Barack Obama is both right and wrong (but mostly wrong) when he talks about Russia

pb-130617-obama-putin-meeting.photoblog900The past hundred years have seen two worldwide ideological wars:  The Cold War and the current war between the West and Islam, which Norm Podhoretz calls World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism.

In both of these wars, the world has been a battle ground between opposing forces, one of which seeks to enslave the world’s citizens before a socialist or theocratic government, and the other of which seeks to prevent that enslavement.  (I was going to say “seeks to maximize individual freedom,” but I don’t believe that we can say that anymore about America and we never could say that about Europe.) The fact that the Islamic war has been going on intermittently since the 7th century, with innumerable individual Muslim nations leading the charge, doesn’t change its essential ideological nature.

The same hundred years have seen two worldwide “regional” wars, as well as uncountable small regional wars.  The worldwide ones were, quite obviously World Wars I and II.  Some people are a bit confused about WWII’s inclusion in this category.  While Hitler definitely had an ideology, he was not seeking to spread that ideology.  He simply wanted to expand his nation as far as possible, bringing some geographical regions into Germany, and enslaving others to Germany.

World War I was also about zones of power rather than advancing an ideology throughout the world.  The myriad other 20th and 21st century regional wars have pitted communists against non-communists, but the warring nations, rather than seeking to spread their ideology, were simply working to expand their regional power bases.

Which gets me to what Obama had to say about Russia, where he managed to be both sort of right and entirely wrong.  Since Putin first zeroed in on Ukraine and the Crimea, Obama has been on defense about the fact that Mitt Romney, all the way back in 2012, accurately predicted that Russia would be a geopolitical foe.

Understandably, Obama cannot now concede that Romney was right.  (Much as I dislike and distrust Obama, I think any president in his shoes would never acknowledge that his former opponent was right and would do anything and everything to spin the situation.)  So Obama spins and spins and spins with the inevitable result — the more he talks, the more foolish he appears:

[Obama:] With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America has a whole lot of challenges.

Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neigbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness.

Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong, cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

So my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is: Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.

To the extent Obama’s logorrhea disclaims a new Cold War, he’s correct. Putin may mourn the old Soviet Union, but he’s not backing a new Cold War strategy of using guile, stealth, and proxy warfare in order to spread communism throughout the world. He’s a strong Russian nationalist who has no ideology he wants to market. In terms of ideological warfare, our enemy remains Islam, which wants to take over the world with a ferocity that even the communists couldn’t muster.

For Obama to dismiss Russia as a mere regional power, however, and to state that this power base is a “weakness” reveals Obama’s profound historical ignorance and intellectual insularity. It’s as if, in his mind, when the Cold War ended, all possible wars ended. In reality, throughout history, countries seeking regional dominance have successfully wrecked havoc on the world. After all, as they increase their geographic scope, they increase the “region” in which they operate.

In ancient times, Persia wasn’t selling ideology. It was just spreading its wings, seeking Persian lebensraum, an effort that saw it work its way across the entire Aegean until the Spartans stopped it. It’s regional reach managed to go from Persia itself to almost the entire known world. The same was true for both the Greeks and the Romans. While they thought that their ways were best, they weren’t selling an ideology when they conquered. They wanted power and wealth, aka Greek and Roman lebensraum. The Mongol hordes? Ditto. Louis XIV’s France? Ditto. Napoleonic France? Ditto. World Wars I and II, as mentioned above? Ditto.

None of the above aggressor nations conquered a nearby “region” and then stopped voluntarily. Each was emboldened by regional victories and sought to expand the territories it controlled. All were stopped only when their reach exceeded their grasp or when they met a foe more implacable than they were. For Obama to assume that Putin, having stretched his wings a little bit in the Ukraine, will now stop his territorial aggression is woefully or willfully naive.

For Putin, this expansion is a marvelous offset to his problems at home. Dying, aging population? Get a new population. Weakened, corrupted economy? Prop it up with wealth acquired using arms against other nations. An increasingly unpopular, undemocratic rule? Become a successful warrior king and watch your poll numbers shoot up.

The fact that Putin’s armed conquest is unsustainable in the long run (all warrior conquerors have a reach that exceeds their grasp), doesn’t mean in the short run that it won’t be successful. For a time that can run into decades, Putin will control vast swathes of reasonably productive land — something that will give him power far beyond his region. He’ll be able to meddle in Western Europe again. He’ll hold over the world the threat of an alliance with China. He’ll continue to be a power player in the Middle East, especially since Arab nations will always ally themselves with the strong horse.

America’s endlessly naive peace party, which has Obama as its perfect leader, has always assumed that if America makes nice with the world, the world will suddenly become a nicer place.  That this isn’t how the world works eludes these peace makers, as it did after World War I and during the Cold War and during our current World War IV.

