From the Right: Strong as the bear

Geopolitics, the effect of geography on international relations and international politics

By Phil Boynton
On March 25, 2014

The Reset, which the Obama Administration began with Russia in 2009 was flawed from the get-go. The novelty reset button presented actually did not say 'reset' in Russia, but 'overcharge.' A minor and perhaps even harmless mistake at the time, but looking back it was a harbinger of events to come. While the Reset was a good-faith effort by President Obama, and by all accounts it should have worked - the one problem, which everyone underestimated or paid no attention at all was - Putin.  

I remember very clearly when President Obama attacked Mitt Romney for saying Russia was the United States' No.1 geopolitical foe. Romney was mocked as a cold warrior, eager to revive the Cold War tensions against the former Soviet Union. Yet, a few weeks ago Russia reared its head like a roaring bear, invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. The long and short of it is Romney was right. This is not about scoring political points, this is our new reality. Unfortunately, for the past five years Washington, D.C. has worn rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, and especially Putin.

Russia - long thought to be a hibernating bear - is now awake and fully alert and led by a man who still see the world through the context of the Cold War and probably dreams at night of a Russian Empire: a Soviet Union for the 21st century.

Putin may believe himself to be high and mighty, but he has alienated himself from the rest of the world. He stands alone and any hopes of a reborn Russia are mere delusions. Still delusions can go a long way, and in the case of Putin, he's seized on apparent American weakness.

In the Cold War, the United States showed backbone when it came to the Soviet Union, and we did it without firing a shot at them. The reason the Cold War is over and the Soviet Union is only found in the history books is the result of strong American leadership. Every president from Truman to Bush Sr. was willing to stay the course and refused to buckle to the Soviet Union, or communism for that matter. 

We never appeased the Soviets; we backed them into a wall. We negotiated from a position of strength, not weakness. Today Russia isn't afraid of us. The actions in Ukraine are the result of America taking her eyes off the globe and forgetting that, while the Berlin Wall has come down and the Soviet Union is caput, Russia still exists and arguably is run by a man who'd like to return to a Cold War-esque world.  

The invasion by Russia into Ukraine is not the fault of the U.S., but it is a shame that the focus has been taken off Russia and Putin for so long. Geopolitics is the study of the effects on international politics and international relations, and to say that Russia does not constitute is geopolitical threat, in the 21st century is a foolhardy notion. 

In the 20th century, American leadership held the world together. In the 21st century, American leadership seems to be falling apart. The fault does not fall on just President Obama, but on the changing nature of the world. Yet, the reason for problems like the one in Ukraine is the result of weak leadership from the U.S. The world sees a United States that is often retreating from global leadership, instead of embracing it.

The world needs a strong America. The world needs America to hold the reins. We cannot, nor should we be the world's policemen, but our example must be one for the world to follow. We have been and can still be a powerful force for good. When dealing with a bully - which is what Putin is - someone must stand up and call him out for the world to see.

Steps already taken, such as canceling the G-8 Summit in Sochi and the sanctions and commendations from the rest of the world, are to be applauded. Yet, Putin is cunning.

Putin looks to defy the U.S., and given our past handlings with Syria and Obama's infamous comment on the red line which kept getting moved back, Putin won't take us seriously. The solution to our problems with Russia is not war - but it is first acknowledging that Russia is out there and still exists to counter our every move. 

The 2012 campaign is done and over with, but I must say that while Romney was mocked for calling Russia a geopolitical foe, he was correct in his assessment. 

The U.S. needs backbone when it comes to dealing with Russia and Putin. Weakness is not a virtue, especially in world affairs. In this scenario our best position is to condemn Putin as a bully and isolate Russia economically and politically. Let him stand alone, while the rest of the world rebukes him, but the U.S. must be the nation to lead and call out the bully.  

In writing this I am reminded of a political ad from Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign that showcased the need for the U.S. to be strong against the Soviet Union, and it resonates with our dealing with Russia today. The ad featured footage of a bear (symbolizing the Soviet Union) and the announcer saying, "There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear?"

It's 2014, but we still need to be as strong as the bear.


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