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On the nonsense of believing that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is about the NATO countries being too "cuddly"
When we encounter madness in the world, it can be hard to admit that complexity and irrationality leave us struggling and unable to understand. Even the ambassadors meeting at the United Nations were surprised in the middle of a Security Council meeting by the announcement that Russian armed forces had invaded Ukraine.
■ The warning signs had certainly abounded, but just days before the invasion, the mood of many -- including powerful people in Ukraine -- was skeptical of imminent conflict. One of the chief reasons it seemed unlikely was that Russia would have so much to lose and so little to fundamentally gain.
■ Yet some commentators seem compelled to attach themselves to the most simplistic answers possible. Prominent among them is Clay Travis, who occupies the radio network time slot that once belonged to Rush Limbaugh. His analysis: "Autocratic leaders believe in hyper masculinity, raw physical power. They believe that might makes right. America has spent decades fetishizing soft, cuddly, emotional power. Putin and Xi don't respect it. At all. This is the result."
■ It is an embarrassment to the American conscience that someone with so shallow an understanding of the world barks such nonsense to a national broadcast audience for three hours a day, five days a week.
■ Empty-headed appeals to the triumph of "masculinity" are in vogue in some quarters -- but as geopolitical analysis, they are garbage. Modern statecraft, diplomacy, and warfare depend on factors like intelligence, adaptability, ingenuity, and reasoning. It would be daft to think that a country's armed forces would be stronger than another's if only it chose to forswear using half of its available brainpower. "Hyper masculinity" and "raw physical power" may appeal to some -- but their appeal is mainly to those who fail to see the bigger picture.
■ It makes far more sense to recognize that Vladimir Putin is a man who depends upon the state equivalent of an organized crime syndicate, of which he is the mafia don. He is not a decent man who has won such esteem of his people that he is indispensable to his country: Remember that in a free election, the voters of the United Kingdom tossed out even the estimable Winston Churchill once WWII was over.
■ Free and fair elections invariably result in restlessness. Putin has manipulated the law and used pretexts to hold on to power for 22 years. And a transparent political system free of gross corruption wouldn't turn out a dictator-for-life with a $200 billion fortune.
■ The invasion of Ukraine is, at its heart, an act of cowardice compelled by the personal interests of an irredeemably evil man, who knows full well that innocent people are dying of his choice. We don't have to intuit the precise reasons why he sees the move as serving his self-interests to know that he acts only to preserve himself and the gang that surrounds him. That's why international moves to deprive him and his inner circle of their assets is considered such a high-priority tool.
■ The situation appears like an act of crude desperation to prop up his regime -- perhaps under the theory that a military victory would bolster enough public support to keep him from being toppled. Putin knows that a quiet retirement in some warm-weather dacha is out of the question. Once he is out of power, he will undoubtedly find himself targeted -- and likely disposed of. So he acts to bind his inner circle closer to him in an act of escalatory commitment. It's a dangerous gamble, it will most likely be severely destabilizing, and it will have grave consequences for Ukrainians, Russians, and possibly others. Escalation is almost always necessary within a criminal syndicate, and it usually ends badly for the boss.
■ The invasion of Ukraine isn't about simplistic impressions of diminished Western "masculinity". It's not about women flying combat missions for the US Air Force or Finland having a female prime minister. Appeals to "raw power" are just window dressing and always have been. Look instead to the vile self-interest of a small cabal of people who know that once they start to lose their grip, they'll lose it all.