In less than two weeks, Russians go to the polls for a presidential election exercise. The overwhelmingly likely outcome: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will dust off the old stationery from his first two terms as president.
In the final run-up, Putin is publishing a series of position papers, the latest one focusing on reloading and reforming the Russian military. The most striking remark: "We need a response system for more than just current threats. We should learn to look 'past the horizon,' and estimate threats 30 or even 50 years away. This is a serious objective and requires mobilizing the resources of civilian and military science and reliable standards for long-term forecasting."
When was the last time you heard an American politician talking about a 30- to 50-year grand vision? Most were born on the day of the last opinion poll and eagerly await the next one to see if their survival is guaranteed. Theirs is an anxious journey: lips fastened to their behind at any hint of any political turbulence. Their eyes otherwise glued to the seatback in-flight map, wondering why the plane graphic the size of Wyoming isn't devouring the little pixels on the flight path faster. Fretting whether the five sandwiches purchased at the gate will be enough to get them through the next few hours. Wondering whether a single tweet ripping across the political landscape is headed straight for the belly of their plane, about to make everything moot.
This mentality explains in part why our political leadership is a revolving door of characters -- tacticians rather than visionaries -- with no depth at which to drop an anchor, as they blow around from one political storm to the next, clinging to dumb luck (emphasis on the "dumb"). These white-knuckled creatures are geared strictly for minute-to-minute survival -- and we've made them this way because it's how many of us now live and expect others to function. Quiet, patient, thoughtful visionaries don't win in this game that favors hollow vessels making maximum noise as they flagellate themselves all over the social-media landscape.
It's precisely this kind of attitude -- one of instant need for fulfillment through social-media "likes" and online comments, and a decreased tolerance for patience and planning -- that will be the downfall of America and the West, and particularly its leadership. When our competitors and enemies -- from Russians and the Chinese to the Somali pirates waiting calmly for a freighter to hijack -- have all the patience in the world and plan long term, it magnifies our own deadly weakness.
We prioritize instant gratification above long-term vision, and we're getting exactly the representatives who match those expectations hand in glove: clowns who can dance while we riddle the ground around their feet with bullets. Those clowns do not leaders make.
Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of "Glasnost" and "Perestroika" -- the openness and restructuring of the Soviet Union adopted in the 1980s -- has, by contrast, given Russia the perfect excuse for patience, and the ideal cover of underestimation.
No one expected post-Cold War Russia to get its act together anytime soon. In recent discussions with colleagues, some were debating whether Russia's military was so cash-strapped that the country's security might have to be outsourced to a proxy ally. But not only is Putin now tripling military wages, he's setting future pay on par with that of private-sector managers.
Putin explains that "by 2020, the proportion of new armaments should rise to at least 70 percent," including "over 400 modern land and sea-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, eight strategic ballistic missile submarines, about 20 multipurpose submarines, over 50 surface warships, around 100 military spacecraft, over 600 modern aircraft including fifth-generation fighter jets, more than 1,000 helicopters, 28 regimental kits of S-400 air defense systems, 38 battalion kits of Vityaz missile systems, 10 brigade kits of Iskander-M missile systems, over 2,300 modern tanks, about 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and vehicles, and more than 17,000 military vehicles."
When did this happen, you ask? It's amazing what some countries will do while we're busy tweeting our lives away over whether Michelle Obama is eating "like some kind of hypocrite" today, or which GOP candidate will get the Sarah Palin endorsement.