My last post was concerned with trying to shed some light on the confusing statements and actions of the US in regard to Syria and Russia in the last months and their recent proposal to give up Syria's chemical weapons using a chess analogy.
I'd like to push my luck and do the same thing again but this time using a poker analogy for those poker players that more readily understand poker thought rather than chess thinking. Though both can be very sophisticated, they are very different ways of thinking. To me, chess is about reality, what is. It is about facts. Everything is on show including all the potentials if you have eyes to see them. There is nothing concealed and nothing is misrepresented. No bishop is suddenly going to be revealed as a pawn instead come showdown time. Whereas Poker is all about misrepresenting the facts; misrepresenting what is and creating doubt, uncertainty. These two fundamentally different viewpoints seem to accurately characterise the psychology and approach to politics of the two protagonists, Putin and Obama.
For any readers who are unfamiliar with poker rules and terminology and would like to follow along, there is a quick guide here.
One might understand the Russian leaders being better than their Americans counterparts at playing chess on the world political stage but there really should be no excuse for the Americans being outplayed at poker. Such is definitely the case, though.
The US has been playing its Syria hand like a poker player that has been winning all night from a good run of cards which has helped him bluff on those occasions when the cards have not come his way. Which has been way more often than the other players have suspected. Confidence is sky high.
Russia is more like a player at the table that has had a small stack of chips to play with at the beginning of the game and so has been cautious not to tangle with the stakes leader. But all the while Russia has been accumulating chips while observing closely this American and sussing his game.
So the hand that history and fate has determined is dealt. The two hole cards come first. Under the gun, Obama comes out betting big like he has aces wired. Though Putin is 'on the button' and has the advantage of being last to play, he just calls the bet. Obama straight away sees this as Putin having less than stellar cards and it shouldn't take much pressure to get him to fold, he thinks.
The 'flop', the first three of five community cards, comes face up on the table and shows king, jack and ten, all of diamonds. Obama, hoping Putin will think he has an ace of diamonds concealed in his hand to go with it (having just bet like he has Aces), bets the pot trying to represent a possible royal flush well under way which would be unbeatable. Again Putin just calls. Obama would feel better if indeed he did have pocket aces or just one ace or any diamond, for that matter. But he only has rags in his hand and no diamonds amongst them.
Still, he figures he will keep going with what has worked for him all night and bets the pot again. The stakes are getting high quickly. Everybody else drops out suddenly, apparently losing the taste for a fight, leaving Putin who quietly calls Obama's bet yet again.
The 'turn' comes and it is the queen of clubs which appears to help Obama with a straight but is no help for bluffing a royal flush, which is what he is trying to represent. But he reasons that it is just possible for Putin to wonder if he has both the ace and queen of diamonds in his hand and think he has made his hand already. Whatever, Obama knows he's a great player. After all, he has the chips in front of him to prove it. He's on a roll.
In for a penny, in for a pound, he bets the pot yet again. And Putin calmly calls him . . . . yet again. A little black cloud called 'doubt' appears on Obama's horizon. To settle himself, he starts talking up tough and confident to the railbirds some of whom are sensing that something is greatly amiss here. Meanwhile Putin remains the picture of calmness. Inscrutable. "Perhaps he's been talking to those bloody Chinese!"
The 'river' comes and it is the queen of spades. Two queens on the board now and neither of them a diamond with no more cards to come. Obama takes time out to consider his options while sounding as if he is using the time to make Putin sweat and hopefully fold at the next and final round of betting. But unfortunately, instead of using the time to review Putin's play, Obama gets caught up in the sound of his own voice and the thought of the royal flush he has been bluffing. It is almost real to him now. He figures even if Putin isn't going to buy the royal flush possibility, he sure looks good for an ace-high straight with one of those off suit queens adding to his king, jack and ten of diamonds showing. “It'll be good enough to cream this ruskie bozo”. He's about to reach for his chips when 'doubt' returns and asks, “Why has Vlad been so confident all along? He looks like a Cheshire cat”
“He's bluffing”, he answers quickly to reassure himself. But with those words he automatically tries to recall Putin bluffing during the night's play. It's a quick review because Putin hasn't played many hands all night. He can't think of a single instance of him bluffing. Shit! In fact, he can't remember Putin playing a hand where he didn't have at least a pair of queens in his hand to start with. “Shit! Shit!! He took that Georgian guy to the cleaners with them. Said he was going to string him up by the balls, now that I remember! Triple shit!!”
