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Friday, March 07, 2014


The Russian Invasion of Ukraine is Bush's Fault

A comment in the Wall Street Journal "Best of the Web" section today managed to blame Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on George Bush, without actually using his name. Here it in in full:

"The character of political leaders isn't the only factor determining geopolitical events."

Perhaps the wisest insight from the BOTW I've ever seen. We like to blame the politicians who happen to be nominally in charge for the changing tides of history. This is the Great Man theory of history, and it is arguably wrong, or at least not sufficiently explanatory.

Hitler, for example, did not kill a single Jew by his own hand. He had others do it for him. Could a failed artist and gassed corporal of the Great War have become so charismatic and powerful on his own that he got a great nation to do what it adamantly opposed?

Is Putin the sole reason for Russia's resurgence of nationalistic ambitions, or is he, and a Russia still smarting from its defeat in the Cold War, the beneficiary of the West's fatigue at empire management? Is Obama's vacillation the reason for Putin's boldness, or is Putin simply able to sense that the means and will for stopping him evaporated in the smoke and ash of Iraq and Afghanistan? Red lines and consequences are just words, and in international diplomacy, words mean nothing that can't be backed with force.

I don't mean to offer a defense of Obama. He is feckless because he doesn't seem to understand how limited are his options or how to maximize the effect of using those few options at his disposal. But it's not just Obama to blame for Russia or Syria or Afghanistan or the retreat in general of the US from the vanguards of its empire. It's the change in temperament in the American will, particularly after two interminably long, fecklessly prosecuted wars. The US still has the power to thwart Putin's expansionism. For now, it no longer has the will. And that's not entirely the fault of any particular American leader.

The reasoning runs like this:

The role of leaders in shaping historical events is exaggerated, so just because Obama is President, he is not necessarily to blame for what’s going on in the world. So far, I can agree. A President can be blamed or given credit for things that happen on his watch that he didn't have a lot to do with. The nearly balanced budget and economic boom under Clinton is exhibit “A.”

But then we get an analysis of the cause of the world’s problems, and guess what, it’s George Bush’s fault. Because the problems in the world can be attributed to “the West's fatigue at empire management.” It seems that America is suffering from a disease of the soul brought on by the “smoke and ash of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

It seems that the American people are not excited about foreign affairs because they have seen their sacrifice in Iran and Afghanistan squandered by an Obama administration that views foreign affairs as a backdrop to “fundamentally changing America.” The writer calls both wars “fecklessly prosecuted.” That is certainly the case in Afghanistan where Obama announced a withdrawal at the same time he was sending in more troops, giving the message to the enemy that if they stayed around long enough they would win by default. 

But our military won the war against the Iraqi army in record time.  The follow-up was poorly handled, partly as the result of the foolish political decision to disband the Iraqi army.   But thanks to the bold political move to "surge" by George Bush the war ended in victory.  It was the withdrawal by the Obama Administration that was not just feckless, but criminal incompetence.

It does something to spirit of a nation when the sacrifices of its soldiers and their families are thrown away by a feckless bunch of politicians, especially politicians that claim the ability to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.

Despite the writer’s claim that “I don't mean to offer a defense of Obama” that’s exactly what he is doing. In essence he is blaming George Bush and the American people for the situation we are currently in and absolving the Obama administration. In an echo of Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech, he’s attributing America's deteriorating geopolitical situation to its people; Obama's not to blame because the people demand withdrawal from the world.  Perhaps he forgot that America’s earlier malaise lasted only as long as Jimmy Carter was president and evaporated virtually on the day he left office.

The Great Man Theory of history is not always right, but we have experience in our lifetimes to prove that men do shape history rather than the other way around.

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