FOR FIVE YEARS, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which “the tide of war is receding” and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past. Secretary of State John F. Kerry displayed this mindset on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday when he said, of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, “It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”
"..it’s also true that, as long as some leaders play by what Mr. Kerry dismisses as 19th-century rules, the United States can’t pretend that the only game is in another arena altogether. Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that’s harmful to U.S. national security, too.As Mr. Putin ponders whether to advance further — into eastern Ukraine, say — he will measure the seriousness of U.S. and allied actions, not their statements. China, pondering its next steps in the East China Sea, will do the same. Sadly, that’s the nature of the century we’re living in."
Incidentally, this indictment of the Obama Doctrine was written by those notorious right-wingers at the Washington Post. Paraphrasing LBJ's famous words of almost 50 years ago, if Mr. Obama has lost the Post, then's he lost the left-wing media establishment, the same constituency that has propped up his failed presidency for the past five years.
But all is not lost. In the same edition of that paper, Post columnist David Ignatius suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin had committed a fatal blunder:
"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. Ukraine was set to join this movement toward the European Union last November when Yanukovych suddenly suspended trade and financial talks with the E.U. and accepted what amounted to a $15 billion bribe from Putin to stay in Russia’s camp. To the tens of thousands of courageous Ukrainians who braved the cold and police brutality to protest, Yanukovych’s submission to Moscow looked like an attempt to reverse history."
Those observations may be true, but they are of little consolation to millions of Ukrainians who face a new era of living under Russian domination and oppression. After bravely rising up against a corrupt regime, they were rewarded by Putin's move into Crimea, and little more than diplomatic hand-wringing from the west. The Russian president didn't pay a price for his 2008 conflict with neighboring Georgia and so far, there is no indication the west will take significant action over the crisis in Ukraine.
Moreover, with the U.S. retreating on the world stage, there is little reason for our partners to believe that we will back up our rhetoric with actions. One of Mr. Obama's early acts as President was to cancel planned ballistic missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move that was part of the supposed "re-set" in relations between Washington and Moscow. The significance of that decision was not lost in Warsaw and Prague; even if we wanted to move troops and aircraft to the region in a show of force, there is no guarantee those governments would go along. Why should they, when recent history suggests the U.S. will cut and run whenever it suits us?
To be sure, there has been a great wave of democracy that has swept over eastern Europe over the past 25 years. But that wave may ebb at the eastern border of Poland and if it does, we will share in the blame.