Wednesday, May 06, 2009

This might belong in "Crisis of Masculinity Blogging"

I read this article this morning in the Mail & Guardian about Vladimir Putin and it made me giggle. At first, I thought that it was just worth a drive-by snarking on Twitter, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should go back and write about it.

At first, of course, you get the usual masculinity-fetish. The title of the article is "That Shrinking Feeling," which is just too obvious. Further down, a sentence reads, "Not that Putin is a spent force."

Sexual metaphors and obsession with Putin's bare chest are hardly rare--comic artist Becky Cloonan has a whole range of Putin-fantasy webcomics that are totally hilarious. I admit to a bit of a Putin obsession myself--he's such a caricature.

As was Bush, of course. A caricature of a certain type of American masculinity (just like Reagan before him) the same way Putin is a caricature of a certain type of Russian masculinity. He has judo videos! He shoots tigers! He's so BUFF!

Only a few months ago, we were scared of Putin "rearing his head," (oh, Palin, will you ever get old?) but now we hear little to nothing about him. And this article, masculinity fetish aside, makes a decent point about why, even if it buries it beneath layers of alternately fawning and poking at him.

Analysts add that United States President Barack Obama's emollient approach on Nato enlargement and missile defence is not helping.

As Russian president, Putin was a natural when it came to attacking former president George Bush, for example over Iraq.

But fast-forward one year and he looked far less comfortable, barely speaking above a whisper, as he made a conciliatory speech praising the new Iraqi order in front of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at a recent Moscow meeting.

As the public questions whether everything is really the United States' fault, a change of tone is needed that Putin may struggle with, says political commentator Arkady Dubnov of the newspaper Vremya Novostei.

(OK, they did say "enlargement.")

Does Obama's conciliatory approach to foreign policy make the former bluff and bluster between Bush and Putin look...well...juvenile? Does Obama's refusal to give leaders like Putin (and Chavez, and and and) a target effectively work where threats and yes, swagger didn't?

Of course it's far too early to tell. But during the campaign, especially the primaries, I wrote about Obama's demeanor and tone about foreign policy contrasted with his rivals, and how Hillary Clinton and Obama seemed to have switched gender stereotypes.

I'm disappointed with many of Obama's moves so far, but I wonder if just the tonal shift in public diplomacy is having an effect worldwide. It's definitely not calming the Right inside the U.S., but they sure do look silly. So there's that.