We seem to be living in a time of revelations. No, I don’t expect to see angels with trumpets anytime soon. Rather, we’re seeing things exposed for what they are rather than what they are marketed to be.
Let’s start with the Russian military. I’ve been cruising around reading op eds by military officers and experts. And they are uniformly stunned at how badly the Russian military is doing.
In recent years, many on the American right have deified Vladimir Putin as a “genius” and his armed forces as invincible conquerors because they are not burdened by Western liberal pieties.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) typified the trend last year when he linked to a TikTok video showing a muscular Russian soldier doing pushups, parachuting out of an airplane, and using a rifle. Cruz contrasted this Kremlin propaganda unfavorably with a U.S. Army recruiting video featuring a female corporal who was raised by two mothers. “Holy crap,” Cruz tweeted: “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea…” He went on to blame “Dem politicians & woke media” for trying to turn U.S. troops “into pansies.”
Well, how do you like the Russian military now, Sen. Cruz? The Internet is full of videos showing Russian troops running out of fuel and food in Ukraine, weeping after surrendering, and complaining that they are being used as “cannon fodder.” There are reports of Russian soldiers sabotaging their own vehicles rather than fight in a war they want no part of. The Russians are even leaving their dead on the battlefield — a shocking thing to see for U.S. soldiers, whose creed contains the line, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
I am not a military expert, although neither is Ted Cruz. Neither of us has served in uniform. But boy howdy, the military people are genuinely stunned at the inept performance Russia is putting on. They still expect Russia to overrun all of Ukraine eventually, but some of them are completely revising their assessments of Russian military capability.
There is a counter argument to this, presented in Why the first few days of war in Ukraine went badly for Russia by Zack Beauchamp at Vox. It is possible Putin deliberately held back the best troops and hardware as part of his argument that what he’s doing in Ukraine isn’t really a war. It’s just a “special military operation,” the term is. The conscripts just needed some experience, or something. It’s also the case, Beauchamp writes, that Putin was given really bad intelligence about the likelihood of Ukranians fighting back.
But then there’s this guy, Justin Bronk, an aviation specialist in a UK-based military think tank. Writing about the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), he says,
While the early VKS failure to establish air superiority could be explained by lack of early warning, coordination capacity and sufficient planning time, the continued pattern of activity suggests a more significant conclusion: that the VKS lacks the institutional capacity to plan, brief and fly complex air operations at scale. There is significant circumstantial evidence to support this, admittedly tentative, explanation.
You are invited to read all of Bronk’s analysis if you’re into the military stuff. And here’s a short video for you:
It’s very possible the stories of stranded tanks and surrendering Russians have been exaggerated, of course, but the general bumbling of the Russian military has been exposed for all to see.
There was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire to allow evacuation of civilians from Mariupol. The evacuation was suspended because Russian forces continued to shell Mariupol. The New York Times is running a photo of a mother and two children killed by a mortar as they tried to evacuate.
Vladimir Putin is complaining that the sanctions being shoveled on Russia amount to a declaration of war. But a declaration of war by whom? Visa and Mastercard? Also the entire European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland (which didn’t join the EU), the UK (which dropped out), and of course the U.S.
Better hold your fire on that one, Vlad. You’re having enough trouble with Ukraine.
What else is being revealed? The absolute moral bankruptcy of the so-called Christian Right. Our famous White Evangelical Christians are among Vlad Putin’s biggest supporters in the U.S. It isn’t just Pat Robertson, who came out of retirement to proclaim that Vlad Putin is being “compelled by God” to invade Ukraine. Putin is being compelled to use Ukraine as a staging area to invade Israel, Robertson says, which suggests God’s grasp of military strategy and geography are a tad weak.
Many White Evangelical Christians are buying into the idea that we’re looking at the fulfillment of a prophecy in Ezekiel 38:14-16, which says that a mighty army will invade Israel from the north. Ezekiel was probably written during the Babylonian Captivity, 6th century BCE, which was a dark time for Judaism. And the ancient world was full of various militant tribes that went around invading other people’s territory. Ezekiel was possibly writing about things going on in his own time, not ours. But the Rapture Index is now cranked up to 187. I take it is as high as it ever gets.
This Rolling Stone article by Alex Morris reveals how depraved this is.
In this framing, each act of aggression, each expansion of Putin’s power, draws end times Christians closer to the moment of physical reunification with their Lord. And that, according to Hunt, is what the rest of us should be paying attention to. “‘Wars and rumors of wars’ become this perverse source of excitement,” he says. “In an individual person, that might not be problematic, but when you have organizations or lobbying groups leveraging or pressuring politicians to be more aggressive against Putin, that [has] a real-world impact. Biden is not going to listen to Pat Robertson egging him on, but there’s something really perverse about hoping for nuclear holocaust. It’s a bloodlust, is what it is.”
It’s also a reframing of Christianity from a source of compassion into a source of vengeance. “What you have is this kickass, superhero Jesus who comes back to fix the passive, humble Jesus who didn’t get things right the first time,” Hunt continues. “This superhero Jesus who is going to beat up the bad guys and stomp on their enemies and crush everything under His heel. Then you find yourself in a place where you essentially have to cheer on violence. You have to cheer on calamity, because you’ve already decided that it’s a sign of the times.”
