Yesterday, Barack Obama told a Virginia audience “We’ve got to send a clear message to Russia and unify our allies. They can’t charge into other countries. Of course it helps if we are leading by example on that point.”
Faced with a geopolitical challenge that demands unwavering Western fortitude and American stewardship, Barack Obama apologizes for the misuse of American strength and initiative. This speaks of a worldview in which America’s faults are always kept at the fore and a national security paradigm in which the U.S. must seek to understand enemy action as a manifestation of American arrogance. This worldview leaves us dangerously ill-equipped to tackle or even contain antagonists like Vladimir Putin and company.
Putin does not follow Washington’s example in matters of aggression. Iraq war or not, the Kremlin’s plans for the past two weeks would have unfolded as they did and with the same degree of militancy. Moscow has been cleansing South Ossetia of Georgian sympathizers and fomenting anti-Georgian sentiment there since the early 90’s. In fact, if any blame for this crisis falls on the U.S., it’s not due to George W. Bush’s bellicosity, but to the measured pragmatism of his father, who established the policy whereby independence in the South Caucasus was exclusively a “domestic affair of the U.S.S.R.”
Obama’s impulse toward self-flagellation represents more than a case of faulty judgment. It is in itself a liability. If Obama were actually President, imagine the effects of these words in Moscow. As Victor Davis Hanson recently put it, “Russia knows the great truth about the West: it will pour a half-million people into the street to protest the United States removing a homicidal dictator to foster democracy, but not a half-dozen to object to Russia attempting to remove a democratic government to foster dictatorship.” Discomfort with war is a laudable trait. But the commander-in-chief has to be able to put such concerns in perspective when global power shifts in alarming ways. Barack Obama, as indicated in his statement, sees any country–even his own–as damnable once it “charge[s] into other countries.” What more could Putin desire in an American president?
In fairness, there was always a respectable argument that the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq would open the door for less trustworthy countries looking to justify aggression on pre-emptive grounds. It does not apply here, and in any case now is not the time for an American leader to air it. As for “leading by example,” blaming the U.S.–at least partially–in public for Russian hostility is surely the worst way to go about it.