The Middle East is now sliding toward war, with potentially devastating ripple effects far beyond the region. Obama may not want it, but he has made war a near certainty by making the United States look like "the weaker horse" in a very tough neighborhood. He would never make that same mistake on Chicago's South Side. Remember, it was peace-loving Jimmy Carter who brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran and thereby set off a war with Saddam Hussein that killed a million people. It is the fools of history, and not just the knaves, who bring catastrophe in their wake.
Obama sure looks like another one of them.
With Obama, Pax Americana seems ready to crumble. You can't be a halfway superpower in the world; you either are one or you aren't. Military strength is not just the ability to project force, but the visible will to use it under a clear set of conditions. American power and will have been used in defense of good and decent causes, like defeating Hitler and containing Stalin. For the last six decades, we have kept the peace among the hungry jackals of the world by wielding a credible U.S. deterrent at very great expense. We fought bloody proxy wars in Korea, Vietnam, and twice in Iraq. Our will and our capacity have kept the world's crazies at bay. But now it seems we've lost our way.
The United States kept the peace for sixty years when nobody else could be trusted to do it. That is why the famously brave Western Europeans stayed on our side during the Cold War, shivering in their pompons. They knew perfectly well where the real danger lay. It is only lately that they've plumb forgotten what we did to protect them. When the first Euro-socialist to rise to the U.S. Presidency, Barack Obama, took office, Europeans went mad with joy. Now they are feeling the chill down their backs: What if he's a real socialist? What if he is as wishy-washy as they all are in social democratic Europe? They may yet come to regret their moment of historical amnesia.
With Pax Americana gone, Russia may be the only power able and willing to protect the flow of oil from the Middle East, and perhaps even to become Europe's neighborhood cop for hire. Pax Americana may be ending, but Pax Muscoviana may be rising. Stranger things have happened in history.
The reasons for Putin's big chance today are geography, geography, and history.
Russia lives in the Middle East.
Look at the map. Russia is right next door to Iran. Putin just made a major strategic move by driving Russia's advanced S-300 truck-mounted anti-ballistic missile batteries not to Iran itself, but next door to Armenia and Azerbaijan. An airliner takes only an hour to fly from Yerevan, Armenia to Tehran. The Russians can therefore drive their S-300s close to the Iranian border and simply control a good chunk of Iranian airspace. Or if they choose to, they can send their massive land army into Iran and occupy the plains, leaving the mountains to any Iranian resistance. Putin has never hesitated to use force against civilians, or to sacrifice Russian soldiers against Islamic radicals in Chechnya. If Putin thinks that the West will wink at a little bit of Russian imperialism, he might do just that. He does not have to worry about domestic opposition, and he loves to play the macho Czar.
If Russia can project enough power from next door, it could sell its protection racket to the highest bidder: King Abdullah of Saudi, how much oil will you bid for Putin to knock out Iranian missiles in their boost stage, when they are slowly rising against gravity to strike your oil fields? Ahmadinejad, how much will you give Russia to protect Iran's nuclear industry from Israeli or American attack? Europe and China, what will you give us for protecting you from Islamofascist nukes, courtesy of the mad mullahs? Israel, how much military technology will you sell me to protect you from the crazies in Tehran?
The second reason for Putin's chance to grab is also based in geography.
Russia is a European power.
Europe is not a continent geographically, but only the Western end of the continent of Eurasia. The great plains of Central Europe stretch straight into Asia and southward into the Middle East. Russia is, in fact, a half-European power, and it has always looked West, not East, for its influences.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are old European cities. In the 19th century, French was the common language for the Russian aristocracy. Petersburg was even built in open imitation of the cities that Peter the Great saw on his tour of the West, and the Russian flag today is a variant on the Dutch and French flags, because Czar Peter wanted to make Russia become more like them. Marxism itself is a variety of European imperialism, backed up with a typically European "philosophy of history," a straight imitation of the Prussian imperial philosopher Friedrich Hegel. They love that stuff over there.
What's more natural for the Europeans than to buy protection from Moscow, and for Putin to sell it at a stiff price? Postmodern Europe will not fight for its own survival, nor even for its own Enlightenment values of free speech, religious tolerance, and electoral government. The Russians will fight just for the thrill of imperial power.
Russia now has a near-monopoly on natural gas supplies to Western Europe. Part of Putin's price might be to demand an outright monopoly for Russian gas, thereby guaranteeing Europe's proper submission to the new Tsarskom (Empire). Who needs the Americans?
Russia has given up its communist ideology, more or less, and it has elevated the Orthodox Church to its old status as the state religion. It is no longer interested in total world control, the way Stalin and Lenin were. No, it's happy to be just a regular Eurasian imperial power the way the Czars used to do it.
The third reason for Russia to rise to world power again is history.
Russia has always been Europe's buffer against Mongol and Muslim invaders, barbarians from the South and East. Putin has absolutely no hesitation in putting down radical Muslims of any stripe in his own territory. But Europe (and half the United States) have lost the will to live as nations. The U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence were the most successful political products of the Western Enlightenment. Europe itself has forgotten those values and has fallen into brute decadence.
Islamic imperialism today looks to the Russians just like all the other waves of Muslim conquest. They remember their history, and they've seen it before. The whole sucker-play of the Ground Zero Mosque would never see the light of day in Moscow. Only Americans are so profoundly ignorant of history to fall for that one. We've been lucky in our history by never having to face a Muslim invasion, but most of the Old World has already been invaded by the Muslims twice over, all the way from Austria to France, Spain, Greece, North Africa, the Levant, Russia, and China.
In Russia, the Orthodox Church and Putin don't believe in that airy-fairy multiculti nonsense. If Russia comes to dominate the feckless Europeans, it will give them the backbone they need right now. To be sure, Moscow will exact a price from its Western provinces, the way it always has. But forced to choose between Shar'iah tyranny and Russian authoritarianism, what would you choose? It took the Soviets only seventy years to figure out they had a disastrous ideology on their hands, and to let it crumble. The Saudis have not yet figured it out after thirteen centuries of the Dark Ages.
What about America's arc of Western defense? The coming age of nuclear proliferation will make everything more dangerous. If the U.S. turns tail, our influence in the world will drop radically. That may please some Americans, but it will not improve our security. We may find new friends in the Indo-Anglosphere, an alliance of sane and sensible cultures from India to Japan and Australia. With Chinese naval power rising fast, we may not be able to patrol that beat anymore, either, or only in alliance with India and Japan.
If Obama fails to protect the Middle East against the Iranian nuclear threat, don't believe for a moment that these kinds of calculations will not be going on in all the foreign ministries of the world. Liberals are always complaining that the world doesn't love us enough, and it's our fault. But the world is not sentimental. Conservatives should simply respond that the world does not trust us anymore to defend them from crazies with nukes -- and the world distrusts Obama for very good reasons.