Or why only the French can stop Putin.
I am only 5’7” tall, 5’8” on warmer days or when I feel magnanimous. One day, soon after my wife and I started dating, she was in one of her it-is-better-to-be-honest-than-tactful moods, and she casually observed that I was the shortest boyfriend she had ever had. Since my height was a pre-existing condition, I was eminently prepared to face down this abject rebellion and I immediately shot back that I was “tall inside.” The trick worked and we have been married for over 10 years. This is what short guys do. We act and talk tall in the hope that other people will not notice or care. We also adopt some defensive measures, such as avoiding parties where everyone is standing up in close quarters. Dinner parties are so much more civilized anyway.
Another thing we enjoy more than the average American is overseas travel. This is so not only because cattle…uh, coach class on airlines feels roomier to us, but also, more importantly, because people in most other countries are shorter than Americans. Standing tall in the Tokyo subway a decade ago, I marveled at my unrestricted panoramic view of bobbing Japanese heads on their way to work. And then, there is France. The French are not as short as the Japanese, but they are short enough. A persistent theory claims that Napoleon culled the tall gene by recruiting the tallest for his endless battles at the four corners of Europe.
Which brings us nicely to the Napoleon-Hitler-Putin axis of history. Do you see a pattern here? Napoleon was short (5’6”), Hitler was short (5’8”), Putin is shorter (5’5”). Why is it always a short guy? Napoleon and Hitler set Europe aflame. If you think Putin is not as bad, it is only because you lack imagination. Or maybe you are blind. He participated in the destruction of a city inside Russia, Grozny in Chechnya (2000), and invaded two countries, Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014). He also bears some responsibility for the devastation of Syria (2011-2014). And, by the way, he does not particularly dislike Syrians. He had no reason to feel any envy or anger towards them. Just think what he would do to Americans if he could. Use your imagination. Assume the worst. And be pleasantly surprised if you are wrong. That is better than being naïve and hoping for the best.
Now, Putin may not completely live up to his Hitlerian potential. An accident may happen. One day, a pet tiger may not take kindly to the smug humanoid fondling his luxurious coat to impress the cameras. Or he may fall off his horse or suffer hypothermia while bathing in a Siberian lake and be thus incapacitated. Or Pussy Riot may organize a simultaneous revolt across all of Russia’s nine time zones. That would be unfortunate, but here is a simple truth that is not always heeded: it can be reckless and dangerous to toy with unpredictable great forces such as wild animals, mother nature, angry women, and… well, the United States of America. But enough fantasy. Back to reality.
The reality is not only that Putin is short but that Russia is also “short.” I am not the kind of guy who can afford to pick a fight in a bar. And Russia today is not the kind of country that can afford to pick a fight with a superpower. Maybe the Russians are hoping that we will not notice. Maybe they are diverting our attention from their 12,600 miles of land borders, which are largely indefensible save through the threat of nuclear weapons. Maybe they are acting tall, or telling us that they are “tall inside.” Maybe that is why they are trying to rally more populous countries like China and India against us. It is no accident that Putin thanked both of these countries for their understanding just yesterday while he signed the annexation of Crimea. Ok, but problem! China probably wants Siberia and India is our friend.
Russia’s numbers speak for themselves. It has a population of 145 million people, expected to fall to 126 million by 2050 (UN estimates). It has the GDP of Italy (are you afraid of Italy?) and is very dependent on its energy resources. If oil fell to, say, $50 per barrel and stayed there for a few months, Putin would be more reasonable about Crimea. At $40, the Chinese would clear their throat about Siberia. And at $30, the Japanese would cough twice about the Kuril Islands. Remember that Putin’s last invasion (of Georgia) occurred in 2008, shortly after oil hit a record $150 per barrel. Keep that oil price down. Or better, drive it down to $50.
There has been a lot of criticism of President Obama regarding his response to the theft of Crimea. You see, the problem is that Obama is not short enough. Not only is he physically tall — not to say downright greedy — at 6’1.” He is also trying to keep things “tall”, dignified, on a higher plane. He thinks he is matching wits with Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney.
What we need is a Putin-like leader on our side … and this is where the French come in. If you have ever been in a Parisian taxi, you know that you do not want to get into an argument with a Frenchman. It is true that they “took August off” during every month of World War II, but that is because they were deeply divided. Unlike the Germans or Soviet Russians, the French do not need a higher reason to antagonize you. No delusions about ideological struggle, or about master race or rebirth of empire. If you attack them or even just annoy them, they will lash back. What is more, as noted in a recent Ricochet article, in the sorry history of sub-5’9” mass murderers, Napoleon entered Moscow in 1812 (though mainly due to Russian withdrawal) and Hitler did not in 1942. Note that the Russians promptly returned the visit by occupying Paris in 1814.
The incumbent Francois Hollande is short enough (5’8”) to stop Vladimir Putin. But if not him, his predecessor and likely successor, Nicolas Sarkozy (5’7”), certainly has the goods. The super smart, short-tempered, streetfighting, supermodel-marrying Sarkozy has been working on a comeback and could well breeze into office in 2017. He is tan. He is rested. He is pro-Europe. He is pro-America. And he is short.
Or why only the French can stop Putin.