That’s the Washington Post’s ultimately restrained assessment, not mine.
But I think along similar lines. The man’s sense of himself has been over-indulged to a reckless point.
The current sense of impotence, however, is not wholly Obama’s fault. Yes, he damaged his own credibility, and ours when he drew a red line regarding Syria (and then not only ignored it being crossed but tried to deny that he ever drew it) but in truth, the stage was set for this situation when the Marshall Plan was put into effect and American military became a kind of “world cop.” With that, we placed our bases strategically throughout Europe and Europe got to treat its own security as an afterthought.
This worked great, as long as everyone behaved themselves. Now, Putin is misbehaving, and Europe has limited strength to respond; America is weary of war and her president is — let me be diplomatic, here — ideologically disinclined toward military commitment, and has made no secret of it.
The Obama White House is learning the hard way that presidential power requires something more substantial than an eternal marketing campaign and an endless spin-cycle, because no matter what a utopian president thinks the world should be like, the reality is this: in human life, peace is a transient thing, and in geopolitics, it is more often than not an illusion that quickly reveals itself as one. If Europe has been “at peace” these last 60 years, it’s a profound aberration in the scheme of history.
Obama (and his Secretary of State) seem to believe that humanity has — by virtue of nothing at all, except perhaps his say-so — transcended itself and entered into a we-are-stardust-we-are-golden happy place, where (in Europe, at least) nobody wants war, because everyone is loving peace.
That is a rather terrifying demonstration of naivete. Even a so-so student of human history and behavior (like me) knows that someone always wants war. Someone always wants more power. Someone is always looking for a way to avenge what they believe are past insults.
Naivete gets a second hit as Obama seems not to understand that his idea of patriotism (bowing, talking and receding as much as possible from the fore) has absolutely nothing to do with how Putin understands patriotism. Obama’s kind of an introverted patriot; he’d like America to keep to itself. Putin is a kind of extroverted patriot. He wants to extend his boundaries.
He demonstrated that in 2008, when he moved into Georgia, fully understanding that President Bush was a “weak horse” without the capital to do anything. That move was enough for Mitt Romney to warn in 2012 (and Sarah Palin to note in 2008) that Russia under Putin was a geopolitical threat to Ukraine and more — a notion that Obama blew off as “’80′s ideology.”
Putin saw another weak horse. Particularly after Syria.
If the WaPo believes Obama has been living in a fantasy world, well, he seems to still be there — how else does he believe he can simultaneously cut our military back to pre-WWII levels while “squeezing Russia”, diplomatically, as though diplomacy has been his strong point, or something.
But my intention here isn’t to pick on Obama, so I’ll stop. He’s getting some very good advice here and here, and if he takes it — as it seems he is beginning to, he may still be able to eke out a foreign policy face-save.
Here’s what I urge us to think and pray about: Poland, Lithuania and a Kremlinesque march to the Baltic Sea.
Glenn Reynolds writes:
If I’m the Poles, the lesson I’d take is that if Ukraine had kept its nukes, this wouldn’t be happening, and if I want to be safe, I should get hold of some nukes myself. If I were Lithuania, even more so.
I take his point, but that option may have passed for good, and Mutually Assured Destruction only works as long as people remain educated and sane. What are the odds?
Europe should be worried, because Putin clearly has no intention of conquering Ukraine and then relaxing with a bowl of borscht.
There is another sort of weapon, however, and it has already successfully served Poland and helped beat Russia back; it is solidarity and prayer. And interestingly enough, on April 27, Pope Francis will canonize one pope (John Paul II) who is credited with helping Poland strengthen its resistance against soviet forces, and another (John XXIII) who had a hand in resolving the Cuban missile crisis.
Two saints who both were alive during Russia’s last turn at aggression, understood the Soviet ideology and worked effectively against it. Another one of those weird synchronicities. Just when we need some heaven-based prayer-warriors, they’ve being supplied.
Because we live in interesting times.
Crimea: The Tinderbox