goes after Tencent, and then he goes after all of them except—
This is the notion that the social importance of these billionaires became so huge that it’s threatening the primacy of the party.
Yes, and his own prominence is threatened by it. There was, I think, also an element of jealousy because the admirers of not just Jack Ma, but all these other guys are very enthusiastic. There are these videos in the annual meetings, you can see the YouTube of the meetings of Alibaba where he comes dressed as a woman singer or something like that, and they’re meeting in a big, giant stadium and they’re all going crazy for it. It’s the best party they’ve ever been to in their lives. So there’s an element of jealousy that is personal.
Xi Jinping is not what you call a simple person, he’s not. I have written an article about Xi Jinping’s relationship to Faust, he’s obsessed with Faust, he knows it by heart. I wrote an article, and it’s called “Goethe in China.” I was in Shanghai once, and I ran into the head of, I don’t know what it’s called, the foreign languages university or something like that, and he told me that they had decided to translate Goethe into Chinese. Now, Goethe has never been fully translated in English or French because, in addition to all the plays and everything else, Goethe was a government official who wrote memoranda and reports, so the corpus of Goethe is much bigger, like 20 times bigger than Shakespeare. Yet all of Goethe is available in Mandarin in 81 large volumes. Why? Because of Xi Jinping.
So the Chinese business class gets the message, and they realize their money is no longer secure, because it doesn’t buy the backing of the party anymore, because Xi is a jealous and powerful God—so they withdraw their capital.
Yes. So the Chinese economy starts slowing down, OK. And so Xi has to fall back on his other claim to glory, as the man who defeated the virus in Wuhan because very early on, he took personal charge in Wuhan. He did make the mistake of allowing the party meeting to take place. But then, you know, he used these extreme measures. So he became the man who defeated the coronavirus. And he is forced to fall back on that claim because the economy is slowing down.
So when Shanghai starts, he’s going to replicate his success in Wuhan on an even bigger scale, because that’s all he has left to validate his rule. Except, Shanghai is different than Wuhan. Wuhan is a huge city. You know that. It’s 12 million people, whatever. And Wuhan is not a primitive city. Wuhan is actually where a lot of Chinese publishers are. But it is a drastically lower-income city than Shanghai with drastically less involvement in the outside world. Very few people in Wuhan travel, except for once a year. Shanghai is different.
When they applied this COVID policy to Shanghai, the Shanghainese, who had never commented on the detention of the Uyghur, discovered that in Xi’s China, you can become a Uyghur at any time. And get detained. That was a huge shock for them.
Explain why Taiwan is off the table, which is what your analysis implies.
He cannot give them Taiwan, because he is discovering that if it does anything forcible at all, the bulk carriers will stop arriving in China. The Ukraine war taught China that the G7 run the world economy, period. Not diffusion of power, you know, Turkey and Brazil, Mexico. None of that. The G7 decide, then ships don’t arrive in the ports of China. You don’t need the U.S. Navy to blockade China. The bulk carriers from San Diego, from Los Angeles, from Australia, from Brazil, simply don’t arrive. And if the animal feed doesn’t arrive in China, then within three months, they have to slaughter all the pigs. Then there will be no more eggs, no chickens, no eggs, no milk, no meat.
So, the Chinese would go back to having what they had in 1976, when I was first there and Mao was alive, and the Chinese were eating rice, sorghum, millet, with a little cabbage. Once in a while, there would be a fragment of pork or chicken. Very well-connected people would be able to get an egg for their daughters, so their skins would not be undernourished, you know, so they would have smooth skin. When you would occasionally see a girl with a nice skin, you could tell her father was someone important.
Now Shanghai airport is a single airport. And when you go to the departure hall, the Shanghai airport, it is an arc, right. Which is over one mile long. They would fly, of course, to Vancouver, to San Diego. In the cooler months, they would fly to Bali. Eighty percent of these departures are Shanghai people.
The Beijing people, many them are bureaucrats, very stolid, stay-at-home types. And the Cantonese are noodle merchants, you know. They just go to Bangkok, to sleep with cheap prostitutes. Shanghainese are the elegant people in China.
But Xi fell back on it because he lost the economic growth story, he burned it with his policy. The Taiwan story he lost as well. So the only thing he had to fall back on was the Wuhan policy, and he miscalculated.
AMERICA, WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Now let’s talk about the third weak kingdom, the United States.
When I look at the United States from the outside, as an America-loving outsider, I see a country in the throes of one of those periodic implosions that are not entirely legible to non-Americans. You have manias about race. Manias about gender identity. You have the willful disaggregation of universities and other institutions under the banner of wokeness, which is a doctrine of blind obedience to a party line established by people who are 95% illiterate and can’t remember what they decreed last week. Policy is a product of hardened dogma, and therefore inevitably fails. Gas prices are crazy. Nearly 50% of children in urban school systems have basically just stopped going to school.
