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The Revenge of Geopolitics
How Putin Keeps Outsmarting the West

The violence in Ukraine has subsided somewhat as both sides react to the new deal to end the violence. It’s still not at all clear whether the agreement will hold or even what it will mean if it does, but in the meantime, it’s time to take a step back for a wider look at the strategic blunders by western powers that got the country into this mess in the first place. WRM does just that in a new piece at the WSJ, (written before the deal was announced), which examines how the West’s repeated attempts to ignore geopolitics allowed Putin to gain the upper hand:

Neither the American policy makers nor the European ones who stumbled into this bear trap are stupid, but this episode is confirmation that the problem that has haunted Western statesmanship since 1989 is still with us. Both President Obama and the many-headed collection of committees that constitutes the decision-making apparatus of the EU believe that the end of the Cold War meant an end to geopolitics.

This helps explain why American diplomacy these days is about order and norms. The objectives are global: an environmental climate treaty, the abolition of nuclear weapons, the creation of new global governance mechanisms like the G-20, the further expansion of free trade agreements, and so on. When the U.S. voices its objections—to Bashar Assad’s slaughter in Syria, say, or to the Ukrainian crackdown this week—they are stated in terms of global norms. And so U.S. diplomacy with Russia has focused on order-building questions like nonproliferation, while gravely underestimating the degree to which Russia’s geopolitical interests conflict with those of the U.S. […]

There are many things that Vladimir Putin doesn’t understand, but geopolitics isn’t one of them. His ability to identify and exploit the difference between the West’s rhetoric and its capabilities and intentions has allowed him to stop NATO expansion, split Georgia, subject Washington to serial humiliations in Syria and, now, to bring chaos to Ukraine.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Andrew Allison

    I’m probably going to get myself into a lot of trouble for this comment, but IMHO, Putin has a great deal in common with Ronald Reagan, namely a clear vision of what he wants his country’s future to be vis a vis others. Contrast this with the triangulation, poll-following and sheer incompetence of those who succeeded Reagan. If you don’t know where you want to go and are not willing to make the effort to get there, nothing much going to happen. Putin’s objective is to re-establish Russia as a Great Power. All else,and especially underestimating him (history repeats itself) is irrelevant.

    • Corlyss

      One element of similarity does not a great deal make.

      • Andrew Allison

        I beg to differ. The ship of state needs a firm hand on the tiller and to have a destination in mind, otherwise it drifts aimlessly. Russia has it, the EU and US don’t

        • Corlyss

          Of course I agree the EU is a total waste of space. But it matters if the hand on the tiller suffers from narcissistic grandiosity totally out of sync with the tenor of the facts and the times. You can’t seriously think Putin is more creditable simply because he’s brutal and ruthless while Obama is an oversized smurf. The system of governments of our respective nations makes a difference, ya know.

  • Boritz

    To effectively oppose Putin our leadership would have to exhibit the same character on the international stage that he does: A prideful, aggressive and cunning promotion of national self-interest; the exact opposite of their actual ideology.

  • Anthony

    See Zbigniew Brzezinski on Charlie Rose (February 20, 2014) vis-a-vis Putin, EU, U.S., geopolitics, etc.

  • Corlyss

    “Neither the American policy makers nor the European ones who stumbled into this bear trap are stupid,”
    That’s assuming facts not in evidence.

    • John Stephens

      That’s begging the question so hard that this article should be on a sidewalk somewhere banging a tin cup.

      • Tom

        Actually, they’re not stupid…that’s why they keep doing these particular really dumb things. Stupid people would either say “why should we care?” or “Send in the Marines!”

      • Corlyss

        Interesting imagery, John.

  • lukelea

    The inimitable Steve Sailer covers the story here. With all due respect to WRM, who runs him a close second, Sailer has got to be the best journalist in America, at least in my humble opinion. I suspect that lot of mainstream journalist, who read him on the sly, know it too, if not out loud, at least in their hearts. Enjoy.

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