The crisis in Ukraine is just the latest in a long series of foreign policy failures brought about by the incoherence in our thinking about foreign relations. On the one hand, we have championed ethnic-national self-determination as the highest international good, while on the other we have assumed that all these various nations and peoples share the same ideals, principles, and goods, and so can comprise a transnational order that will eliminate war and conflict and create peace and prosperity. Over a hundred years of history reveal these ideals not just to be incompatible, but also to foment and worsen inter-state violence. Continue reading “The Incoherence of Western Foreign Policy”→
For three centuries the West built up enormous economic, cultural, and military capital that dwarfs and dominates that of the rest of the world. Other countries may hate and resent Europe and the United States, but they still have to imitate, adapt, or steal the technology, financial systems, and even popular culture of the West. Yet this dominance has come at a price for Westerners, one that contains the seeds of our decline.
One baleful effect of this achievement has been the erosion of the virtues and ideals that created Western dominance in the first place, a phenomenon long recognized as the cost of national success. Two thousand years ago the Roman historian Livy, surveying the wreckage of the Roman Republic, invited his reader to contemplate the “life and manners” of his ancestors that led to their dominance, and “then, as discipline gradually declined, let him follow in his thoughts their morals, at first as slightly giving way, next how they sunk more and more, then began to fall headlong, until he reaches the present times, when we can neither endure our vices, nor their remedies.” Livy specifically linked this decline to the vast increase of wealth that followed the success of Rome, and that “introduced avarice, and a longing for excessive pleasures, amidst luxury and a passion for ruining ourselves and destroying every thing else.”
Clichés, one might say, but no less true for that. The astonishing wealth of the West, more widely distributed than in any other civilization, the abandonment of religion as the foundation of morals and virtues, the transformation of political freedom into self-centered license, and the commodification of hedonism that makes available to everyman luxuries and behaviors once reserved for a tiny elite, have made self-indulgence and the present more important than self-sacrifice and the future. Declining birthrates, a preference for Continue reading “Western Arrogance and Decline”→
The new administration party line is that Putin is now weak and acting out of just that weakness by sending troops into Ukrainian territory — a sort of chihuahua who took on a pit
bull because he knew he was weak.
But even weak states do not typically invade others because they accept that they are weak (and thereby expect to lose?), but usually because, even if weak, they at least still expect to be strong enough to win. Even demonstrably weak Mussolini apprised the political and military landscape and thought that he could win something when he opportunistically invaded a tottering France in June 1940.
Of course, the point is not so much whether Putin is acting out of weakness and frustration at Obama’s purported strength (a fantasy), or even whether he is acting out of strength due to Obama’s clear weakness (most likely), but rather that he is acting at all.
Of all the advice to Obama to reverse his brand of Carterism, the best might simply be to shut his eyes, and every time he gets angry and is about to say something about Israel, stop, and think first to substitute the reset vocabulary he has used with Putin in the past. And vice versa: Imagine Russia is “Israel!” and Putin “Netanyahu” each time he wants to see red and reset reset. Continue reading “A Modest Proposal on Ukraine”→
Vladimir Putin, playing geopolitical chess while our president plays tiddlywinks, has effectively taken over Crimea. Armed men, looking suspiciously like Russian military personnel, have seized both airports and established border checkpoints decorated with Kalashnikovs and Russian flags. This comes after other armed men seized two government buildings and raised Russian flags, as the legislature appointed a pro-Russian regional
leader. Meanwhile Russian military forces are gathering on the border, with Russia’s parliament unanimously voting to approve deploying troops in Ukraine.
