Sensing America's international weakness, Putin seizes opportunity

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What is the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Nothing.

I know this might disappoint many readers, but the truth is, Putin is acting rationally based upon his cost-benefit analysis of the status of balance of power politics in the international arena.

What has led to the current crisis, in which one country can essentially “peacefully invade” another country and partially annex it? Several causes must be considered.

THE FIRST IS THE United States’ response to seemingly democratic revolutions spanning the globe in the past three years. Starting with the Arab Spring, the United States has supported popular overthrows of governments where the people had problems with the governing regime. Even though many of these regimes were less than “legitimate” in their authority, by the United States supporting popular uprisings, it sends a message: It is OK to overthrow a government if one is not happy with it.

This is a dangerous position to have. In fact, one can assume the U.S. government would not support this type of policy if it occurred on its own territory. Governments, for better or worse, provide stability in the international arena. Overthrowing these governments creates chaos and instability. Worse, one can never be sure that the new government will be better than the old. Any country that participated in the Arab Spring revolutions evinces this point.

It also is worth noting that popular revolutions are something that our Founding Fathers worried about. One reason our sacred Constitution was formed was in response to what the Founders called popular tyranny, or tyranny of the majority, to echo Alexis de Tocqueville. In their case, it was Shay’s Rebellion that inspired amending the Articles of Confederation, resulting in the Constitution that provides us with our current constitutional structure: a limited, federal, democratic republic.

LIKE OUR FOUNDING Fathers, Putin fears popular tyranny (he prefers the authoritarian type). When the Ukrainian people protested its governing regime last month, it became clear that the United States would support the overthrow of the government. This caused concern for Putin, who believes in stability and a Russian sphere of influence more than anything else. He also sees a window of opportunity to regain prominence of power within the international arena. The United States’ influence is waning. It appears weaker than in the past, and President Obama, in an attempt to reverse the direction he believes President George W. Bush put the United States on, has decided to handle the world in a highly diplomatic and prudent manner. He wishes to rely on international norms and institutions and global alliances to resolve problems. Here, force is the last resort, and in many cases, it is ruled out of the question – period. He behaves according to how he wishes the world to be, rather than how the world is.

The problem with this is, sometimes, a powerful state must have a legitimate threat of force to bargain with. The United States has many treaties and agreements where if its friends are threatened, it comes to their aid. This is its agreement with NATO, and with other territories around the world – i.e., Taiwan. But with the United States’ seemingly negligent responses to international crises such as the civil war in Syria; the attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya; ambiguous commitments to Israel; and an apparent overabundance of caution concerning Iran and North Korea; the United States’ credibility has been downgraded.

THIS IS PERHAPS the most important factor influencing Putin’s actions. Putin sees the United States on the decline, and he wants Russia to regain its international prominence. Thus, the rational move is to take a calculated risk to increase your power at the expense of the declining international actor. It is a brilliant move by Putin.

What can the United States do about it now? Nothing. It is too late. The world sees that Obama is too hesitant to act with much andreia in the face of essential, though nonexistential, threats to U.S. security interests. In an attempt to reverse course from the Bush administration, where the world hated but feared U.S. hegemony, Obama has decided to act in a manner to decrease hatred for the United States – a noble and fine policy, but in a realist world, a quite damaging one as well if not executed perfectly.

Now, with a weak and pathetic response to the Russian takeover of Crimea, we must ask: What will Putin do next? How much further will he try to extend his boundaries and Russia’s power? Further, what will other countries do with the fact that the United States may no longer take every measure necessary to defend its allies? We may see a domino effect of aggressive annexation.

Although I personally admire Obama’s intent with U.S. foreign policy, he must remember that we still live in an anarchical global order – one in which power rules. And in this type of environment, one must be prepared to act as the executive: the executive in a Machiavellian sense. Prudence is a critical component of foreign policy, but sometimes prudence requires a grand display of force. A display of this type does not demand military action, but it certainly does require more than sanctioning several dozen individuals and perhaps a few institutions connected to Putin. Why so few? One can assume sanctions were so limited so as not to worsen the situation.