Roberston certainly has. “You read your Bibles,” he admonished this week. “Because it’s coming to pass.”
This throbbing need for a superhero who will remake the world is also seen among white supremacists, who for some time have identified that superhero as — Vladimir Putin. From a Guardian article by Sergio Olmos:
… as America and the world grow more diverse, critics say, Russia has come to be seen as a beacon of salvation by white nationalists. In 2004 David Duke, a longtime leader of the Ku Klux Klan, described it as “key to white survival”. In 2017 Ann Coulter, a rightwing author and commentator, opined: “In 20 years, Russia will be the only country that is recognizably European.”
Which will be a real accomplishment, considering that most of Russia isn’t in Europe. And here is the Christian nationalist connection:
Researchers who monitor far-right groups agree that the moment of Putin enthusiasm in the US has intellectual underpinnings with deeper roots. Burghart said: “For almost a decade the work of Russian fascist Alexander Dugin has found a home in American white nationalist circles.”
Dugin’s ideology is steeped in Russian Christian nationalism and has chimed with Putin’s world view. At the same time, it echoes much of the Christian nationalist activism in the US, where liberal values, gay rights and a desire to keep religion out of the state, are seen as decadent and responsible for American decline.
The Christian/White nationalists especially appreciate Putin’s crackdown on LGBTQ people, which they call “preserving traditional values.” Putin has famously called the concept of gender fluidity a “crime against humanity,” which is rich considering what he’s up to at the moment.
See Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, The False Romance of Russia.
The belief that Russia is on our side in the war against secularism and sexual decadence is shared by a host of American Christian leaders, as well as their colleagues on the European far right. Among them, for example, are the movers and shakers behind the World Congress of Families, an American evangelical and anti-gay-rights organization that Buchanan has explicitly praised. One of the WCF’s former leaders, Larry Jacobs, once declared that “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.” The WCF even has a Russian branch, which is run by Alexey Komov, a man in turn linked to Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch who has hosted far-right meetings all across Europe. At the WCF’s most recent meeting, in Verona, senior Russian priests mingled with leaders of the Italian far right, the Austrian far right, and their comrades from the American heartland. …
… Fortunately for all such critics, they don’t have to spend much time in the country they are “rooting” for, because there is no greater fantasy than the idea that Russia is a country of Christian values. In reality, Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, nearly double that of the United States. It has an extremely low record of church attendance, though the numbers are difficult to measure, not least because any form of Christianity outside of the state-controlled Orthodox Church is liable to be considered a cult. A 2012 survey showed that religion plays an important role in the lives of only 15 percent of Russians. Only 5 percent have read the Bible.
Remember all those phony stories about Swedish and British neighborhoods that are supposedly no-go zones ruled by Sharia law? Russia has an actual province, Chechnya, that is officially ruled by Sharia law. The local regime tolerates polygamy, requires women to be veiled in public places, and tortures gay men. It is a no-go zone, right inside Russia.
Probably the torturing gay men part won the Right over. But I doubt most righties know Chechnya from a toaster. They may think it’s something you eat with blini.
The point is that what this group really, truly wants is a Big Daddy, whether God, Trump, or Putin, who will swoop in and make all the things they don’t like go away. No more racial minorities (or, at least, no more having to treat them as equals), no more feminism, no more gay rights, no more diversity, no more multiculturlism. The world should be as monochromatic as an episode of Ozzie and Harriet, except with guns.
I’ve gone on for a bit, but let’s close with the trucker “freedom” convoy, which mostly has made it to D.C. Once they got to the outskirts of the District of Columbia they had to stop awhile and consider next moves. Today, I understand, they just drove round and round the Beltway, unnecessarily burning diesel.
An armada of drivers calling themselves the “People’s Convoy” is circling the Beltway at a deliberately slow speed Sunday as an act of protest against pandemic restrictions.
Organizers said their goal was to be a “huge pain.” But though the convoy of hundreds of trucks, cars and SUVs started out moving in a formation that stretched roughly 30 miles, it became diluted after merging with normal Beltway traffic.
There seems to be some confusion among them as to whether any of the convoy will attempt to drive into D.C. And, of course, there’s the question of what exactly they are trying to accomplish other than piss people off.
[Convoy organizer Brian] Brase has said the group wants an end to the national emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus — first issued by President Donald Trump in March 2020 and later extended by President Biden — and for Congress to hold hearings investigating the government’s response to the pandemic. …
… Other demonstrators spoke only of generic asks, such as “taking back our freedom.”
I’m all for holding hearings investigating the government’s response to the pandemic, especially since I still think some of the Trump family might have engaged in profiteering of seized covid supplies. Congress should get right on that, after the January 6 investigations are resolved. As far as the emergency declaration is concerned, more than a thousand people a day are still dying of covid in the U.S. There could be more variants and more surges. There may be some purpose to keeping the declaration in place.
I predict the meatballs in trucks will drive around the Beltway for a few more days, and then they will dissipate when they realize nobody gives a bleep about them except the commuters. And their opinion won’t be positive.