Since time immemorial, the world has been a balance of powers. If one power weakens, other step up to fill the vacuum. The world is in bad shape when the dominant power is evil and the world is in good shape when the dominant power is less evil. I would say America is the best dominant power ever to have walked the earth (with the Pax Britannica probably a good second), but we don’t even need to award a dominant power with the label “Best Dominant Power Ever.” It’s enough to know that civilization advances (wealth, health, and innovation) if a particular reigning dominant power is simply better than the alternatives.

It’s not quite clear what Obama’s thinks, but both his ideas are wrong.  He either loathes America so much that he believes, contrary to the entire weight of history, that she has been an evil dominant power or, as I said, he’s so naive and stupid he believes that, if a dominant power voluntarily departs the scene, peace will reign eternal.  Either could explain his deliberate decision to remove America from the world stage, despite global success under her mostly benignant leadership and his conscious refusal to acknowledge the forces of evil hastening to fill the vacuum America has left in her wake.

When I think about the American Lefts’ moral and historical blindness, I keep being reminded of the rebooted Twilight Zone, which ran for two seasons in the mid-1980s. One of its episodes was called A Small Talent for War:

An ambassador (John Glover) from an alien race arrives, claiming that his race had genetically engineered the people of Earth. He tells the quarrelsome members of the United Nations Security Council that his race is displeased over Earth’s “small talent for war”, having failed to produce the potential that the aliens had nurtured. When the alien ambassador announces that his fleet will destroy Earth, the Security Council earns a 24 hour reprieve to prove Earth’s worth. With survival at stake, the Security Council negotiates, and the General Assembly acclaims, an accord for lasting global peace and presents it to the alien ambassador.

The global peace agreement brings great humour to the emissary. The aliens were, in fact, seeking a greater talent for war, as they had genetically seeded thousands of planets to breed warriors to fight for them across the galaxy. Humanity’s “small talent” for war (crude weapons, petty bickering over borders) is not significant enough to be of any use to them, and he laughingly states that – worst of all – the people of Earth long for peace. As the ambassador calls down his fleet to destroy the Earth, he thanks the Security Council for an amusing day and their “delightful sense of the absurd”, and his parting comment is “…as one of your fine Earth actors, Edmund Gwenn, once said, Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

Humans are never closer to animals than when it comes to their passion and ability for war. Only two things stave off war, especially when these two things operate simultaneously: free trade between nations, so that peace is more beneficial than war; and a dominant world (or regional) power that acts defensively, not offensively. It’s only Twilight Zone script writers and Democrat Party members who think that we will erase war if we successfully stifle the free market and then create a power vacuum that any tin pot tyrant can fill.

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  • Ymarsakar

    A quote attributed to Putin is a modification Churchill.
    Any Russian that feels not regret over the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Any Russian that would like the return of the Soviet Union has no brain.

  • Ymarsakar

    Calling the Left “peacemakers” is an insult to real peacemakers like Benjamin Franklin. Calling the Left real liberals is an insult to anyone that truly values liberty as an individual. Calling the Left pacifists is an insult to the real pacifists.
    The Left neither wants peace nor will they pay for it. Like welfare, the ones that will pay are the enemies of Democrats, those who don’t vote Democrat or Leftist Utopian.

  • Matt_SE

    Slight point of disagreement:
    Your critique of (what we imagine to be) Obama’s motivations is correct. He’s either a fool or a knave, maybe both. Still, he could be accidentally correct about the outcome, based on our reading of what Putin wants.
    Instead of conquest which carries risks as well as rewards, Putin may have made the calculation that:
    1) Russia cannot tolerate a failed state on its border (Ukraine is about to go bankrupt).
    2) Russia cannot tolerate another NATO ally on its border (Estonia and Latvia being the other two).
    3) Ukrainian debts to Gazprom (and the Russian oligarchs that own it and support Putin) must be repaid.
    4) Gazprom uses Ukrainian pipelines to get its main export to Europe, its main market. Destruction of the pipelines would be catastrophic for Russia’s economy.
    5) Invasion of Ukraine proper carries the risk of a protracted insurgency, resulting in high continuing costs and increased risk of point #4. This is in addition to higher risk of western sanctions.
    My theory is that Putin needs Ukraine to be bailed out, but doesn’t want to pay for it. He’s rattling his sabre to create an air of panic. In this state of panic, the western powers will bail out Ukraine as a reflexive counter-move against Putin (or so they think). Part of the bailout money will be used to pay off Gazprom debts; a contract clause written into Ukraine’s deal with Gazprom if the country’s debt exceeds 60% of GDP. If US/European aide is a loan (not a giveaway), or if funds are provided from the IMF (which only gives out loans), it will trigger these clauses and Gazprom will be repaid. This situation will bring about condition #3 and preclude conditions #4 and 5, which will stabilize Ukraine and bring about condition #1. The constant threat of invasion will preclude condition #2.
    In other words, give Putin everything he wants (theoretically). If the west/Ukraine are going to make nibbling off bits of Ukraine easy, Putin will take that as an added benefit.
    Putin will then move to rig the Ukrainian elections as much as he can to get a puppet state without having to pay for it.

