Bruce Lee was puny. He stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed a meager 140 pounds. He looked as if you could knock him over with a feather. Yet many consider him the greatest hand-to-hand combat fighter of all time.
If someone saw Lee walking down a dark alley and, not knowing who he was, figured him to be an easy target, the assailant surely would be in for a rude awakening. Lee would easily fling him to the ground and stick his boot on the guy’s throat.
But the point is the mugger would have tried to attack Lee.
Contrast Lee’s modest frame with that of Hulk Hogan, the professional wrestling legend who stands 6 feet 7 and weighs over 300 pounds. A person trying to mug Hogan would suffer the same fate, but the would-be mugger would never make such a foolhardy attempt in the first place.
In physical altercations, size matters — maybe not in terms of victory, but surely in terms of deterrence. That’s why bars hire behemoths as bouncers instead of svelte martial arts experts. Most people, no matter how drunk they are, won’t tangle with a giant.
Importantly, bar owners would gladly trade a Lee-type bouncer who would win barfights for a Hogan-like one who’d prevent them altogether.
Countries would, too. Here in the U.S., we’ve had those big, burly bouncers other nations feared, and we’ve had ones who seemed like pushovers, and in some cases they were. In other cases, rival nations backed down, but only after starting trouble in the first place.
In October 1962, when the world was on the brink of nuclear war, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev played a game of chicken, and Kennedy made Khrushchev blink first. But it’s highly unlikely Khrushchev would have had the nerve to ship missiles to Cuba had Dwight D. Eisenhower still been president.
In the summer of 1992, I remember telling a bunch of my law school buddies at a barbecue that as good a job as President George H.W. Bush did in squelching Saddam Hussein’s plans to control Kuwait and all its oil, he probably never would have dared to invade Kuwait in the first place had Ronald Reagan still been our commander in chief. Many agreed with me.
During Reagan’s reign, the expansion-minded Soviet Union didn’t annex one square inch of territory. That empire dissolved, and for a while it seemed that Russia would be far friendlier and less threatening to the West.
Until Vladimir Putin came along, whom many foreign policy leaders saw as striving to restore the Soviet Union’s former glory.
Donald Trump often boasts that he is the only U.S. president of the 21st century during whose leadership Russia didn’t acquire any foreign land. That’s right: Russia gained new territory under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and most recently, Joe Biden, but nothing while Trump was in charge.
Trump has prided himself on his unpredictability, which, coupled with his reputation for volatility, might have given Putin just cause to be wary of provoking a tempestuous alpha male commanding the most powerful military force in world history. Biden, however, like most of the establishmentarian presidents before him, was bound to adopt the restrained approach he has to this point.
When George W. Bush was president, Putin told him that his dog was “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s dog. Bush took the comment in stride and determined that it spoke volumes about Putin’s character. Here’s the difference: Trump would have gotten a pet mountain lion that would have eaten Putin’s dog.
In fairness to Biden, his ability to make NATO more unified than it’s been in decades may ultimately prove to be Putin’s undoing. In that case, Biden may save the day a la Bruce Lee.
But if Hulk Hogan were at the helm, perhaps the day wouldn’t have needed saving in the first place.
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