And you have a so-called elite that spits hysterical contempt for the people in whose name they ostensibly rule, denouncing them as a pack of racist, sexist, white supremacist, transphobic, gun-toting disease-spreaders who will hopefully soon die out and be replaced by a more obedient class of servants. I guess it’s not surprising that the American aristocracy is pretty much the worst aristocracy on Earth—bad manners, bad taste, bad art, hostile to religion and the popular arts. Their concept of largesse is to establish a foundation to combat climate change by instructing the yokels not to eat meat. The last aristocracy that showed this kind of contempt for its own people and popular folkways was the French in the days of Marie Antoinette.
So, in two years, does it all go back to normal? The wonder and the terror of American life has always been the country’s capacity to destroy itself, and then be born again. Joe Biden looks lost. But is Kamala Harris really any better?
So far as I can tell, the person who is in charge of the main parameters of U.S. government policy commutes between his mansion in Kalorama and his mansion in Hawaii, on his way to becoming a billionaire. But it is forbidden to speak of him. Good luck finding a single news story about how the ex-president of the United States communicates with his protegees in the White House, while he zips back and forth on the private jets of his billionaire friends talking shit about poor Joe Biden.
What else is he up to these days? Watching ESPN and imagining himself as the next Denis Johnson, is my bet.
In the Obama White House, everybody made fun of Joe Biden. Biden shows up at the meetings, the National Security Council, and he says these ridiculous things like the Afghan army is a fraud. The people who made fun of him then are now staffing the Biden administration. That’s true.
Now the only person that he neutralized was Susan Rice because he put—
He didn’t neutralize her. She’s the domestic policy coordinator in the White House, despite not having formerly spent a single day of her career on domestic policy. So why is she there? Because Obama trusts her to faithfully relay his thoughts and desires, when he has them.
No, no. Wait. Biden neutralized her in regard to foreign affairs.
Obama got what he needed. He already has his team directing the particular area of foreign affairs that he cares about, which is the Middle East. What does he need Susan Rice there for? To set U.S. policy for China or Nigeria? Why should he care?
The whole of Obama simply would not have Biden do what he wanted, which is to give no job to Susan Rice. Susan Rice was the one that was making fun of Biden every day. Every time Biden wanted to say something, Susan Rice would cut him off and treat him with contempt. That’s when Obama insisted that he has to have Susan Rice in the White House. So Biden created the Domestic Policy Council, and put her there.
Robert Malley runs Iran. Brett McGurk runs the rest of the Middle East. McGurk’s gimp in Syria, Michael Ratney, is the new U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. So tell me, what base did Obama leave uncovered?
Obama was never an in-the-weeds policy guy. He liked to pick and choose what he liked from the menu, and he’s done that. Otherwise, he’s happy to let Biden fail, which makes him look even better by comparison. Hey, who do you like better—Biden, Trump, or me, Barack Obama? Miss me yet?
Obama’s problem is that he’s too impatient and ego-driven to let others make the comparison—he has to drive it home himself, by showing up at the White House, calling Biden the vice president, and leaving the poor man talking to the drapes, while everyone vies for photo ops with his Royal Airness, the last Democrat who wasn’t a pathetic, abject failure.
Obama’s Achilles’ heel has always been his egotism. It comes off him in waves. He’s like the prep school cool kid version of Trump.
Brett McGurk, he is a serious person. Also I think Kamala Harris is worth considering. OK, Biden locked himself into a box by saying that he’s going to have a Black vice president. The Black vice president became a Black woman vice president along the campaign, to achieve more perfect wokeism. So then he frantically looked around for the most conservative Black woman he could find in the Democratic Party. And that was Kamala Harris, who lost out in California politics, because as attorney general she wanted to send to jail welfare mothers who live from federal money and don’t send their children to school. And when she enunciated this idea, she basically got blown out of politics. When she was running for president, Blacks wouldn’t vote for her. Word spread that she was anti-Black because she was anti-criminal and all that stuff.
Now her father, who is Black, is the most conservative person in the world. He made his one and only intervention during the campaign when some regular interview asked Kamala Harris, “What’s your attitude to marijuana?” and she replied “Well, I’m from Jamaica.” Her father went and called the radio station and said, “If my daughter had come within a mile of marijuana until she got married”—he would have slapped her. Her mother is a Tamil Brahmin. Brahmin from Tamil Nadu, OK? They’re the guys who are now being attacked all over California because the other Indians say that if you’re not a Tamil, you don’t get any jobs at the top. So, she comes from an elite conservative background.
I was Nimitz professor at Berkeley briefly, and heard that Kamala Harris’ father was notoriously the most conservative person in the department in Berkeley. If she ever becomes president, a lot of people are going to be very—
Do you think Kamala Harris will be president?
She will most likely ...
Not be president.
As you know, political power is the best medicine. But if she does become president, she’s going to disappoint a lot of people. By the way, do you see that house there? That’s her chief of staff.
The house with the Black Lives Matter sign?
