In USA Today, Ralph Peters has a fascinating portrait of Vladimir Putin. To Peters, Putin is a hyper-efficient alien–a reptilian predator bearing little resemblance to actors who subscribe to common strategic or even ethical standards. In profiling Putin, Peters actually gets to the heart of the mad challenge that is twenty-first century national security:
Among the many reasons we misjudge Putin is our insistence on seeing him as “like us.” He’s not. His stage-management of the Georgia invasion was a perfect example: Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Russian activities in the Caucasus for years and fully expected a confrontation. Even so, our analysts assumed that Russia wouldn’t act during this summer’s Olympics, traditionally an interval of peace.
“Not ‘like us’” is the defining characteristic common to all America’s current enemies. Putin’s willingness to invade a neighbor during the Olympics is but the mildest example. In Iran, we face a regime whose founder stated “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Not like us.
Al Qaeda is as interested in the glory of self-immolation as in power politics. In a 2007 call to jihad, Osama bin Laden quoted the prophet Muhammad: “I would love to be martyred in Allah’s Cause and then get resurrected and then get martyred, and then get resurrected again and then get martyred and then get resurrected again and then get martyred.” Not like us.
Kim Jong Il’s North Korea is a state so hermetically sealed, it’s impossible to say for sure whether or not its leader still exists. He gives no thought to his country beyond its literal function as his personal human terrarium. Waves of mass starvation roll through the land and it means less to the North Korean leadership than would a box of toys left out in the rain. Not like us.
And here is where actual fear enters the discussion: Barack Obama. A man whose guiding foreign policy principle is the search for common ground. Obama is post-everything, and that includes differences. So who could possibly be “not like” him? On Obama’s website, the very first screen of his foreign policy page offers this quote from the candidate:
This must be the moment when we answer the call of history. For eight years, we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening; that divides us from one another–and from the world–instead of calling us to a common purpose.
But what common purpose can we find with the above-mentioned leaders. While there are natural resource dimensions to some of our problems, the heads of Russia, Iran, North Korea, and al Qaeda are driven, above all else, by messianic totalitarianism. (As Peters points out, even Putin’s sense of Russian destiny is informed by a delusional mysticism). Obama went to Berlin and told hundreds of thousands of Germans that “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.” It’s a nice thought, but humanity, as such, is far less common than Obama realizes.