“By any actual reality-based measure,” Tucker Carlson told Fox News viewers two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin “is winning the war in Ukraine”. His timing was impeccable, says Paul Krugman in The New York Times: within days, Russian troops were routed in Kharkiv. Carlson is one of many right-wing “cheerleaders for Putin” in the US who are “clinging to delusions of Russian success”. For so-called MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republicans, the “mystique of Russian might” fits perfectly with their world view, which “equates tough-guy swagger with effectiveness”. Take Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, who tweeted a comparison of a Kremlin propaganda video featuring a tough-looking, shaven-headed Russian soldier with a US army recruitment ad starring a female corporal raised by two mothers. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” he commented.
These chauvinists are missing the point. “Modern war is like the modern economy”: success depends more on “skill, knowledge and openness to ideas” than on mere muscle. The Russian army might have “brutal hazing” and barbaric officers, but Ukrainian soldiers have shown courage in “inconceivable abundance”, and an ability to be “smart and flexible” – a far more effective strategy. Of course, this is anathema to MAGA machos and their “exaltation of tough talk”. For years, they’ve looked up to Putin as a leader made powerful by rejecting soft, liberal values. You have to wonder how they’ll handle the realisation that “sometimes tough guys finish last”.