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    NewsUSAPutin and the right-wing tough guy problem

    Putin and the right-wing tough guy problem

    A democracy—imperfect as all countries are, but aspiring to be part of the free world—is invaded by a much larger neighbor ruled by a ruthless dictatorship that commits mass atrocities. Against all odds, democracy repels an attack that most people thought would reach its goal in a matter of days, holds its ground, and even regains ground over the ensuing months of brutal fighting.

    How can an American, a citizen of a country that stands as a beacon of freedom, not support Ukraine in this war? Still, there are significant factions in American politics—a small group on the left, and a much larger bloc on the right—that not only oppose Western aid to Ukraine, but clearly want Russia to win. And my question is what is behind the support of the right for Vladimir Putin.

    It must be said that Putin is not the only foreign autocrat to be liked by the American right. Viktor Orbán of Hungary has become a conservative icon, a featured speaker at meetings of the Conservative Political Action Committee, an organization that even held one of his lectures in Budapest. But the conservatives’ admiration for Orbán, I’m sorry to say, makes rational sense given the goals of the right. If you want your country to become a bastion of white nationalism and social anti-liberalism, a democracy on paper but a one-party state in practice, the transformation of Hungary by its president offers a road map. And that is, of course, what much of the current Republican Party wants.

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    Until the invasion of Ukraine, the putinphilia it was also accompanied by extravagant praise for Russia’s supposed military efficiency. In 2021, Ted Cruz released a video comparing a Russian recruiting ad featuring a muscular man doing manly things to another American ad highlighting the diversity of Army recruits. “Perhaps a castrated army with a social conscience is not the best idea,” Cruz commented.

    What was this cult based on? putinism? Many people on the right equated being powerful with being a braggart tough guy, and scoffed at anything—like intellectual openness and respect for diversity—that might interfere with swagger. Putin fit with his idea of ​​what a man with power should be like, and Russia and his brawny macho vision of what the military is, with his idea of ​​a powerful country. It should have been obvious from the start that this world view was wrong. The power of a country in the world is based above all on economic strength and technological capacity, not on military capacity. But then came the invasion, and it turned out that Russia not emasculated and unconcerned with inequalities was not even very competent at making war.

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    Why has the Russian army failed so miserably? Because modern wars are not won by some guys strutting around and sticking out biceps. They win mostly with logistics, technology, and intelligence (both in the military and ordinary sense), things at which, by all means, Russia is incompetent, while Ukraine is surprisingly competent. (It’s not just Western weapons, though these have been amazingly effective; the Ukrainians have also shown a real talent for finding MacGyver-like solutions to their military needs.)

    To set the record straight, wars are still hell, and cannot be won, even with superior weapons, without immense courage and stamina. But it turns out that those are qualities that Ukrainians—men and women—possess in abundance as well.

    But back to the war. The key to understanding the growing anger of right-wingers against Ukraine is that Russia’s failures not only show that a leader they idolized has feet of clay. They also show that his entire view of the nature of power as reflected in the tough guy image is flawed. And they are having a hard time assimilating it.

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    This explains why prominent putinists of the United States continue to insist that Ukraine is actually losing. Putin is “winning the war in Ukraine,” declared Tucker Carlson on August 29, just days before several Ukrainian victories. A major Russian offensive this winter is still being hyped. However, the truth is that this offensive is already underway, although, quoting a Ukrainian official, it has achieved so little “that not everyone even sees it.”

    None of this means that Russia cannot eventually conquer the Ukraine. But if he does, it will be in part because Putin’s American admirers are forcing the cut of crucial aid. And if that happens, it will be because America’s right can’t bear the thought of a world where being socially conscious doesn’t mean being weak, and where tough guys are actually failures.

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