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As Most of Europe Dawdled, Russia Advanced

It was the United States that helped re-build Europe after World War II. It was the United States that stood firm during the Cold War. Indeed, Americans have provided Europe a great deal of money and, more importantly, national treasure, in defense of freedom.

So why is it that the U.S. taxpayer, for example, remains true most generous financial contributor to NATO? Close to, or just about 25% of its operational budget comes from people like you and me. While I may not agree his vision of American global leadership, the President is correct on one particular point. Europe needs to step up.

Take Ukraine. If Europe continues to dawdle, they’ll have a lot more on their hands in a few years than a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Russian moves on the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and more recently, southeastern Ukraine should have been met with a firmer response. But it never came. Russia learned with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 how far it could push the new global order and, in essence, get away with it. And it will continue, on Russia’s clock and, for now, on Russian terms.

If you have not read Henry Kissinger’s latest op-ed, do so. As only Kissinger can do, he reminds people that the current international system has devolved into one big debating society (emphasis my own):

A third failing of the current world order, such as it exists, is the absence of an effective mechanism for the great powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues. This may seem an odd criticism in light of the many multilateral forums that exist—more by far than at any other time in history. Yet the nature and frequency of these meetings work against the elaboration of long-range strategy. This process permits little beyond, at best, a discussion of pending tactical issues and, at worst, a new form of summitry as “social media” event.

What Kissinger is saying, in essence, is that people talk way too much, but rarely if ever put grand ideas into action. Unless you’re Russia. Russian adventurism in the Ukraine is a natural outgrowth of this political despondency, or curious ambivalence, that seems to have infected Europe the past few decades. They need to shake it off. Fast. Vladimir Putin, for now, has what needs to look like a powerbroker to the people who matter most, his base of support in Russia. The rest, the stuff you and I see on the news, political noise. I think his designs go well beyond the Ukraine. Time will tell.

As Europeans focused on building a massive and undemocratic bureaucracy in Brussels, as well as expanding pork-laden national healthcare systems, programs that do not work, Americans have been at the point of the spear of European defense. Today, it’s not about cutting and running. Far from it. A stronger and bigger NATO may be the answer, and the U.S., if they want us to do it, should help lead it. But Europeans need to step up as well and open up their pocketbooks to increase, or at least meet NATO contributions, as well as expand national defense capabilities of member countries.

Yleem and I have witnessed this devolution in Washington, DC, New York, Paris, and elsewhere. Kissinger is spot on when he says “summitry as social media.” It spills over into the U.S. Congress where the art of Congressional oversight has been replaced with the art of protecting policies and programs that are outdated or may no longer be suited for new realities. Are Americans tired of leading in Europe or the world? I doubt it. However, there are times that Americans feel, rightly so, that Europe has taken advantage of American generosity since the end of World War II. That sentiment needs to change.

Both the Obama Administration and the Congress should articulate a new vision for that part of the world that take in to account new relations and realities; as well as policies that remind the Russian bear that the Cold War is long over. Russian adventurism for domestic political consumption, at the expense of the new Europe, has to stop or there will be consequences. And I do not mean more economic sanctions.



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