Editorial: Two who flunked dictator school

Column By John Young

When Russia rolled tanks into Ukraine, Donald Trump called Vladimir Putin a “genius” and “very savvy.”

Turns out, not very.

If you like scrap metal, the tanks are now an impressive pile. The army is starving, frost-bitten, and in disarray.

The tragedy of Ukraine far transcends its own toll of death and devastation. It also includes callow Russian conscripts in body bags. They died solely to suit Putin’s purposes.

“This isn’t even war,” a Russian soldier told a New York Times reporter. “It’s the destruction of the Russian people by their own commanders.”

That sad quote is in a gripping and exhaustive account of what has gone wrong with the invasion. In telling the story, the Times provides a portrait of sorts – of the man behind the slaughter.

At the same time, the article rings with echoes of the ex-U.S. president who so admires Putin. And who so gravely botched his own responsibilities in leading this country.

First, it counts the many ways Putin has failed those serving him. For one, overconfidence:

Officers were instructed to pack their dress uniforms for the military parades when the Ukrainians surrendered.

So many of Putin’s troops hadn’t fired a gun heading into battle, and were assured it wasn’t necessary, for, said their commanders, “They would never see combat.”

The more The Times described these matters, the more one could see Trumpian arrogance afoot:

“While their planes were being shot down, many Russian pilots flew as if they faced no danger, almost like they were at an air show.”

Anyone reading this article would – or should – find him or herself comparing the man in the Kremlin to the miscreant of Mar-a-Lago.

Both have demonstrated they are unfit to lead a nation, much less a military.

The invasion was triggered, Putin associates told The Times, because their leader had “spiraled into self-aggrandizement.”

The article mentioned a “feedback loop” that made Putin feel invincible and all-knowing, with state media, social media, and “aides and hangers-on” to amplify “his many grudges and suspicions.”

(Today that feedback loop includes Fox News, Congresswomen Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, and the ever-embarrassing Donald Jr., who last week called Volodymyr Zelenskyy “an ungrateful international welfare queen.”)

When the Times mentioned that the cloistered leader had elevated many non-military figures to command roles, including his bodyguard, I thought of Keith Schiller, Trump’s private bodyguard, who was made chief of White House operations, mostly to wage a purity purge of staff. Unfit? It depended on if heads needed knocking.

With all this input, ultimately, reports the Times, “Putin decided his own thinking would be enough.”

This is reminiscent of Brian Stelter and his book “Hoax” about Trump and Fox News. The latter, Stelter writes, fed Trump’s hubris and “worst impulses, and helped him deceive the people who voted for him.” So doing, the feedback loop helped assure his downfall after a single term.

No wonder, then, that military leaders, like Trump’s own defense secretary, Mark Esper, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, did everything they could to keep Trump from doing rash things like using troops against Black Lives Matter protesters.

The more one learns about Jan. 6, the more one imagines Trump operating on a “What would Putin do?” basis – not just in non-stop lies but in contemplating confiscation of voting machines and bullying state election officials to reverse a lawful election.

Back to Ukraine: Let us applaud U.S. intelligence for having read Putin’s horrendous aims on Ukraine early on. It reminds us of how right U.S. intelligence was about Russia’s attack on our elections in 2016 and its transparently obvious efforts to elect Trump. Trump dismissed that intelligence. Why? Because Putin told him it wasn’t so.

Trump also said of Putin in 2018, “He’s not going into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down.”

So marked.

Trump and Putin, partners in infamy: Neither is fit to be a president – not even a second-rate dictator.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.