Apparently Vladimir Putin tried to push the “Reset” button Hillary Clinton had given him when she was U.S. secretary of state, but he hit one marked “Invade Ukraine” instead.
It was a natural error, particularly since Clinton’s advisers had mistakenly inscribed their button with the Russian word for “Overreach.”
Let’s pause here for a blast from the past: Americans now a quarter-century old don’t have any memories of the nation’s longest conflict — the Cold War that pitted Moscow and its minions against the free nations of the West led by the United States.
But it’s important to remember that even as that conflict continued, some on the left made excuses for communism’s repressive and destructive nature that astoundingly continue to be reflected in progressive academic and political circles.
Witness, for example, a recent article in Rolling Stone in which author Jesse A. Myerson demanded a Soviet-style command economy here, with government-guaranteed jobs and pensions for everyone, the nationalization of land and housing, and the public takeover of banks.
As if these “ideas” were new. I just saw a captioned picture of the Berlin Wall being demolished, a world-historical event that delighted the entire planet, that bore the words, “I wish someone had already tried Communism, so we could see if it really works or not.”
Of course, it has been tried, at the cost of 80 million lives or more.
Are we facing that again? I still have hope we’re not stupid enough to embrace socialism here (though time will tell), and Putin seems to be modeling his regime on an older and purely Russian concept, as he fits himself for the crown and robes of a czar — a title derived from “Caesar.”
But the czars were expansionist and repressive, too, and a restoration of the Russian Empire could be just as dangerous as a reborn Soviet Union, at least to those within its reach.
President George W. Bush failed to react strongly to Putin’s 2008 invasion of the nation of Georgia, and Putin was even rewarded with the Winter Olympics this year.
But he clearly offers the West a challenge to add to the ones raised by Islamic radicalism, a newly aggressive China and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
As noted political analyst Michael Barone pointed out in the Washington Examiner on Sunday, Putin sees things differently than the “soft power” dilettantes of the West do. In his world, threatening his neighbors, landing troops and mobilizing armor works as long as nobody stops him.
What kind of price should Putin pay? Empty words are not enough, something that is clear even to the editorial board of The Washington Post, which this week headlined an online editorial, “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.”
As The Post correctly stated, “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.”
The United States and the United Kingdom guaranteed Ukraine’s independence from Russia in a formal agreement signed in Budapest in 1994. That pact was used to justify Ukraine’s destruction of its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal and many conventional weapons.
Cracking down on Russian investments abroad, sending actual troops to bolster NATO allies in Eastern Europe instead of just a few fighter jets, adding to the list of Russians not welcome here, sending Ukraine money (the EU proposes $15 billion to start) and kicking Putin out of the G-8 group of industrialized democracies (where he doesn’t fit anyway) have all been suggested as ways to help keep that promise.
A conflict-weary American public may not see the value in opposing Putin, or Bashir Assad, or Kim Jong-Un, or the mullahs of Iran — but, as columnist James Geraghty noted on National Review Online on Wednesday, while we may want “the world to solve its own problems for awhile,” the way the world accomplishes that task on its own very often involves “invasions, wholesale slaughter, ethnic cleansing, missile tests, naval provocations and raw brutality.”
In today’s interdependent world, those catastrophes can easily end up on our doorstep, whether we want them to or not.
There’s nothing keeping Russia from having a full relationship with the West except the ambitions of its cut-rate czar, who will have to be brought up short eventually. When is there a better time than now?
Perhaps, just as the citizens of Ukraine decided their future lay in the West, the people of Russia then will come to see exactly who is keeping them from having a similar mutually beneficial relationship.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.