I described this sad phenomenon on the Cheney-esque right last night. But a reader is particularly sharp on the subject:
You and I were watching McCain at the same time and thinking essentially the same thing. McCain, like Graham, Bolton and others of that ilk, watch the events in Ukraine and are filled with Putin-envy. Vladimir Putin is a master of the game, they seem to think. Look at his almost effortless projection of force, his willingness to dispatch troops and threaten war with so little hesitation or circumspection. They love it! If only we had our own Putin at the helm!
But how pathetic and short-sighted is this vision? In fact, Putin is stirred to move because he feels humiliated. His puppet was ousted from power by a popular uprising. His plans to seal Ukraine to Russia for another generation are evaporating. His hold on a plausible plurality of the Ukrainian people was shattered. The fuel deals are clearly seen as a crude power-play by most Ukrainians. Even the Russian-speaking Ukrainians of the eastern and southern provinces are slipping out of Moscow’s grasp. There, when we look more deeply into the demographics, we see that even if the 50+ers feel nostalgia for Moscow and support for the Kremlin, the generation of 35-down increasingly sees more promise from an alignment with Europe. The pro-Russian regions of Ukraine will predictably cease to be pro-Russian within a generation.
Putin, the crass intelligence officer, turns quickly to brute force. But what is the cost to him of this step? Not only in Ukraine, but in all the other states of the “near abroad,” the fear of Russia is moved up several notches, the image of Russia as a reptilian predator rises. Even within Russia, most citizens understand the shrill propaganda of ORT (the Russian state TV) for what it is and consider war with Ukraine to be irresponsible nonsense. Putin’s credibility as a leader fades. Increasingly he appears to be someone motivated by fear of loss and failure, not by greatness.
The Putin who shows his face to the world today is not some dynamic new Napoleon delivering a new master stroke. He is a tired, failed leader, who is steadily losing the confidence of his own people, who is seen as hopelessly corrupt, and who is being deserted by Russian elites and detested by the youth in particular. Putin is a spent force. He may hang on for another year or another decade, but in Russia the demand for a new leader will grow steadily from this point.
The McCains, Grahams and Boltons don’t understand this dynamic, and that’s frankly because they are too much like Putin. The worst imaginable thing would be for the leaders of the West to think and behave like Putin.
That would lay the ground for a cold war or even a major new land war in Europe – at a time when this is utterly unnecessary. There are powerful historical forces at play that will achieve what needs to be achieved. Putin is on the wrong side of them. His position is hopeless.
The events unfolding in Ukraine, in Crimea and Moscow are very significant, and perhaps the weightiest developments since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. On the other hand, what we see transpiring in Washington, among its pundits and papers like WaPo and WSJ, fully exposes the bankruptcy of the American chattering classes, and particularly of the world inside the Beltway. They are beholden to a great military machine which seeks conflict where it can find it, and their appreciation of the forces driving the world are laughably simplistic. At this point I thank god for Barack Obama, and even more, for Angela Merkel and other European leaders who have drawn the reasonable lessons of America’s Iraq debacle – even as Americans seem unwilling to think about it.
(Photos from Getty)