Springfield News-Sun

Putin’s slog in Ukraine exposes the Right’s tough-guy problem

- Paul Krugman Paul Krugman is an economist and a columnist for The New York Times.

A democracy — imperfect, as all nations are, but aspiring to be part of the free world — is invaded by its much larger neighbor, a vicious dictatorsh­ip that commits mass atrocities. Defying the odds, the democracy beats back an attack most people expected to succeed in a matter of days, then holds the line and even regains ground over the months of brutal fighting that follow.

How can any American, a citizen of a nation that holds itself up as a beacon of freedom, not be rooting for Ukraine in this war?

Yet there are significan­t factions in U.S. politics — a small group on the left, a much more significan­t bloc on the right — that not only oppose Western support for Ukraine but also clearly want to see Russia win. And my question, on the anniversar­y of Russia’s invasion, is what lies behind right-wing support for Vladimir Putin?

Now, Putin isn’t the only foreign autocrat America’s right likes. Viktor Orban of Hungary has become a conservati­ve icon, a featured speaker at meetings of the Conservati­ve Political Action Committee, which even held one of its conference­s in Budapest.

But conservati­ve admiration for Orban, I’m sorry to say, makes rational sense, given the right’s goals. If you want your nation to become a bastion of white nationalis­m and social illiberali­sm, a democracy on paper but a one-party state in practice, Orban’s transforma­tion of Hungary offers a road map.

Yet Orban is not, as far as I can tell, the subject of a right-wing cult of personalit­y; how many American conservati­ves even know what he looks like?

Putin, by contrast, very much is the subject of a personalit­y cult not just in Russia but on the American right and has been for years. And it’s a fairly creepy cult at that. For example, in 2014, a National Review columnist contrasted Putin’s barecheste­d horseback riding with President Barack Obama’s “metrosexua­l golf get-ups.”

What was the basis for this worship of Putinism? I’d argue that many people on the right equate being powerful with being a swaggering tough guy and sneer at anything — such as intellectu­al openness and respect for diversity — that might interfere with the swagger. Putin was their idea of what a powerful man should look like, and Russia, with its muscleman military vision, their idea of a powerful country.

It should have been obvious from the beginning that this worldview was all wrong. National power in the modern world rests mainly on economic strength and technologi­cal capacity, not military prowess.

But then came the invasion, and it turned out that Putin’s not-woke, unemascula­ted Russia isn’t even very good at waging war.

Why has Russia’s military failed so spectacula­rly? Because modern wars aren’t won by strutting guys flexing their biceps. They’re won mainly through logistics, technology and intelligen­ce (in both the military and the ordinary senses) — things, it turns out, that Russia does badly and Ukraine does surprising­ly well.

Just to be clear, wars are still hell and can’t be won, even with superior weapons, without immense courage and endurance. But these are also qualities that Ukrainians — men and women — turn out to have in remarkable abundance.

The key to understand­ing right-wingers’ growing Ukraine rage is that Russia’s failures don’t just show that a leader they idolized has feet of clay. They also show that their whole tough-guy view about the nature of power is wrong. And they’re having a hard time coping.

This explains why leading Putinists in the United States keep insisting that Ukraine is actually losing. Putin is “winning the war in Ukraine,” declared Tucker Carlson on Aug.

29, just days before several Ukrainian victories. There’s still a lot of hype about a huge Russian offensive this winter; the truth, however, is that this offensive is already underway, but as one Ukrainian official put it, it has achieved so little “that not everyone even sees it.”

None of this means that Russia can’t eventually conquer Ukraine. If it does, however, it will, in part, be because America’s Putin fans force a cutoff of crucial aid. And if this happens, it will be because the U.S. right can’t stand the idea of a world in which woke doesn’t mean weak and men who pose as tough guys are actually losers.

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