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The End of History?
How America Forgot Geopolitics

The crises that unfolded in Ukraine, Syria, and the Pacific appear to have blindsided Western nations. In a new piece in Foreign Affairs, Walter Russell Mead argues that America was caught flat-footed largely due to a misreading of the post-Cold War geopolitical landscape. To many in the West, the end of the Cold War brought the dawn of an era in which promoting liberal internationalism was more important than engaging in old-fashioned geopolitics. But countries like Russia, China, and Iran have never been particularly satisfied with this order, and they have been working to upset it wherever they can. These crises are symptoms of their success, and they serve as a reminder that America can ignore geopolitics at its own peril:

In East Asia, China’s increasingly assertive stance has yet to yield much concrete geopolitical progress, but it has fundamentally altered the political dynamic in the region with the fastest-growing economies on earth. Asian politics today revolve around national rivalries, conflicting territorial claims, naval buildups, and similar historical issues. The nationalist revival in Japan, a direct response to China’s agenda, has set up a process in which rising nationalism in one country feeds off the same in the other. China and Japan are escalating their rhetoric, increasing their military budgets, starting bilateral crises with greater frequency, and fixating more and more on zero-sum competition. […]

In the Middle East, the situation is even more acute. Dreams that the Arab world was approaching a democratic tipping point — dreams that informed U.S. policy under both the Bush and the Obama administrations — have faded. Rather than building a liberal order in the region, U.S. policymakers are grappling with the unraveling of the state system that dates back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, as governance erodes in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Obama has done his best to separate the geopolitical issue of Iran’s surging power across the region from the question of its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but Israeli and Saudi fears about Iran’s regional ambitions are making that harder to do. Another obstacle to striking agreements with Iran is Russia, which has used its seat on the UN Security Council and support for Assad to set back U.S. goals in Syria.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Andrew Allison

    None so blind as those who won’t see geopolitical realities. As Yogi Berra famously remarked, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again.”

  • Boritz

    “But Westerners …fundamentally misread what the collapse of the Soviet Union meant: the ideological triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over communism…”

    The Left, currently in charge, has done nothing of the kind. They do not believe in nor make policy from such a standpoint.

  • Episteme

    What’s curious, in the supposed avoidance of the geopolitics outside US borders, is how much Americans have paid close attention to geopolitics WITHIN national (or. more properly put, federal) borders in those twenty-five years. Constitutionally, of course, the fifty states of “these united States” are called as such due to their status as being somewhat between truly independent entities and mere subdivisions, with a large portion of the political culture in this nation devoted to increased devolution of powers. In all the talk of Red versus Blue and regional cultures, one sees a growing focus on geopolitics *within* the US being discussed and debated, especially as different states are changing laws on marriage or drugs at different rates and affecting national dialogues.

    As such, I remain surprised that the default foreign geopolitical notion among other Americans (at least those also on the constitutional Right) ISN’T to see the rights of interacting nation-states in the style of how they deal with daily interacting component-states, the same way that many tend to default to a Western Capitalist Classical Liberal viewpoint. It’s hardly any sort of perfect comparison, but it seems a close-enough analogy in what we see in our daily lives in scale (and as presented in hyped media importance) to think of it as such. Looking at interactions in that matter would also likely provide an interesting middle ground between “it’s not our business” and “just bomb the bastards,” since even the reddest Texan has a degree of shared empathy with the bluest Californian or New Yorker & vice versa.

    (Now the argument can be made that the importance and independence of individual states has declined over previous decades, but that’s both a constitutional issue AND perhaps a further question about how geopolitics in America deals with questions of sovereignty versus simply culture, as well as another look as the growth of larger hegemony)

  • Corlyss

    We’ve gone back to the post-WW1 era mindset, i.e., not wanting to see threats anywhere, rather than the post-WW2 mindset. We knew who the enemy was in WW2 and the Cold War. Now we have had 50 years of multiculti and moral relativism claptrap to completely undermine what was once our clear and careful vision. There are no more Wise Men like those who guided policy in 1945 on. Nope. We got the race-bating Victicrats, the group rights pimps, the civil rights pimps, the enviorthugs in one party and the clowns who run the other one. God save us!

    • Anthony

      God and good committed and dedicated people Corlyss.

  • Anthony

    “Old fashion power plays are back in international relations.” Did they ever truly leave (always just beneath surface awaiting both time and opportunity). In particular, world order and global governance require projection of power even more so given interest of revisionist powers as outlined in brief Foreign Affairs essay. “Power is neither created nor destroyed. It is only transformed or transferred. Flow does not proceed on its own from higher concentration to lower, from richer reservoir to poorer.Grab more from those with more. Grab less from those with less. And counter-grab from those who grab from you.” The aforementioned remains one of the fundamental not to be forgotten insights of geopolitics. Excellent Foreign Affairs piece WRM.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    WRM refuses to face the truth, that it is the incredibly weak Obama that is responsible for all the Authoritarian overreach that we are seeing. He withdrew from Iraq before the naissent Democracy America built there could become institutionalized. He lead from behind in Libya, and left anarchy behind. He has allowed the use of Chemical weapons in Syria, and Russian invasions of Georgia, and Ukraine. He announced a withdrawal from Afghanistan in the same breath with which he announced a surge. Everywhere in the world Obama has the US in shameful retreat. He gets nothing but contempt from our enemies Iran, Russia, China, and Syria, while our allies know that he cannot be trusted to come to their defense and they better not rely on him. Obama squanders dozens of opportunities to build economic and military unity with our allies and would be allies, which our enemies belligerence provides. Obama invites WWIII and millions of dead with his weakness, and it may already be too late to prevent.

  • John Stephens

    “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography” – Ambrose Bierce

  • Breif2

    I am reminded of a passage from This Kind of War, T. S. Fehrenbach’s classic history of the Korean War: “By April 1951, the Eighth Army had again proven Erwin Rommel’s assertion that American troops knew less but learned faster than any fighting men he had opposed. The tragedy of American arms, however, is that having an imperfect sense of history, Americans sometimes forget as quickly as they learn.”

    “How America Forgot Geopolitics”? All too easily. Eventually we’ll pay a steep tuition in blood for a refresher course. And then we’ll forget all over again.

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