The world continues to be a busy, complicated, dangerous place. And Russia has just made it busier, more complicated, and considerably more dangerous. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama stands by and looks on with the usual confused ineptitude that’s been the hallmark of his foreign policy since day one.
How ineffective has Obama’s foreign affairs approach been? Well, let’s catalogue his accomplishments: Iraq has reverted to bouts of sectarian violence and fallen into Iran’s sphere of influence after a messily accomplished military victory actually restored stability to the country for a while; Afghanistan is poised to return to a state not much different than it was pre 9-11 once the well-advertised American military withdrawal begins; the Middle East in general is far more violent and unstable than it was at the beginning of the Obama presidency; Iran is ever closer to the bomb; China is making aggressive moves in the Western Pacific; and now Russia has invaded the Ukraine. All in the face of the most drastic cuts to the American military in decades. It’s quite the record.
And not at all unexpected. Obama and Co. are trying to bring to final fulfillment a long held left-wing vision of foreign policy, one that holds the western notion of the nation-state in disdain and as such seeks to dilute it through internationalism, putting greater faith in such organizations as the United Nations and European Union than the United States. It’s an approach that seeks to replace military power with lofty appeals to international brotherhood, goodwill and a desire for cooperation rather than strategic competition — all worthy and laudable goals, but dangerously unrealistic when not shared by everyone at the table.
Ironically, Ukrainians have taken to the streets to fight for what western nation-states have to offer — free market economies (at least relatively speaking), political and individual liberties, property rights, rule of law and democratically elected governing bodies. Unfortunately, the weakening and dilution of those western nation-states, in the form of the EU, has resulted in a confused and ineffective body that’s useless at promoting its own economic and strategic interests, let along those of a prospective partner crouching in the shadow of the Russian bear.
The U.S. should be in a position to fill that void, as it has done in the recent past, except that it’s currently headed up by an administration — and Senate, incidentally — whose sympathies align more closely with the internationalists and are thus similarly rendered impotent.
Many have already compared the current crisis to last summer’s Syrian situation, and indeed the similarities attract the eye. Few good options are open to American policy makers because the presiding philosophy has long since stripped those options away. Diplomacy has become naked and toothless, and everyone knows it.
There are those who question why the U.S. should really care, rekindling a debate as old as the nation itself. Do we really care what happens on the far side of the world, especially as our own domestic and economic problems continue to inflate? The answer is, of course we do.
Since at least Roman times, there has been a dominant civilization that’s taken on the role of policing the world, as it were — either willingly and aggressively or sometimes simply by default. When this is not the case, a vacuum forms that’s subsequently filled. At various times in history this role fell to the Romans, or the Catholic Church, or the Spanish, or the British Empire, or (more recently) the United States. This geo-political reality has only become stronger in an age of Internet, air travel, nuclear weapons and a globally integrated economy.
Like it or not, the U.S.-led West fulfilled this role more or less continually since the demise of the British empire, albeit spending most of the 20th century battling competing and hideous ideologies for the role, ultimately prevailing in 1945 and 1989. Now, the western liberal appetite for moving away from the idea of the nation-state is again leaving a void, one which Vladimir Putin, among others, is all too ready and eager to fill — with the implicit, if not explicit, assistance of the man who holds the position once referred to without irony as leader of the free world.
The question becomes this: Is it desirable that Russia become the world’s policeman in place of the United States? The Ukrainians, who live at the gates of Russia, gave their answer, and Russia responded with tanks. Yes, foreign policy matters.