BUT WHEN AN aggressive state already disrespects another state, caution-as-prudence becomes negligence. It smells of weakness. One must remember Niccolò Machiavelli’s grand remarks on love, respect and fear: concerning whether it is better to be loved or feared, I interpret Machiavelli as hoping that one can be both love and feared. However, he is clear on one point: If one cannot be loved and feared, it is better to be feared.

Obama certainly has achieved his intent of making the United States seem friendlier in the international arena, but he has done this without increasing the world’s love for it. Now the United States is in a situation where the world does not love it, but it also does not fear it.

This is a sure sign of its future decline in power politics. It is up to the reader to determine whether this is for better or worse.

(The writer is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Regents University.)

Comments (12) Add comment
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owensjef3
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owensjef3 03/30/14 - 05:38 am
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Oh boy, I couldn't even read
Unpublished

Oh boy, I couldn't even read the whole column , did he even mention Iraq or the fact that the North Koreans exploded a bomb during the previous Administration.

Bodhisattva
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Bodhisattva 03/30/14 - 06:43 am
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Dr. Albert obviously has his PhD in doublespeak
Unpublished

Bloodthirsty dictators that rule in in "less than legitimate" regimes receive our support, but we shouldn't give them our support since it sends the message that people should rise up and overthrow oppressive illegitimate regimes? We place sanctions in place and negotiate with our allies (who are extremely reliant on Russia for much of their energy supply) to do the same and should look strong and conduct a "grand display of force", but this display,"does not demand military action"? Dr. Albert is talking out of both sides of his mouth and uttering pure nonsense. We need to walk, but not touch the ground. We need to swim, but not get wet. A totally worthless column. I suggest Dr. Albert immediately sign up for the military so when we bluster and get a reaction, he can be on the front lines and be a part of the, "grand display of force".

edcushman
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edcushman 03/30/14 - 08:53 am
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bod, it is obvious that you
Unpublished

bod, it is obvious that you will defend worthless empty in the WH no matter what. Obama is an embarrassment to this country but then what should we expect from a community organizer?

ymnbde
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ymnbde 03/30/14 - 09:05 am
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an excellent article

I hope Mr. Albert writes more
"He behaves according to how he wishes the world to be,
rather than how the world is."
yes, O does this on almost every issue
but he is quite a Machiavellian campaigner
and user of domestic power... the IRS and O'care certainly show that
history shows that when America is weak, the world becomes chaotic
and one tiny mistake, such as a wrong turn by an archduke's chauffeur or a delusional weakling's "peace in our time" proclamation
can put the whole world into war
and O has put the world in that situation
our own media has woven O a wonderful new wardrobe and proclaimed his intellect to be of wonderful quality
but the rest of the world isn't so hopelessly stupid

ymnbde
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ymnbde 03/30/14 - 09:13 am
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O bod, when our heroes are shown to be mere mortals

and not a great and powerful O'z
it can be quite disturbing
so far O has done nothing more than make Russians ineligible
for extra bonus miles on their Capital One cards
and the time for action, as Mr. Albert wrote, has passed
Russia needed preventative medicine
and our O is not quite a doctor
even though tv plays him for one
but the world knows what is in his wallet
(his selfie with the blonde Danish chick)

deestafford
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deestafford 03/30/14 - 09:51 am
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Excellent column;however, I disagree with one statement...

Excellent column; however, I disagree with one statement and that has to do with admiring Obama's foreign policy intentions. His foreign policy intentions are to weaken the US and bring it down to, if not below, other countries internationally.

You are right when you say Putin sees weaknesses and encourages him to reconstitute the old USSR or as much of it as he can.

Obama has been on the wrong side in every foreign policy crisis he has faced. As stated, he sees the world as he wants it to be rather than how it is and that is the major fallacy of the left in the US. That is why we have the large problems we have with Islamics in the world today. The left was willing to overthrow the Shan of Iran and replace him with a "peace loving" Muslim cleric. That embolden the entire Muslim world which had been held at bay for many, many decades.

Our support of a ruler should be based on one thing and one thing only: does he support America? If the answer is "yes" we back him. If the answer is "no" we get rid of him and place someone in there who does.
Democracy is mob rule and it is shown to be that in every country who tries it.

swcohen
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swcohen 03/30/14 - 10:18 am
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Don't take offence, Dee...

