In Praise of Might
Leaders of the Western world expressed understandable dismay when Russia absorbed Crimea this March in what was essentially a hostile corporate takeover. Russia stripped Ukraine of its most valuable asset and saddled Brussels and Washington with Kiev’s debt in the process. Vladimir Putin ate the West’s geopolitical lunch and left it with the tab.
Worse, the subsequent buildup of 40,000 combat-ready Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border forced Brussels and Washington to publicly confirm that the West would go no further than sanctions to prevent further Russian land-grabs in the region.
Ukraine might have been the only nation on earth surprised by its sudden discovery that the Budapest Memorandums it had signed with America, Britain, and Russia in 1994 contained loopholes big enough to drive tanks through. Libya, Iran, and North Korea certainly weren’t.
Putin isn’t big on nuance. Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine today are unambiguous announcements to the world that Russia is fully committed to creating a powerful Eurasian counterbalance to the E.U. and U.S., and will not easily be deterred by a risk-averse, energy-dependent Europe or a befuddled America beating its swords into EBT cards after Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the upcoming launch of his Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on January 1, 2015, Putin will create another option for the many nations of the world that need or prefer to do business in sanctioned but less restrictive marketplaces with people who do not insist that your country operate like theirs.
In his March 18 speech on Crimea to a joint session of Russia’s parliament, Putin struck a resonant chord among developing nations -- in the Caucasus and elsewhere -- when he noted that when dealing with the West, “Standards were imposed on these nations that did not in any way correspond to their way of life, traditions, or these peoples’ cultures. As a result, instead of democracy and freedom, there was chaos, outbreaks in violence and a series of upheavals.”
Perhaps even more unsettling to the sensibilities of Western metrosexual mandarins than tough-guy Putin bullying Ukraine is the broad support he received for his outspoken praise of tradition and condemnation of attempts to export the normalization of same-sex sexual behavior.
Putin’s professed belief in the God of Abraham and his public disdain for Western secular liberalism, his steadfast support for Syria -- including an invitation to join the EEU, his willingness to do business with Iran despite Western opposition, and his endorsement of Abdel el-Sisi well before he won the Egyptian presidency in a popular landslide have all served to enhance his reputation in the Muslim world. After his brutal suppression of Chechen Islamic rebels many jihadists wisely fear him.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Eurasia, as the United States pivots east with much fanfare but a shrinking navy, Russia inked a contract to provide China with a quarter of its total current annual consumption of natural gas for the next thirty years. Chinese President Xi Jinping used the occasion to call for a new Asian security arrangement that would include Russia and Iran and exclude the U.S.
It may be an understatement to say that this is a watershed moment in history for America. Two decades ago the collapse of the U.S.S.R. created a huge vacuum left unfilled to this day by America, Europe, or China. Twenty years was time enough for Vladimir Putin to resurrect Russia, and this time around, he appears intent on beating the West at its own game.
Putin understands that the fall of the Soviet Union occurred because it was focused on not losing an arms race instead of winning a wealth race. The economy of United States was robust enough to permit Ronald Reagan to keep upping the Cold War ante until Russia had to fold. America’s superior military hardware was the product of a wealth-generating society that had no parallel in history.
One measure of America’s former might is that despite suffering serious self-inflicted wounds during the last two decades, the U.S. remains the earth’s sole superpower. In 2013, America’s GDP was twice that of China, its nearest rival.
Geographically, the United States spans five climate and time zones. It has over five thousand miles of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean coastline with an extensive infrastructure between them built to support large-scale agriculture, industry, and commerce.
The U.S. has an abundance of rich farmland and huge reservoirs of natural gas, oil, and coal. Its high-tech industries and universities still attract the brightest minds in science, engineering, and medicine. Unlike Russia, China, and most of Europe, America has a birth rate capable of sustaining its current population level and thus a broad, stable tax base from which to fund essential government programs.
On paper, America has all of the resources and assets it needs to adapt and thrive in a complex, dynamic geopolitical environment. And like the paper those statistics are written on, that assessment is two-dimensional.
While Vladimir Putin wandered among the ruins of the former Soviet empire searching for pieces that could be useful in forming the foundation of a resurgent Russia, America went on a prolonged binge of left-wing imposed social self-indulgence and became lost in the maze of mirrors we constructed to admire our chic progressiveness at every turn.
America’s might began seriously unraveling when its über-left severed the link between wealth earned in a free marketplace and self-esteem by making entitlement status the new currency. An entire generation of Americans is growing up in a bubble of self-delusion in which they are encouraged to believe that they do not have to compete and win in order to be safe and prosper.
Perhaps Vladimir Putin is the prick America needed to burst its entitlement bubble before Russia or China present us with a bill we can’t pay and we discover too late that America is no longer indispensable, nor too big to fail. Might may not make right, but it does improve a nation’s odds of surviving long enough to correct its mistakes.