This is just Putin’s latest revanchist expansion of Russian power throughout the region. He’s been at this for a while. Remember that during the Bush administration he stole chunks of Moldova and Georgia, using the same argument of ethnic self-determination that served Hitler so well in 1938, when he made the Sudeten Germans the pretext for gobbling up Czechoslovakia. Remember when in 2005 Putin said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union––the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, as he put it–– “tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory”? And just as England and France did nothing except talk about Hitler’s aggression, so too the West has blustered Continue reading “Sacrificing the Military to Entitlements”→
Each step to the present Ukrainian predicament was in and of itself hardly earth-shattering and was sort of framed by Obama’s open-mic assurance to Medvedev to tell Vladimir that he would more flexible after the election.
Indeed, Obama, as is his wont, always had mellifluous and sophistic arguments for why we had to take every soldier out of Iraq after the successful surge; why we needed to drop missile defense with the Poles and Czechs; why we needed both a surge and simultaneous deadline to end the surge in Afghanistan; why we first issued serial deadlines to Iran to ask them to please stop proliferation, then just quit the sanctions altogether just as they started to work; why we needed to “lead from behind” in Libya; why the Muslim Brotherhood was largely secular and legitimate and then later not so much so; why we issued redlines and bragged about Putin’s “help” to eliminate WMD in Syria, and were going to bomb and then not bomb and then maybe bomb; why we kept pressuring Israel; why we cozied up to an increasingly dictatorial Turkey; why we reached out to Cuba and Venezuela; and why we sometimes embarrassed old allies like Britain, Canada, and Israel. Continue reading “The Stepping Stones to the Ukraine Crisis”→
I am used to being sent bizarre things from readers of The American Conservative, but former Ron Paul foreign-policy adviser Leon Hadar’s accusation that I somehow published on National Review Continue reading “Putin Is Putin”→
Vladimir Putin has the world’s attention this week. The circumstances will remind everyone that reset with Russia is dead. Its
working hypothesis — that it was the George W. Bush administration, not the Putin regime, that had either inadvertently or provocatively offended the other’s sensibilities — was invented before the 2008 election on Obama’s partisan and political considerations, not empirical observation.
Under reset, the incoming Obama administration, more nuanced than the outgoing Bush administration and drawing on more enlightened thinking, would appeal to the better angels of Putin’s Russia. The more complex Obamaites would help enlighten the Putin autocracy to the fact that the U.S. and Russia had common interests in improving free trade. We really both wanted to calm world tensions while discouraging proliferation, combating terrorism, working with the United Nations, quelling international crises, and promoting human rights. Once Russians had been tutored about America’s good intentions, we could undo (“reset”) the damage done by the swaggering braggadocio of the interventionist prior administration. Misunderstanding and ill feelings, not ill intentions and malfeasance, were Russia’s sins.
And what is the result of reset? It is open Russian promotion of the Syria/Hezbollah/Iran axis that was active in Iraq and is now more so in Syria. It is Russian obstruction at the U.N. of most American initiatives. It is another round of strangulation of the former Soviet republics. It is satisfaction that a frustrated United States has been reduced to appeasement instead of taking serious steps to thwart Iranian nuclearization, as Putin eggs Iran on. It is more pressure on Eastern Europeans to look to the East, not to the West. It is humiliation of the European Union over Ukraine. It is more internal oppression of a brutal sort. And it is a gratuitous delight in exposing the Obama administration as sanctimonious and weak, while the U.S. lectures Russia on human rights, as if its tepid moral remonstrations de facto translate into shamed abidance. In sum, what the Obama administration is for, Putin is mostly against. Continue reading “The Value of Putin”→
When — not if — is the only mystery about an Iranian nuclear bomb.
All the warning signs are there.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama on two occasions went out of his way to warn the Iranians that the development of a nuclear weapon “would be a game-changing situation, not just in the Middle East, but around the world.” Obama later added, “It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; it would be a game changer.”
Strong language. And Obama twice this year again used “game changer” in reference to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, warning him not to dare use chemical weapons. In March, Obama announced to Assad that “the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.” A month later, Obama again warned Assad not to resort to WMD use: “That is going to be a game changer.” Continue reading “‘Game Changers’”→