Putin has been enjoying the show so far because he knows that Obama can't have a royal flush and has known Obama was bluffing from the start. He knows this because he has had the queen of diamonds in his hand all along. It's right there next to his other concealed queen; the queen of hearts. This pair of pocket queens remind him of a pair of missile laden submarines below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.
Queens may not be the top cards but they're close and, played with skill, they can win many a hand. He did indeed come in with a pair of queens and now there's another pair of queens on the board which he christens "International Law" and "World Public Opinion" giving him four of a kind and a 'lock' on the hand. He can't be beaten. Putin has been ahead the entire game and Obama is just starting to see this possibility. What to do? What to do???
Does he fold, keep what remains of his stake, and look like a fool and demolishing his ability to bluff into the future in the process? But he'll get to play another day.
Does he go all in with the rest of his stake and risk losing everything because Putin will call him as he has been calling all the way through? There's no recovery from that position. Not only won't he be able to bluff in future games, he won't be able to even play. It's getting worse!
Or does he make a 'limited' bet and hope Putin will let him off somehow? But how or why would Putin let him off the hook?
Putin, after all, has only three options if Obama ventures forth with a small 'limited' bet.
He could fold. “Nah, . . not gunna happen”, thinks Obama. “Even I can see he doesn't bluff now. He's been calling me all along. And, anyway, what are those ships doing there off the coast?”
Putin could raise in which case Obama has to fold or put all the rest of his money in – no, not good.
But Putin has not raised him throughout the hand. He has only called Obama's bets. “What if he does that? That's what he will do. Yeah. Hmmm, . . . still no good. I still lose that fat pot with all that money of mine in it”, he thinks. I can't afford to lose that. But I will still have some stake left to keep playing. But my credibility is in the toilet. . . . shit! And the money! . . . Those shylocks have expectations . . . which they never stop harping on. What am I going to pay them with? A pound of my flesh?”
Obama needs to remember the poker maxim that "once the money is in the pot, it's no longer yours". The goodwill and credibility that he has thrown away is gone. Throwing yet more good standing and credibility (and other people's lives) will not, by itself, retrieve what has gone. The only question Obama should be concerning himself with now is, “Do the odds favour me continuing to play?” And given that Putin has a 'lock' on the hand with Russia's missile technology plus having international law on his side and now together with the vast majority of the worlds public opinion, I'd say the answer is a no-brainer. But what a jam for a 'bought and paid for' man and for a prideful administration!
Of course, there is always hope for a miracle. One of Sun Tzu's principles of war is to leave your enemy an escape route (point 36) lest a fight to the death ensues which increases death and destruction for no compensating gain at all. Maybe Putin might just possibly, perhaps offer Obama a deal whereby they both step away from the table and have someone else, a third party, forfeit some chips instead to fatten the pot. Like Syria giving up its chemical weapons.
Putin could also offer that the two players agree between themselves not to turn their cards over for all to see – so no showdown and no military intervention in Syria; that Obama gets to take some of his chips back, courtesy of what Syria puts in and he can continue playing but Putin takes enough chips from the pot to become the unannounced chip leader and set the tone of play in the coming contests i.e. no more New World Order bravado bullshit from NATO et. al. (Can you hear someone at the Wailing Wall?)
Sounds like a plan to me. But will Obama and Friends have brains enough to see the opportunity Russia is graciously handing them on a plate? Or will their imperative to dominate cause them to let it slip through their fingers and with it any hope of salvaging what remains of their long planned for New American Century?
Your call Obama!