However, American elites, who help condition the thinking of American leaders, have become spellbound over democratization, humanitarianism and other values-driven enterprises, so that leaders must make excuses for acting geopolitically to a degree they never had to during the Cold War. Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, could justify moving closer to totalitarian China in geopolitical terms, without the risk of embarrassment or the need for excuses. But Obama has been castigated in the media on moral grounds for wanting to improve relations with a far less authoritarian regime in Russia, even though it may make geopolitical sense to do so. It certainly isn’t that Obama is dumber than Nixon, or thinks less in terms of geography than Nixon. It’s more that he is operating in a less serious public policy climate, and that helps make his public explanations less serious.

It was easier for Cold War presidents to explain their actions geopolitically. Nowadays presidents continue to want to act geopolitically and periodically do so, but more often they have to explain their actions solely in moral terms. Thus, by speaking exclusively in moral terms, they, counterintuitively, lack the courage of their convictions. Reagan’s morality was in line with his geopolitics — eject Red Army troops from Central and Eastern Europe in order to end regime-inflicted poverty and tyranny there. Conversely, Obama speaks out against the tyranny of the al Assad regime in Syria while doing relatively little to undermine it, because he does not want the United States to own, even partially, the responsibility for the ground situation there. But Obama rarely speaks honestly about this. Thus, his policy lacks serious purpose.