At the beginning of February, Fred Kaplan, the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, headlined a Slate article, “Obama Isn’t Disengaged From the World: He just has a better understanding of how power works in the modern world.”
Power, as it turned out, worked much the same way in the modern world as it did back in the horses and bayonets era as Putin demonstrated when he did what no one in the West believed he would do by sending men and armor into Crimea.
Since one doesn’t get to be an Edward R. Murrow fellow by sitting on one’s hands, Kaplan dashed off to pen a follow-up article headlined: “There’s Nothing Obama Could Have Done to Stop Putin.” Kaplan’s advice to Obama was to avoid threatening Putin with “consequences.”
“Obama should be looking for common interests. One such interest is ending the bloodshed,” Kaplan suggested.
If the Russian dictator is known for anything it’s his tender heart and opposition to bloodshed.
“Even Putin couldn’t want to send troops to the Ukrainian heartland,” Kaplan wrote. Unless of course Putin, whom foreign policy experts assured us couldn’t possibly want to send troops into Crimea, turns out to be ignorant of “how power works in the modern world” and does it anyway.
If that happens then the same experts who told us he wouldn’t do it, will tell us that we can’t do anything about it. It’s not in the nature of “power in the modern world.”
“You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext," a baffled Secretary of State John Kerry said, as if Putin had decided to bring back monocles and pork pie hats.
But nevertheless Putin dug through his closet, stuck in his monocle and decided that you actually can invade other countries even though it’s 2014.
Lieutenant John Kerry, still baffled by the concept of one country invading another, also called it "an incredible act of aggression" and "a stunning, willful choice by President Putin."
"Russia is in violation of its international obligations," he bleated. Despite presenting a ceremonial potato to the Russian Foreign Minister, Kerry didn’t seem to understand that Russia cares about its international obligations almost as much as his boss cares about the United States Constitution.
This strange claim that invading other countries went out of style in the 19th century is belied by two world wars, countless smaller conflicts, including the Korean War and the Gulf War, and a few wars in the 21st century, but those facts don’t penetrate the progressive worldview.
At the debates, Obama had mocked Romney’s criticism of his drastic military cuts by accusing him of living in a 19th century “horses and bayonets” world and sneered at Romney’s statement that Russia was our leading geopolitical foe by asserting, “You don’t call Russia our No. 1 enemy… unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”
When Sarah Palin predicted back in 2008 that the invasion of Georgia would lead to the invasion of Ukraine, Saturday Night Live brought in Tina Fey to put on a little skit about seeing Russia from her house and everyone had a good laugh at the bumpkin who didn’t realize that the Cold War was over.
Last summer, Obama told Jay Leno, "There have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. What I continually say to them and to President Putin, 'That's the past. We've got to think about the future.’"
Leno is gone and Putin is in the Ukraine and Obama is baffled to realize that when your enemies are stuck in the Cold War mentality, you either get your Cold War mind warp on or give up and go home.
Putin is thinking about the future. It’s Obama and Kerry who are clinging to discredited ideas about international law and diplomacy. These ideas are much more 19th century than anything Putin did.
The progressive spin is that Putin’s invasion, as the Center for American Progress put it, is “an act of weakness, not strength — an act, as Kerry aptly characterized it, anachronistic in both moral and strategic terms… fundamentally mismatched to 21st century realities.”
In the upside down world of progressive soft power, invading another country is an act of weakness while being unable to do anything about it is an act of strength. Weakness is the new strength and strength is the new weakness.
Obama’s impotence makes him a world leader, while Putin’s potency makes him a 19th century relic.
The more Putin does, the more he shows that he’s another Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney, a déclassé bumpkin unfit for the modern 21st century realities of discussing foreign policy on Jay Leno and cracking wise about horses and bayonets.
True strength means recognizing your own weakness and not doing anything about it except making snarky remarks about how backward those rough 19th century barbarians with their old-fashioned invasions are.
“In a world of free trade and highly globalized markets, territorial conquest simply isn’t a good way to make your country stronger,” the Center for American Progress insists.
But what if it is?
What if we haven’t entered some land after time where armies don’t matter and everything works because Tom Friedman wrote a book about the flattening earth?
What if all those old strategies that made today’s powers what they are, still work? What if steel and lead, the old verities of the world of horses and bayonets that Obama cheerfully dismissed while cutting the military to the bone, still make all the difference in the world?
“He has the G8 summit in Sochi coming up, no one really saw this kind of thing coming,” a Senate aide protested. In the world of Senate aides, G8 summits matter more than territory. That attitude reflects more on the unreal world of modern politics than on what it actually takes to be a great power.
Meetings, committees and conferences, international organizations, multilateral initiatives and all the other dross with which the great powers occupy themselves are nothing more than the elite rituals of an exclusive club whose members have forgotten that it was their wealth and armies that made them powers, not their committee meetings.
The progressive delusion of a modern world with no room for armies and invasions falls apart the moment that a barbarian rides in on a horse brandishing a rifle with a bayonet and shows that it can be done despite all the free trade agreements and G8 summits in the world.
Obama and Kerry find themselves, like time travelers thrown back in time to the 19th century or the 1950s, stuck in a world that plays by Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Vladimir Putin rules, where no one knows that invading other countries is passé and that power is achieved at summits and not at the point of a gun.
Like the nerds at the back of the cafeteria they pretend that the jocks who invade other countries will flunk out and have to work in a Moscow shoe store and eventually everyone will recognize that real power is being able to denounce the uncivilized ruffians as backward cretins in the school paper.
And if that doesn’t happen, due to the nature of power in the modern world, they won’t be able to do anything about it anyway.
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