No, no, that is a Zionist Jewish guy who put up the sign. The reason he keeps them is because somebody took them and threw them away. So then he put up this new sign even though no one cares about Black Lives Matter anymore, now that the entire organization was revealed to be a scam.
Anybody who is associated with J Street must realize that it exists in order to provide legitimacy for communal euthanasia.
THE ETERNAL DISAPPEARING PEOPLE
It’s an old story. What’s happening in America today with Jews has happened before.
It happened when the largest and richest Jewish community was in Egypt when it was run by the Romans. The Jews learned Greek, and started pushing their way into the Greek academies. The Greek elite in Alexandria realized that these Jews, who had come with rags through the desert, were all literate, because to be Jewish, you have to be literate. And the Jews are competing with them in their academies, and in sports, and they are winning.
So, the elite start organizing anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria. The Roman governor doesn’t want any trouble. He sides with the majority. The Jews send a delegation to Rome, headed by a very Hellenized Jewish guy—Philo of Alexandria.
When Philo went to Rome, Caligula, the Emperor Gaius Caligula, made fun of him for not eating pork. And said things like, “In the winter, when it’s cold, what is better than a pork sandwich?” Even wealthy mansions had a small window in the kitchen where the kitchen slaves were entitled to earn money by pushing hot dogs through this small window. And suddenly Gaius said, “You don’t eat pork. You must be completely out of your mind, with this religion of yours.” But he recalled the governor, who was only trying to avoid trouble, and the governor, upon approaching the emperor, ran into some steel that cut off his neck.
So thereupon, the Jews in Alexandria, in Egypt, which was the America of that time, because there was always food in Egypt, the Jews in Egypt became numerous, very rich, and very assimilated. And by the time of the Muslim conquest, they had disappeared.
So far the story is excellent, Edward, but you have skipped a key part.
Which is what?
Who was Philo of Alexandria’s nephew?
No idea. Philo himself was not comfortable in Hebrew.
Philo’s nephew was Tiberius Alexander. Named Alexander, because of the family’s roots in the city of Alexandria, he excelled at riding and other Roman arts. His best friend at prep school was the son of a famous Roman general, Vespasian.
Correct. So, Titus and his Jewish pal Tiberius Alexander go to prep school together, to the Ivy League of Rome.
Oh, OK. I see where you are going with this.
And together, with Titus’ father, they destroy the rebellious Jewish state in Judea, which is then renamed Palestine, and then Vespasian goes to Rome, where he soon becomes emperor, leaving Titus in charge of his armies. So Titus and Tiberius Alexander go up to Jerusalem, sack the city, and destroy the Temple, all of which is recorded by Vespasian’s Jewish slave, the former Jewish rebel Josephus, who is sitting there in the tent with them during the siege. So the Temple is destroyed by a Roman, with the help of two Jews.
Your story about Tiberius Alexander simply means that they were part of the ruling class. Fine.
You have to admit it’s a telling moment in Jewish history.
Egypt is the richest country of the ancient world, OK? In the Western sphere. So, in that richest part of the world, the Jews are not only successful, but rich, and also politically secure.
And their sons and nephews are friends with the sons and nephews of Roman emperors. And look where it got them!
Political security and everything else. So they assimilate and disappear. By the time of the Muslim conquest, they were hardly any Jews in Egypt for the Muslims to convert.
American Jews are in transition on their way to disappearance. What you’re seeing is the disintegration of the community. The reason why there are Reform synagogues here is to gently convey people into non-Judaism. The ones who are Orthodox but wear suits and ties, the doctors and lawyers, are dying out too. Phenomena like J Street are part of that. Anybody who is associated with J Street, even if they are totally obtuse after a while, must realize that it exists in order to provide legitimacy for communal euthanasia.
So they are therefore against Israel and everybody who’s associated with Israel, including the Emirates and the Saudis, and so on. What disappearing people do is all kinds of weird things. Strange things. But you must understand that this story has been going on for 2,000 years.
The Temple in Jerusalem was a very expensive operation where you buy animals and slaughter them. It was a large-scale butcher shop with lots of money and people wearing funny clothes. All of that was sustained by the money from Egyptian and other wealthy Jews abroad in Greece, Rome, France. They disappeared. There’s no trace, by the way, of any persecution. It’s the absence of persecution that caused the disappearance.
Luckily, throughout Jewish history there were always people who were not modern.
The 10%. The untalented 10th. The remnant of Zion. Except, of course, for the Israelis, who have advanced fighter aircraft and a large arsenal of nuclear weapons.
So is America disintegrating or not?
Well, I think the United States is perhaps less kind of crazy than it seems. I recently met the only Hispanic member of the cabinet. Do you know what his name is? Mayorkas, and he’s from Cuba. And you know what language he spoke? Romanian. The only Hispanic member of the Biden administration is a Romanian Jew, OK?
David Samuels has written cover stories for Harper’s, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic and other magazines. He is Tablet’s Literary Editor.