  • raymondjelli

    Sadly you are right about America not wishing to increase individual freedom. America is becoming an institution state where institutions no matter how corrupt or useless become the focal point of everything else. We may not be a centralized totalitarian state but we have the building blocks, the ideology and the worst of the citizenry elevated to where Hayek said Socialism always lead to. The worst rise to the top. We can’t fight against others if we have lost the battle in ourselves.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Roman Empire (West/East) and the British Empire were very influential on Western civilization for both good and bad results.
    However, they could never sustain themselves because they used up too much energy in expansion and money sinks like war or luxuries. Slave Empires are similar, their decay is merely sped up like Aztech human sacrifice. Eventually people run out of humans, before they run out of money. Other Empires run out of money first, then without soldiers to defend the Empire, everybody dies or is conquered by Islam or barbarians.
    The Roman Empire’s most productive and military centered strongholds were leeched of their wealth and military power, diverted back to Rome’s Western capital in Italy for the aggrandizement of Emperors Nero, Caligula, and the Senators+bureaucrats with their latifundia slave farms.
    The British Empire ran out of funding due to their centralized nature and resource/materials trade that was designed to favor British economies but not native economies. This led to situations where the Empire was sucked dry of funding fighting wars like the US Revolutionary War or the Napoleon Wars. This didn’t leave anything for WWI and WWII. The British Empire cannibalized itself. The nations that were left, like South Africa or Rhodesia, were slowly conquered by the Left or competition tribes.
    The common theme is that Empires can only sustain the good they do so long as their military and economic forces are strong, and this is dependent upon the SOCIAL values of their society and government. Once Rome’s Emperors became corrupt and decided to siphon funding from the frontier and use it to pay off cronyies and sex slave economies, it was inevitable that the system would collapse. Even new barbarian Emperors that wanted to fix the system in 100-400AD couldn’t undo the damage of 500 years. They were in a situation much like we are here in the US with the Leftist alliance. It is easier to destroy than to create. The Left can destroy in a year what generations took centuries to build.
    The Eastern Roman Empire, the part that was left because the West got itself extinguished by Atilla the Hun, was still vibrant, civilized, and relatively strong. Emperors like Justinian, however, also started using up the Empire’s funding for personal wars that did not particularly provide any long term benefit to the Empire. This left the Byzantine Empire relatively weak and poor when Mohammed came on the scene. It was seen as wiser to let the Persians die first from the Muslims, good riddance to both. Then the Muslims conquered, assimilated the people (mathematicians) of Persia, destroyed Zoroastrianism, and now Constantinople no longer had the money to bribe the barbarians at the gates to go somewhere else. The last Byzantine Emperors were somewhat competent, but they, again, couldn’t erase several hundred years of dissolution and weakness. The Hagia Sophia is now a mosque, you know, when once it was constructed by Christians for Christianity. It all connects together, dot to dot.
    America is currently facing economic problems, even though wealth is there to be made. America’s military is currently being told to protect our enemies while letting our allies die on the streets. America’s military is being weakened and replaced by household troops. America’s internal defenses are being weakened, border patrols replaced by rape squads, Black Panthers, and gov bureaucrats responsible for WACO. The dots aren’t hard to connect. What took previous Empires several decades to decay from, intentional sabotage can do it faster. Especially in this modern world of entropy, chaos, and evil.
    Evil is its own entity. It’s not restricted to human “fools” or “knaves”. Evil has its own will and SOP. Just look at the connections. In the past it was difficult to say whether an Empire like Rome should have been replaced. By whom, was the often noted response. Usually the people tearing down the status quo power wish to replace it with something better, given the status quo is no longer working. So one has to ask, what the Left thinks it will replace American power with…

  • Mike Devx

    I agree, Book.
    Putin is no Communist idealogue.  He’s an ultra-nationalist.  Bassically, he wants his old borders back.  The Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania ought to be VERY nervous.  Putin wants to dominate Europe without owning them.  And the closer to the Russian border you are, the more he wishes to make you dance to his tune.  Poland, Romania, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Germany should be looking for help.  Putin will also be making sure China has no designs and no hope to grab the resource-rich lands in Siberia and other Russian territories to its northwest.  Putin doesn’t much care what China does in the Indian and Pacific oceans, but on the Russo-Chinese border, it is all Russia, 24-7, for Mr. Putin.
    As for the Islamic territories to Russia’s south, it’s hard to say what Putin wants to do with them.  Nuke em and pave em over?  As you said, Book, Islam – the raging, ascendant, volatile fundamentalist Islam – is our major geopolitical foe, and it is the major foe for Russia (and China) too.