by Glenn Harlan Reynolds
February 18, 2016
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Abandoning the helm and allowing Putin to have his way, Obama has turned the Cold War clock back.
At the Democratic debate last week, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Bernie and Hillary about Hillary’s relationship with Henry Kissinger. And while I’m not a Kissinger fan in particular, I have to give those old-time Cold Warriors credit: Despite the widespread belief from the 1950s through the 1980s that a nuclear World War III was almost inevitable, they managed to avoid it and to produce an outcome where freedom expanded around the world by the end.
Our current generation of foreign-policy leaders isn’t doing quite as well. In fact, as intelligence expert John Schindler writes in the Observer, we seem to be slouching toward World War III now.
Schindler writes that the Russo-Turkish conflict in Syria looks poised to expand:
"As rebel forces defend Aleppo in Stalingrad fashion, the Syrian military, with Russian help, commences a protracted siege of the city, employing massive firepower, which becomes a humanitarian nightmare of a kind not seen in decades, a tragedy that would dwarf the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo. However, any Turkish move to lift that siege, even with international imprimatur, would quickly devolve into all-out war. ...
"Many Western insiders think along similar lines. By letting Mr. Putin get away with whatever he likes in Syria, Obama has created a deeply dangerous situation in the region. By abandoning his infamous Syria “redline” in September 2013, the White House in effect outsourced American policy there to Putin, as I warned at the time, and which the Obama administration, powerless to influence terrible events in Syria, is slowly realizing."
A war between Russia and Turkey would put the United States, and Europe, in an uncomfortable position. Since Turkey remains a NATO ally (though a shakier one than in the past), war between Turkey and Russia could easily suck us in. And if Turkey and Russia went to war while NATO stayed on the sidelines, the NATO alliance would be weakened. (Yes, the NATO treaty technically doesn’t obligate us to support Turkey in a war that Turkey starts, but a reliance on such niceties wouldn’t make NATO look stronger).
Of course, this debacle is just one of many problems. As Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel write in The American Interest, "predators" are testing boundaries all over the world: “From eastern Ukraine and the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, large rivals of the United States are modernizing their military forces, grabbing strategic real estate, and threatening vulnerable U.S. allies. Their goal is not just to assert hegemony over their neighborhoods but to rearrange the global security order as we have known it since the end of the Second World War. ... By degrees, the world is entering the path to war. Not since the 1980s have the conditions been riper for a major international military crisis. Not since the 1930s has the world witnessed the emergence of multiple large, predatory states determined to revise the global order to their advantage — if necessary by force.”
Back during the 2012 presidential debates, Mitt Romney warned of a resurgent Russia. Barack Obama dismissively replied: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back — because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”
Well, now it looks like we have a new Cold War. And don’t just take my word for it. Ask Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who says that the world has slipped into a “new Cold War.” So, despite President Obama’s snark and Clinton and Sanders’ infighting, the question isn’t about what happened in the 1980s. It’s about whether we’ll do as well in the coming decades. At the moment, things don’t look especially promising.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.