When it comes to Russia’s blatant land grab in Ukraine, Barack Obama is rhetorically all over the map.
Clearly, he didn’t appreciate being called out by his 2012 rival Mitt Romney for his take on Russia’s role in the world when the two debated foreign policy. To prove his point, Obama went out of his way on Monday to reiterate that Russia is still basically no big deal in the international order of things.
Specifically, he downplayed Russia as a “regional power” and claimed again that Russia is not “the No. 1 national security threat.” Instead, he said, “I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
Given that the Russians have already annexed Crimea and continue to amass troops on the eastern border of Ukraine, one must wonder the intelligence the president possesses with respect to the scenario he claims to most fear. Let’s hope he was just engaging in some hyperbole for affect and not because any enormous tragedy is imminent.
Obama went on to say that “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors—not out of strength, but out of weakness.”
The problem with Obama’s assessment here is that if you read recent world history you’ll find that what begins as a “regional threat” can easily turn into a world war.
Take Nazi Germany for example. It could easily be argued (and was at the time) that Adolph Hitler was mostly a serious threat to his immediate neighbors. In fact, at the beginning, Hitler often used arguments quite similar to those of Vladimir Putin today, to gobble up neighboring territories and countries. For a while, the world seemed content to accept those arguments. Granted, they weren’t entirely happy with the situation and tried to diplomatically get Hitler to change his mind, but they did nothing that effectively altered events on the ground.
Then he invaded Poland, and the world’s leaders began to suspect that perhaps this wasn’t as “regional” as it first appeared. By the time Nazi soldiers were goose stepping down the Champs Elysees and bombs started falling on London, it became quite evident that world leaders misjudged the entire situation.
The same could be said for events on other side of the world at that time. In the Pacific, it was argued that what was happening with Japan was a more regional concern. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor quickly dispelled that notion for those who questioned it in the beginning.
Today, in addition to Russia, other countries pose a “regional” threat on their neighbors. Iran is an excellent example. So is North Korea which every few months does something regionally provocative. How concerned should we be with that?
Remember high school world history class and the test question about what started World War I? Recall the answer being the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand. While you probably memorized the answer, did you ever stop to think about the implications of that? Historically, “regional” threats can have far reaching consequences.
Yesterday, Obama gave a thoughtful speech on the situation that seemed somewhat at odds with what he’d said two days before.
Let’s hope at least that the advisor who wrote yesterday’s speech continues to have his ear and not the one who suggested to him on Monday that being flip and dismissive of a “regional threat” is the way forward.