We’ve all seen the polls that show he’s greatly popular, and the cynical remarks alleging that the Russians just adore a czar with good pecs.  But if, as you should, you pay attention to serious analysts like Paul Goble, you’ll find a horse of a different manure.  He recently quoted extensively from a Russian economist who smartly observed that, if you want to be a great power, you’d better have a highly developed state.  Which Putin doesn’t.  Here’s the picture:

…the budget calls for increasing defense spending by 61 percent over the 2014-2016 period. That money has to come from somewhere, either other programs or higher taxes which affect growth.

The Russian Federation is already spending far less on public health and education than most countries, and spending more on defense will further depress those rates. On the one hand, it will worsen life expectancy – Russia now ranks 134th out of 207 countries on that measure. And on the other, it will lack the educated population needed to be a super power.

Under these conditions, Gurevich argues, “sooner of later the [Russian] economy will simply not be in a position to bear the burdens of being a super power.” And Russians do not need to look far to see what that could lead to: The USSR ultimately was incapable of bearing them and disintegrated.

“Do Russians want to go down this path again?” he asks.

We answer:  they aren’t likely to like it when they get to its inevitable end.  The will to power can cover up a multitude of weaknesses, but not all of them.  The West is very weak, and doesn’t want to fight a determined aggressor.  But then, we didn’t want to fight in what became the Second World War, and our weakness was far worse than it is today.  Power-mad tyrants have historically done poorly anticipating our response when push came to shove, and even worse judging their own countries’ ability to both dominate others and bring glory in their own realm.

All of which, I think, should give us pause to reflect on the hollowness of our enemies’ regimes and the fragility of their ambitious enterprise to destroy us.  To be sure, Obama and his dudes don’t have any stomach for exposing our enemies’ weaknesses.  But there are others, outside the corridors of the executive branch, who should do it.  Like Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, they should remind the American people that the war is on, and that we can and must win it.   If we wage political war against the tyrants, we can prevail without sending our kids onto foreign battlefields.  If we don’t, we’ll either have to hope that our enemies fall from within–and it’s possible–or face the battlefields again in short order.

In these cases, prudence is better than prayer.