March 6 2014

Our Innocents Abroad: Carter Redux

Charlotte Hays

You almost expect Secretary of State John Kerry to call the Russian—uh—arrival in the Crimea “inappropriate.”

What Kerry actually said—that Russia’s seizure of the Crimea is "not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior"—is pretty close to that.

Meanwhile, here is President Obama’s take on the situation:  

“President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations but I don’t think that is fooling anybody,” Obama said.

Yeah, that's the problem--Putin has the wrong advisers on the niceties of international law.

This is not a post about what the United States should or should not do with regard to Russia’s incursion into the Ukraine—I merely want to take note of how ill-educated, inadequate, and insular our governing elites appear when forced to deal with people very different from themselves.

First, it should be admitted that the Panglossian vision of the world embedded in Secretary Kerry’s and the president’s statements is not entirely without precedent in American history. As Abe Greenwald writes over at the Commentary blog:

Americans occasionally indulge a certain progressive notion about world affairs: that humanity has become so enlightened and sophisticated as to have outgrown its brutal and tragic nature.

The idea that we can transcend our blood-soaked past was behind the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which sought to outlaw war altogether. Eighty-five years and millions of war dead later, it’s also behind Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent comment that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a  “19th century act in the 21st century.” Invasions, you see, belong to that buried thing called history. We’re now in something else.

Unfortunately that something else doesn’t look much better. A Russian strongman is gluing together the pieces of a smashed empire, underwriting biblical slaughter in the Middle East, and standing with a nuclear-aspirant, exterminationist regime.

Doubtless, Putin took Kerry’s characterization as a supreme compliment, an indication that he’s a great man of history and a belated product of Russia’s Golden Age.

It would be interesting to know what Secretary Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov talked about at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The talks are seen as “a diplomatic opportunity to defuse the on-going crisis between Moscow and Kyiv,” which can’t be easy given that Vladimir Putin wants nothing less than the restoration of a Russian empire. Which, in Kerry’s enlightened view, is very un-21st century.

Also addressing the issue of our naifs abroad, Daniel Henninger has a sobering piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning headlined “Putin Carterizes Obama, Totally.” Henninger notes in particular that only a few months after Secretary of State Kerry “ostentatiously” announced, “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” Russia announces that it will henceforth be using military bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for its own navy and to refuel bombers.  

The Ukrainian situation overshadowed other developments this week, including the Israeli announcement that their navy just caught our buddies the Iranians smuggling advanced Syrian-made rockets into the Gaza strip to aid Palestinian guerrillas.

These weapons can strike at a distance of 100 miles and would have caused millions of Israeli’s to live under threat. The intercept came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the U.S., meeting with President Obama, who had just granted an interview in which the talkingest president in American history said that the Palestinian leader wanted peace but warned that time is “running out” for the Israelis to make more concessions.

As events are turning out, it appears that President Obama and Secretary Kerry were the ones Putin was waiting for, to adapt the president's own rhetoric.

Something tells me that before the next three years are over John Kerry and Barack Obama will find to their detriment that the twenty-first century was not the break with all previous human previous history that they fondly believed it to be.

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