Crimea and American Decline

Crumpled American flag. 2008.

As the crisis unfolds in Ukraine, with Vladimir Putin attempting to  annex Crimea in a manner similar to Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the 2008 Georgian war, right-wing Americans are finding a way to blame President Obama. The assertion, which has dominated U.S. cable news, is that Obama’s lack of global leadership has allowed these events to take place. It’s ridiculous, of course.

The Euromaidan revolution, and the Russian-backed counterrevolution, have occurred for their own domestic reasons, separate from Western meddling. Why is this causing so much anger, then?

Is it because “blame Obama” is the order of the day for many conservatives? That is part of it. But more broadly, it arises from a desperate need to believe that America is still the world’s preeminent global power.

The hidden opinion here is that if the United States was stronger, it could have dissuaded Putin from taking military action. That has a rhetorical appeal, because many Americans find something appealing in the idea that their country was on Putin’s mind when he ordered the Crimean invasion. It’s a bit tragic. Americans are so used to being the center of the story, that many of them desperately need to blame Obama for this not being the case.

The fact is that the United States has been a secondary actor throughout the entire crisis. It began with grassroots protests against local and Russian domination which, got channeled in a demand for EU integration. Then, it included a reaction by Putin and his Ukrainian allies against the revolution in Kiev through a staging ground in Crimea. Putin felt emboldened by what he perceived to be a Western inability to stop him, but that isn’t the United States specifically. As Ben Judah argues, it is more the result of wider global processes and how a new global order has developed since the end of the Cold War.

This has become something of a formula these past few years. Personally, I even wonder if the continued progressive assertion that the Kiev revolution was an engineered fascist coup is a part of it. There is almost a sense of disbelief at the idea that an entire series of global events can progress with little direct American involvement whatsoever.

It makes sense, in an irrational way. If we accept that events like the Ukrainian revolution and its fallout occurred without the United States at the center of the story, then that means that it’s possible. That may be too frightening for American conservatives to admit.


Photograph courtesy of Kyle Wegner. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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