With Donald Trump and his family members and his White House apparently having made a collective decision to just sort of melt in the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and with Putin's truest nemesis in the U.S. government, Arizona Senator John McCain, recovering at home following surgery to remove a blood clot earlier this week, who, we all wonder, will stand up to the Russian president at this moment of national peril, when the very integrity of our electoral system is in jeopardy and the 60-year NATO coalition is tearing apart at the seams?
I've always said it and I'll say it again: When you need something dangerous done right, you call in a blogger.
Enter Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of national security blog Lawfare, which, with its focus on the Russia election scandal and excoriations of the Trump administration for all manner of national-security sins, has seen its traffic jump 600 percent over the last year. A few days ago Wittes, a 47-year-old self-described "reasonably well-trained but not especially expert middle-aged desk worker" with black belts in taekwondo and aikido retweeted a challenge he put to Putin on his site back in 2015 to fight him in hand-to-hand combat. "Ok, folks," Wittes tweeted Saturday. "Time for taekwondo. Got to be ready for the day when the Kremlin finally calls." And below that a link to an article posted October 21, 2015, daring the Russian president and famed judo black belt to prove himself.
The challenge was simple. Having watched Putin tossing opponents of all shapes and sizes to the ground on his many judo instructional videos and having seen the photos of him shirtless on a horse and having heard the many rumors about his bear-wrestling and tiger-hunting prowess, Wittes decided that Putin was a "fraud martial artist … [who] only fights people who are in his power, and they are taking falls for him." To prove this he called Putin out. "Either fight me—a middle aged legal writer who's willing to take him on any time, and in any place Putin doesn't have the authority to have me arrested—or cut out the turbo-male bullshit," he wrote.
Wittes went on to say that he finds Putin's displays to be more than just outbursts of personal insecurity and aesthetic absurdity. He believes they have a darker, propagandistic purpose as well: to consolidate his power at home and intimidate leaders abroad. "But there's a very dark side to these displays, which are deeply connected to his aggression against his neighbors, his repression of dissidents, and his grotesque treatment of the LGBT community at home," Wittes wrote in 2015. "That is, his self-presentation as a really 'tough guy' who uses fighting arts to assert his manhood … demands of others exactly what Putin's policies also demand: submission and obedience."
Putin, unfortunately, never responded to Wittes' challenge, and by this past Saturday the writer had apparently had enough of waiting. So he tweeted that his offer to fight the Russian president "any time, any place he can't have me arrested" still stands. And who knows? Times change, right? Now that Putin has successfully helped Trump into the White House and convinced the new American president that he didn't actually interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and even agreed to form a new super-awesome "impenetrable Cyber Security unit" with the U.S., maybe he, like Alexander the Great weeping for more worlds to conquer, will at last take up Wittes on his offer.
But if Putin, in his cowardice, continues to evade Wittes' challenge, there may be someone else to take him up on it—someone of an equally right-wing masculine carriage as the Russian president, someone with a similar devotion to martial arts and his image as a master of them, someone conveniently much closer to home as well. I'm talking about Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, of course. After all, the right wing-pundit/Trump cheerleader/Putin admirer and Wittes have been sniping at each other for months, with Wittes going so far as to issue his Putin challenge to Hannity via Twitter in June:
But Wittes should be warned: Hannity may not look like much, but he has already proven himself a master of MMA and "street martial arts."