It’s been almost a week and I am still puzzled by President Barack Obama’s commencement address at West Point on May 28—and I’m even more puzzled by his interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR. But I’m not going to analyze how Obama views American leadership, nor will I argue what U.S. foreign policy should be. This is not my piece of cake. Besides, being a Russian citizen, I feel that it would be inappropriate to deliberate on what America’s interests are and how Washington should defend them. However, I would like to offer a few comments on what President Obama said on an area that I hail from, and one that I hope I understand: Ukraine and Russia.
The Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crimea have knocked down the post-Cold War order, and we’ve entered this époque of turmoil on President Obama’s watch. Robert Kagan, in his brilliant, breathtaking analysis of our current “Time of Trouble” and the evolution of American foreign policy, wrote that today we may see “a transition into a different world order or into a world disorder of kind not seen since the 1930s.” Meanwhile, President Obama, in his West Point remarks, gives the impression that he believes that America still exercises successful global leadership, and that the world, though irritating at certain points and times, is still quite manageable. Let’s quote several of the things he said about the Ukrainian drama, and I’ll respond to each in turn:
Obama: “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.”
What I see, rather, is an incredibly successful Kremlin attempt to prevent Russia’s isolation. True, Putin was banned, apparently temporarily, from the G-8, and key Western leaders ignored the Sochi Olympics and a high-level meeting. But there are no signs that Putin suffered from these slights. On the contrary, he continues to keep in touch with Merkel and Hollande, apparently enjoying the German Chancellor’s attempts to persuade him to behave. Moreover, the Kremlin has succeeded in broadening its international support base: It has made its own pivot to China (and even tried to cozy up to Japan, with the latter’s apparent consent); and it has also won applause from the global Left-Right International, which hates America and the European Union. Moreover, soon Putin, on the invitation of French President Hollande, will celebrate D-Day in Normandy in the company of other Western leaders. Is this what isolation looks like? ...