President Obama, fresh from dodging Jonathan Karl’s question about whether Mitt Romney was right in deeming Russia our number one geopolitical (Obama said “the number one national security threat to the United States” is a terrorist attack in this country, but that’s not a geopolitical threat), unloaded more fuzzy thinking on a group of students in Belgium. Obama declared:
This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no block of nations, no global ideology.
It’s true that Russia does not lead a block of nations yet. It’s also true that Russia spearheads no global ideology. But Russia spearheaded none in the 1970s and 1980s either. By then, Soviet leaders had ceased to take Communist ideology seriously, and those around the globe who took that ideology seriously did not look to the Soviet Union for inspiration.
Moreover, “blocks of nations” and “global ideology” were just Cold War window dressing. At the end of the day, the Cold War was a clash between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in which, without directly fighting each other militarily, both sides tried aggressively to maximize their geopolitical influence (the U.S. mostly for good; the Soviet Union entirely for ill).
An important distinction between the Cold War and what we now see is that this time around the United States does not seem intent on maximizing its global influence. Rather, we are ceding it in important places like Afghanistan, Syria, and Egypt.
In any event, the current crisis need not be a new Cold War in order for Obama to be screwing things up to the serious detriment of the U.S., the Free World, and the world that would like to be free.
Obama also told his Belgian audience:
Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident – that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force; that international law matters; that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.
This strikes me as delusional. Actually, it is evident that the borders of Europe can be redrawn with force. Indeed, that’s the usual way for borders to be redrawn. One nation seizes the territory it wants and, if it’s successful, eventually the border is redrawn to reflect reality. Was Obama hanging out with his choom gang when they were teaching modern world history?
As for international law, yes it matters. But it won’t always (indeed, won’t usually) prevent the annexation of territory unless those who want to uphold international law are willing to fight the aggressor. This too is evident.
Finally, people and nations can make their own decision about their future, but people and nations can also take that right away. Again, it comes down to what those who want to uphold the norm of self-determination are prepared to do.
Obama is not prepared, so far at least, even to supply weapons to Ukraine. He has been similarly unprepared in Syria.
A stable, just, and ultimately peaceful international order requires forcefulness of deed, not wishful, ahistorical assertions about what is “self-evident.”