Vladimir Putin deserves to join the ranks of those strongmen whose strategic miscalculations ended up producing unmitigated disasters—firstly for their troops and ultimately for them, too.
As a corollary to this statement, tactical and strategic decisions must remain the purview of military leaders. When tyrants overreach their abilities and arrogate to themselves the decision-making on the field, pretty soon things start to go bad.
But don’t take my word for it, read a history book and you’ll come across a number of grave miscalculations incurred by dictators playing generals.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini attacked Greece in 1940 as “payback” for Hitler’s invasion of Romania, a move on which he hadn’t been consulted. The Duce was convinced the Greeks would not put up a big fight and the Bulgarian Army would simultaneously attack from the East. Mussolini turned out to be wrong on both counts. The Italian army was ill-prepared for this poorly planned campaign and things started to unravel from the get-go.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein believed the world would allow him to invade Kuwait and get away with it. When he sought to justify his unprovoked invasion, he claimed that (a) he had acted to assist “Kuwaiti revolutionaries”, and (b) Kuwait was rightfully Iraq’s 19th province. When the international coalition kicked off the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam and his generals kept announcing “the mother of all battles”, which for them turned out to be the mother of all defeats.
Saddam Hussein’s outlandish claims must have inspired Vladimir Putin in his invasion of Ukraine last February. His shell game of recognizing the bogus People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk (which Russia itself had created and no other country recognized) is truly Saddam-esque.
And equally outlandish is Putin’s claim that Ukraine “belongs to Russia.”
Sadly, also his belief that Ukraine would crumble in a handful of days has been proved entirely wrong.
The sad part is that it will take further sacrifices in blood and treasure before Russia’s strongman is defeated and Ukraine is free of its invaders.