From the Department of Common Sense: so much for debunking history. The Obama administration’s (non-)handling of Putin’s aspirations of hegemony could throw millions into the darkness of dictatorial tyranny.
The one pistol-armed man in a room full of knife-wielding muggers can’t pull his attention away from his own vain reflection long enough to defend anyone. Our “foreign policy”, such as it is, offers watered-down threats which will never be backed by real action (see Syria’s “red line”), and negotiates useless agreements with Putin, who has no intention of honoring them.
Vladimir Putin is the fascination of the American press. Time magazine has featured him on its cover for the second time in under a year (in September 2013 they swapped a different cover in the US edition), and bestowed “Person of the Year” honors on him in 2007. While the Obama administration is effecting the policies of the old USSR (bloated government inefficiencies, party apparatchiks, military and infrastructure decline and disrepair), Putin is remaking the Russian Empire with himself as Tsar. By no means was Putin, or is he now, the image of the Soviet bureaucrat apparatchik. His Ph.D. is in international law, with a slant toward business law. He studied how oil and gas and national energy policy would be the key to Russian economic success—he wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject.
It is no accident that Putin is in power, and power is what he wants. He isn’t a crude kleptocrat like Ukraine’s former premier Viktor Yushchenko, who lived better than a king while his people starved. Putin carefully crafts his image, a hero to his people, a savior for greater Russia. He is media-savvy, ruthless, and politically apt on the international stage. In education, theory, and raw horsepower, Putin’s game is overmatched against Obama’s community-organizer.
In fact, I believe Obama and Putin agree on more than they disagree. Neither represents their country’s best interests, but one makes his power plays count and the other is mired in a suspension of belief.
Putin’s image in Russia paints him as a superhero: he even scored 6 goals and 5 assists in his latest foray at amateur ice hockey.
In realpolitik, global power projection, and winning influence, Obama is no match for Putin.
While Obama leads America to new heights of navel-gazing, carbon emissions limits, green energy, anti-child obesity, and universally-bad healthcare, Putin rebuilds the Russian Bear day by day. Sarah Palin in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012 were not prescient or prophecy-laden. They were listening to the international experts who have been watching for the past 24 years, and had the common sense to see the Bear rising again.
Who could have predicted the next move after Putin agreed to pull back Russian troops from the Ukrainian border? Not the Obama administration, because they ignore history. Every time a Russian has agreed to pull out troops from an occupied or disputed area, they’ve reneged. From Stalin’s Azerbaijan seizure in 1946 to every Cold War tit-for-tat, this is not disputable.
Ignoring history has consequences. Victor Davis Hanson writes in NRO
If history is any guide, these emotions [sense of pride] are driving Putin to grab things that are not his. Putin acts now because in the era of failed reset diplomacy and recent empty American deadlines, red lines, and step-over lines, he feels the old U.S. deterrent is absent or dormant. And he will keep up his aggression until he senses that the increasing risks no longer warrant the diminishing returns of absorbing his neighbors.
Putin, like all careful empire-builders, has to have a pretext for action. In Ukraine, he just received another one: the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, has announced a 75% turnout for a referendum with—you guessed it—a majority supporting self-rule and therefore alignment with Moscow. Putin distanced himself from this election and made some reference to accepting the results of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election.
Mr. Putin told a news conference at the Kremlin that Russia had withdrawn its troops from along the border and that he had asked separatists to drop plans for a referendum on sovereignty this Sunday.
But the separatists' election went on as planned, and within hours of polls closing, they announced that they had counted 2.25 million paper ballots to reach their conclusion. This is about as believable as “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it”. I am guessing that Putin’s government will believe it and act in defense of those Ukrainians who chose self-determination, just like they did in Crimea (except the election results were rigged there too).
A word to the wise about history and debunked historical theories: the Domino Effect was real. It is still real. The Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, Germans and others who were buttoned up behind the Iron Curtain for 50 years know it’s real. Our indifference and idleness in the face of Putin’s reanimated Russian Bear provokes fears of another 70 years of an Iron Curtain, replaced by a Steel Ring, run from Moscow by a man unfettered by western morals, but skilled in crafting his own image at home, and abroad.
In June 1987, Reagan’s words carried the power of conviction, and the might of the American military.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent-- and I pledge to you my country's efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.
In 1991, those words bore fruit, and millions were delivered from a great darkness. Those same Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, are all very concerned, and some are panic-stricken. Their very freedom is very much at risk. In 1991 we didn’t let them down. I don’t think they have the same confidence now.
Everyone knows what Putin’s next move is. My question to Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry, and their history debunking colleagues is, will we continue to sit by and do nothing but make empty threats and useless sanctions? If we do, I have a warning from the Department of Common Sense: get ready, because the Russian Bear is back, and the dominos are about to fall.