David Ignatius, the voice of conventional left-liberal foreign policy wisdom at the Washington Post, believes that Putin has committed a catastrophic error by invading Ukraine. Following the line of David Remnick, he writes:
What Putin misunderstands most is that the center of gravity for the former Soviet Union has shifted west. Former Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Czech Republic are prosperous members of the E.U. The nations that made up what was once Yugoslavia have survived their bloody breakup, and most have emerged as strong democracies. . . .
The opportunity for Putin is almost precisely opposite his atavistic vision of restoration. It is only by moving west, toward Europe, that Russia itself can reverse its demographic and political trap. Year by year, the Russian political system becomes more of a corrupt Oriental despotism — with Moscow closer to Almaty than Berlin. The alternative is for Ukraine to pull Russia with it toward the West.
Ignatius is probably right. In the long run, sustainable prosperity and good times are to be attained via the Western model, assuming (as I do) that this model does not vanish.
Putin isn’t the first despot to miss this reality. We could just as easily say that Stalin made a catastrophic error by dropping the Iron Curtain over Europe instead of instituting a liberal democracy and enrolling in the Marshall Plan.
Hundreds of millions suffered the consequences of that error. Stalin was not among them.
So I hope the Obama administration has a better response to Putin’s aggression than to say that, a few decades from now, Putin’s ghost is going to feel foolish.