President Obama’s comments as well as those of Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power regarding the ultra-nationalistic and imperialist aims of Vladimir Putin’s Russia have been on the mark over the course of the last seven weeks. However, often times it seems the United States and other western governments are reacting late or not at all to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. How is it that the actions of United States are failing to meet the rhetoric of our leaders? From where I sit, this appears to be a political problem.
War weariness and a general disinterest in foreign affairs have been the consequence of the bungled wars of the Bush years. This worldview has especially permeated the left of the Democratic Party which represents President Obama’s political base as well as the electoral base for countless Democratic members of Congress. These members are elected from safe seats in this era of largely partisanly gerrymandered districts. In many cases liberal Democrats particularly activists have assumed when global conflict arises somehow the USA or the west are either to blame or at the very least further agitating already unfavorable circumstances. If you view the world through the simplistic prism of the Bush Doctrine and wars of choice, it is easy to see how such mistakes can be made.
But with the Bush years firmly behind us, today a more sophisticated and balanced approach is needed. While the west is far from perfect, western values and American values are preferable than that of the foreign despots that some on the left seem to have turned a blind eye to. Vladimir Putin and his strategically created alliances fit that description.
We live in a dangerous world where threats to the values of human dignity, self-determination and the rights of minorities are threatened everyday. The United States of America as the sole global superpower, a liberal democracy and leading light in terms of human rights should always play a leading role in dealing with threats to particularly those which are so grounded in the historical precedent such as Putin’s aggression and the treatment of Ukraine.
President Obama is a strong leader. While his policies towards Russia for several years were grounded in continuing the appeasement of the later Bush years, the last two months have seen a decided shift towards a more responsible and aggressive American posture that protects our interests. A problem though is that large portions of the President’s political base, those carrying the water for him on domestic policy issues either do not understand the complexity and seriousness of the Russian threat or simply see any attempt at pushing American interests abroad as some form neoconservative imperialism.
All Americans should be concerned about Putin as his goal is to weaken the United States, strengthen Russia, control the energy flow to Western Europe, bog America down in the Middle East, undermine President Obama, steal global leadership away from our country, undermine our democratic values and to befriend any dictator of the left or right that wants to attack the United States verbally or economically.
Putin’s alliances are designed to undermine our global leadership economically and morally by someone committed to damaging the United States and imposing a differing set of values on the global community. This new Axis led by Russia includes Venezuela, Nicaragua and North Korea and the breakaway states in Georgian and Ukrainian territory as core members and Iran, Syria and Sudan as peripheral members is a grave threat to American values and American security. Additionally, the diplomatic and rhetorical support to Russia provided by China and India, emerging economic powers must be confronted. While some of Putin’s allies’ grievances are certainly legitimate most are simply saber-rattling to incite anti-western and anti-American feelings throughout the globe.
President Obama has clearly articulated that he wants to reign in Russian aggression but his options seem limited partly because of the posture of his political base. Tony Blair’s Premiership never quite recovered from the Iraq War (Labour won the 2005 UK election with a much reduced margin) and the trouble leftist oriented trade union MPs gave him for the remainder of his tenure probably serves as a stark political reminder to the President of the consequences of moving rapidly in confronting evil without the support ones domestic political base.
In all of his recent moves, Putin’s pretext is protecting Russian ethnic minorities. His excuses sound pitifully like Adolf Hitler’s justification for occupying the Sudetenland in 1938. The failure of Britain and France to stop Hitler in 1938 gave the Nazis a critical year to develop military capability and turn the Soviet Union (temporarily) against them. By the time Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939, Hitler was in a MUCH stronger position than a year earlier. While Putin’s march is unlikely to yield the same level of consequence as Hilter’s, the historical parallels are instructive. Putin sits in a much stronger economic position than Nazi Germany did in 1938 and has collected global allies whose sole ideology is anti-Americanism. Confronting this danger is critical at this time, and the President knows it.
But unfortunately Putin also knows how war weary the American and British public’s are because of the foolishness of the Bush-Blair adventurism in Iraq. He is convinced that the United States nor the United Kingdom will act militarily. While avoiding a military conflict of any sort should be a priority, much of President Obama’s posture from the get go has been to make it clear a military option was off the table. This I believe was directly due to the need for the President to placate his political base. Only recently when Putin continued to saber-rattle and deny the obvious reality on the ground in Eastern Ukraine did the President send additional US forces to NATO allies in Eastern Europe with large Russian ethnic minority communities or historical Russian ties.
For President Obama to fulfill his vision for global leadership and positive engagement in Eastern Europe, it is important those on the left that seem to want to see American foreign policy behavior as aggressive understand that this President needs our full support as he confront a grave threat to liberty coming from abroad.