That’s not me being reductivist or twisting the meaning of yesterday’s lead editorial at the Washington Post. It’s a quote of their own headline, which is itself a good recapitulation of their overall message. Barack Obama and John Kerry talked about “19th century act[s]” and Vladimir Putin’s lack of game on “soft power,” but all that did was highlight the fantasy world both inhabit when it comes to the threats in this 21st-century reality:
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.” …
Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.
The Post’s editors have a ready response from the rebuttal that will surely follow from the White House, which is that no one wants American troops on another military front on the other side of the globe. That’s not the point, though — the point is that we have to stop sending signals of retreat and weakness, or else other nations will pay the price:
But 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.
Well, that’s the nature of the world most of us inhabit, anyway. But the Post is a little late to this party. While they note that Russia paid no price at all for their incursion into Georgia in 2008 when George W. Bush was President, they fail to note that Republicans such as John McCain, Sarah Palin, and later Mitt Romney all argued that we had to start sending tougher signals to Putin. The media ridiculed them for their positions; Obama glibly told Romney during a presidential debate that the ’80s wanted their foreign policy back. For all of this, Obama got rewarded while his critics got marginalized.
It’s good now to see the Post shocked, shocked at the fantasy world of utopians who thought a “reset button” would solve all the problems between Russia and the US while Russia continued to occupy Georgian territory, no less. That doesn’t keep them from receiving a Captain Louis Renault Award, on behalf of the broader American media market that kept insisting that putting a 21 in front of the century meant that the nature of power, nationalism, and empire-building had changed.
Their winnings … our losings.
Marco Rubio offers eight steps that the Obama administration must take to get back to a realistic position of power in the real world, vis-a-vis Putin:
Sixth, we should renew a push for eventual membership in NATO by the Republic of Georgia and aim to provide the country with some of the defensive capabilities the Georgians have requested ever since they were invaded by Russia in 2008.
Seventh, the Obama administration should immediately add more Russian officials to the Magnitsky list, which places travel bans and other sanctions on them – something President Obama failed to do in December. Living in Miami, I have seen in recent years the wave of Russian tourists coming to our city and state to spend money and buy property. Many are government officials or allies whose wealth stems from allegiance to Putin, and we should limit their ability to travel here.
Finally, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid should immediately halt his effort to force a Senate vote on Rose Gottemoeller next week to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security. As I, Sens. John Cornyn and Jim Risch said yesterday, we shouldn’t even be thinking about arms-control negotiations with Russia anytime soon. And especially not negotiations led by a State Department official, such as Ms. Gottemoeller, who has tried to play down and potentially kept information from Congress and our allies about Russian violations of arms-control agreements.
This is a critical moment in world history. The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake. If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.
The White House took a couple of Rubio’s steps already, sending Kerry to Kyiv and halting the G-8 conference. Step 0, the one needed to enable these to form a foreign policy for the real world, consists of waking the hell up.