In the current political crisis in the Ukraine, the identity of the Bad Guy has been clearly determined by the U.S. media: Russian President Vladimir Putin, the one-time KGB operative with the hooded eyes.
"The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has declared. He accuses Moscow of acting like a "gangster," of supporting "terrorists," and alleges that Putin wishes to build a new Berlin Wall.
So what's taking him so long? If Putin really wanted a shooting war in the Ukraine, he's had ample opportunities to start one since the overthrow of that country's Russian-leaning elected government last February.
Instead, Putin managed to transfer the Crimean peninsula, with its strategically crucial military bases, from Ukrainian to Russian sovereignty without firing a shot -- an impressive feat of geopolitical gamesmanship whether you trust the cunning rascal or not.
Meanwhile, the role of Good Guy in the Ukrainian melodrama has fallen to President Barack Obama, who appears disinclined to play it.
"Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force," the president asked recently, "and what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?"
Talk like that invariably stimulates what Calvin Trillin dubbed the "Sabbath Gasbags" to question the president's virility. On "Meet the Press," hairy-chested he-man David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who thought invading Iraq was a terrific idea, opined that "Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a -- I'll say it crudely -- a manhood problem ... Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Putin?"
Now me, I don't miss junior high school at all, but let's get basic. Back in 1956, when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who liberated Europe from the Nazis, declined to engage the Russian army in its own back yard. Nobody questioned Ike's masculinity.
These things happened because whatever the testosterone levels of U.S. presidents, Russia is what we scholars of international affairs call a very big bleeping country, with a big bleeping army. President Obama can make light of Russian military prowess all he wants, but he also knows that Napoleon and Hitler sent superior armies into Russia that never came back.
Ukrainian officials are fools if they imagine that the U.S. or NATO will help them fight a civil war where no member's vital national interests are involved.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.