Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spare Us the Gamal Abdel Nasser Imagery. By Rami G. Khouri.

Spare Us the Gamal Abdel Nasser Imagery. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star [Lebanon], March 29, 2014.

The President’s Foreign Policy Paradox. By Walter Russell Mead.

The President’s Foreign Policy Paradox. By Walter Russell Mead. Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2014.

Mr. Putin’s Revealing Speech. By Peggy Noonan.

Mr. Putin’s Revealing Speech. By Peggy Noonan. Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2014.

Obama vs. Putin: The Mismatch. By Charles Krauthammer.

Obama vs. Putin: The Mismatch. By Charles Krauthammer. National Review Online, March 27, 2014. Also at the Washington Post.


“The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game. That’s the kind of thinking that should have ended with the Cold War.”
— Barack Obama, March 24
Should. Lovely sentiment. As lovely as what Obama said five years ago to the United Nations: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.”
That’s the kind of sentiment you expect from a Miss America contestant asked to name her fondest wish, not from the leader of the free world explaining his foreign policy.
The East Europeans know they inhabit the battleground between the West and a Russia that wants to return them to its sphere of influence. Ukrainians see tens of thousands of Russian troops across their border and know they are looking down the barrel of quite a zero-sum game.
Obama thinks otherwise. He says that Vladimir Putin’s kind of neo-imperialist thinking is a relic of the past — and advises Putin to transcend the Cold War.
Good God. Putin hasn’t transcended the Russian revolution. Did no one give Obama a copy of Putin’s speech last week upon the annexation of Crimea? Putin railed not only at Russia’s loss of empire in the 1990s. He went back to the 1920s: “After the revolution, the Bolsheviks . . . may God judge them, added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine.” Putin was referring not to Crimea (which came two sentences later) but to his next potential target: Kharkiv and Donetsk and the rest of southeastern Ukraine.
Putin’s irredentist grievances go very deep. Obama seems unable to fathom them. Asked whether he’d misjudged Russia, whether it really is our greatest geopolitical foe, he disdainfully replied that Russia is nothing but “a regional power” acting “out of weakness.”
Where does one begin? Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan were also regional powers, yet managed to leave behind at least 50 million dead. And yes, Russia should be no match for the American superpower. Yet under this president, Russia has run rings around America, from the attempted ingratiation of the “reset” to America’s empty threats of “consequences” were Russia to annex Crimea.
Annex Crimea it did. For which the “consequences” have been risible. Numberless 19th- and 20th-century European soldiers died for Crimea. Putin conquered it in a swift and stealthy campaign that took three weeks and cost his forces not a sprained ankle. That’s “weakness”?
Indeed, Obama’s dismissal of Russia as a regional power makes his own leadership of the one superpower all the more embarrassing. For seven decades since the Japanese surrender, our role under eleven presidents had been as offshore balancer protecting smaller allies from potential regional hegemons.
What are the allies thinking now? Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other Pacific Rim friends are wondering where this America will be as China expands its reach and claims. The Gulf states are near panic as they see America playacting nuclear negotiations with Iran that, at best, will leave their mortal Shiite enemy just weeks away from the bomb.
America never sought the role that history gave it after World War II to bear unbidden burdens “to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” as movingly described by John Kennedy. We have an appropriate aversion to the stark fact that the alternative to U.S. leadership is either global chaos or dominance by the likes of China, Russia, and Iran.
But Obama doesn’t even seem to recognize this truth. In his major Brussels address Wednesday, the very day Russia seized the last Ukrainian naval vessel in Crimea, Obama made vague references to further measures should Russia march deeper into Ukraine, while still emphasizing the centrality of international law, international norms, and international institutions like the United Nations.
Such fanciful thinking will leave our allies with two choices: bend a knee — or arm to the teeth. Either acquiesce to the regional bully or gird your loins, i.e., go nuclear. As surely will the Gulf states. As will, in time, Japan and South Korea.
Even Ukrainians are expressing regret at having given up their nukes in return for paper guarantees of territorial integrity. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was ahead of its time — the perfect example of the kind of advanced 21st-century thinking so cherished by our president. Perhaps the captain of that last Ukrainian vessel should have waved the document at the Russian fleet that took his ship.

Obama’s 21st-Century Power Politics. By Fareed Zakaria.

Obama’s 21st-century power politics. By Fareed Zakaria. Washington Post, March 27, 2014. Also here.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought to the fore an important debate about what kind of world we live in. Many critics charge that the Obama administration has been blind to its harsh realities because it believes, as the Wall Street Journal opined, in “a fantasy world of international rules.” John McCain declared that “this is the most naive president in history.” The Post’s editorial board worried that President Obama misunderstands “the nature of the century we’re living in.”
Almost all of these critics have ridiculed Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion that changing borders by force, as Russia did, is 19th-century behavior in the 21st century. Well, here are the facts. Scholar Mark Zacher has tallied up changes of borders by force, something that was once quite common. Since World War I, he notes, that practice has sharply declined, and in recent decades, that decline has accelerated. Before 1950, wars between nations resulted in border changes (annexations) about 80 percent of the time. After 1950, that number dropped to 27 percent. In fact, since 1946, there have been only 12 examples of major changes in borders using force — and all of them before 1976. So Putin’s behavior, in fact, does belong to the 19th century.
The transformation of international relations goes well beyond border changes. Harvard’s Steven Pinker has collected war data in his superb book The Better Angels of Our Nature. In a more recent essay, he points out that “after a 600-year stretch in which Western European countries started two new wars a year, they have not started one since 1945. Nor have the 40 or so richest nations anywhere in the world engaged each other in armed conflict.” Colonial wars, a routine feature of international life for thousands of years, are extinct. Wars between countries — not just major powers, not just in Europe — have also dropped dramatically, by more than 50 percent over the past three decades. Scholars at the University of Maryland have found that the past decade has seen the lowest number of new conflicts since World War II.
Many aspects of international life remain nasty and brutish, and it is easy to sound tough and suggest that you understand the hard realities of power politics. But the most astonishing, remarkable reality about the world is how much things have changed, especially since 1945.
It is ironic that the Wall Street Journal does not recognize this new world because it was created in substantial part through capitalism and free trade. Twenty years ago, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, as hardheaded a statesman as I have ever met, told me that Asian countries had seen the costs of war and the fruits of economic interdependence and development — and that they would not choose the former over the latter.
This is not an academic debate. The best way to deal with Russia’s aggression in Crimea is not to present it as routine and national interest-based foreign policy that will be countered by Washington in a contest between two great powers. It is to point out, as Obama did eloquently this week in Brussels, that Russia is grossly endangering a global order that has benefited the entire world.
Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such.
You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.
There is an evolving international order with new global norms making war and conquest increasingly rare. We should strengthen, not ridicule, it. Yes, some places stand in opposition to this trend — North Korea, Syria, Russia. The people running these countries believe that they are charting a path to greatness and glory. But they are the ones living in a fantasy world.