Germans are usually cautious with Hitler comparisons, for obvious reasons, but for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Putin’s actions in the Crimea fit the bill. The WSJ reports:
“Those are the methods that Hitler has applied in the Sudetenland,” Mr. Schäuble said during a question-and-answer session with schoolchildren, according to people in the audience. “We know all about that from history.”Mr. Schäuble went on to explain how an economic destabilization of Ukraine could serve Moscow by giving it a pretext to invade the entire country, in an ostensible bid to restore order.
Putin is doing more than taking a bite out of Ukraine. He is seeking to weaken American (and European) power and prestige by treating a key element of the post-WWII, post-Cold War international system with open contempt. He is also expressing the contempt he feels for western leaders he thinks of as decadent, muddled, and weak.Hitler was actually disappointed that the west’s craven appeasers deprived him of what he really wanted: the chance to enter Prague at the head of his troops. His goal wasn’t just the Sudetenland; it was the destruction of Western prestige and the destruction of Western norms.Right now Putin appears to be taking another trick out of Hitler’s playbook: After you’ve done something outrageous, smile. Keep them off balance. When you think you are opposed by cowards and temporizers, make it easy and pleasant for them to fall back. Collude with them on the restoration of a pretense of normalcy, right after you’ve shocked them with a brazen move. Pull a few troops back from the Ukrainian frontier, drop hints of diplomatic solutions, and go along with their efforts to pretend that nothing fundamental has changed.To say that Putin is using Hitler’s tactics isn’t to say that Putin is another Hitler or that his goals are Hitler’s goals. But there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind: The supreme power in the world’s largest country is bent on destroying the current world order and seeks to discredit and overturn the assumptions, alliances, power realities, and ideas on which it rests.That doesn’t mean we can’t sometimes reach agreements with Russia and it certainly doesn’t mean we need to fight a hot war with it— or even make Russia, which is still a shadow of its former, Soviet self, the center of our foreign policy.But America and its European allies have a declared enemy to contend with these days, and it would be an act of criminal folly to forget that fact or to fail to take Russian enmity into sufficient account.