I really enjoy reading your posts. It's like Archie Bunker were alive and among us again.

I'm so very thankful that you're not in charge of anything important.

dichotomy
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dichotomy 03/30/14 - 11:18 am
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And now that Putin has shown

And now that Putin has shown the world what Obama is made of, mostly mouth and no backbone, I'm thinking the Chinese are probably already discussing Taiwan's fate along with those disputed islands off of Japan and the Philippines. And old Kim Jung-un probably thinks it would be a good time to take South Korea too.

Sometimes you fight a fire just to keep the embers from starting other fires. I'm not saying we should have started a shooting war....but we should have taken the STRONGEST measures to sanction Russia's economy. What Obama did was make a joke.

ymnbde
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ymnbde 03/30/14 - 11:20 am
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oh, swcohen, you intended offense

be adult enough to back it up
and Archie was a creation of the left to represent conservatives in an untruthful manner
aif only Neville Chamberlain had people such as Mr Stafford responding in kind to his inane ignorance
but offend away, swchohen... the words and actions of you and your fellow leftists have born fruit... and conservatives don't need to create a fictional Archie Bunker to show how bad you really are

Darby
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Darby 03/30/14 - 11:42 am
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Hey, hey, hey.....

That's the ultimate in irony... Bod accusing someone else of doublespeak.

Well, maybe irony is not the word for it. After all, it was predictable wasn't it?

Darby
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Darby 03/30/14 - 11:45 am
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Anyway....

maybe it's not as much about "sensing America's international weakness" as it is about sensing America's internal weakness.

We've become, in the last five years, a ship of state without a rudder and no grownup at the helm.

harley_52
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harley_52 03/30/14 - 01:57 pm
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Excellent Letter...

...by Dr. Albert and some mighty fine comments too, especially from @deestafford with whom I pretty much agree, but for the notion that it was the Shah of Iran with the clerics. Remember, it wasn't the Sheites who attacked us on 9/11/01, it was the Sunnis. While world domination is a fundamental tenet of Islam, it's generally Sunnis who have been trying to achieve it right away, rather than waiting for immigration and birth rates to accomplish it over time.

The United States has lost two wars to the muslims so far and have stirred and emboldened them in the process. Putin has the same problems we do as regards radical islamists, the difference is that he understands how to deal with them, we don't.

As a Nation, we are far weaker now than at any time in my lifetime (I was born just after WWII). What makes it particularly disturbing now is that we have a President who is purposefully making us weaker as part of the "fundamental transformation" he promised.

Whether we'll wake up in time to stop it becomes more and more doubtful all the time.

owensjef3
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owensjef3 03/30/14 - 03:25 pm
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Where do they get this stuff
Unpublished

Where do they get this stuff from.

deestafford
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deestafford 03/30/14 - 04:11 pm
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swcohen, No offense taken. Just trying to do my part and...

swcohen, No offense taken. Just trying to do my part and be one of the many beacons of truth shinning to the ignorant (along with a few stupids who can't be fixed) trying to shed light on the evils of the statists and Marxists trying to destroy our way of life.:)

edcushman
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edcushman 03/30/14 - 07:03 pm
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"Just trying to do my part
Unpublished

"Just trying to do my part and be one of the many beacons of truth shinning to the ignorant (along with a few stupids who can't be fixed) trying to shed light on the evils of the statists and Marxists trying to destroy our way of life.:)"
Well said dee

gargoyle
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gargoyle 03/30/14 - 08:10 pm
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Lets not forget how our State

Lets not forget how our State Department's ineptitude and incompetence under this administration have sabotaged the prospects for peace around the world .

RSHouck3
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RSHouck3 04/29/14 - 10:21 am
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True but Incomplete

While this is a good start, it ignores the legacy of 2 wars of choice (OK, perhaps only one, but the other one got forgotten for 5-6 years and then changed its purpose) which lost the US all its post-9-11 solidarity and international good will. The wars were paid for by loans from China. Then the problem was compounded by an economic collapse we have not yet recovered from. FURTHERMORE, the EU countries are falling all over themselves looking for reasons to accept Putin's new world order.

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