Why Russia is eating our lunch in Ukraine

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen what looks to be a dangerous re-ignition of the Cold War.  In one corner, we have the crafty and shirtless Russian Premier (I mean President) Putin who, in response to the overthrow of his minion in Kiev, seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine with blinding speed and without firing a shot.  In the other corner, we have a feckless and dithering EU and an American President that seems to have been caught on his heels and is utterly out of his depth when it comes to strategy.

Rather than jump on the armchair general bandwagon and shout from the sidelines what should be done here, I wanted to point out why I think it is happening.  Not from a geopolitical perspective, mind you, but from a philosophical one.  Think back to the original cold war, the battle of ideologies between capitalism and communism.  Why did the Communists lose?  It helps to think of it as a game of poker.  The Soviets had very good players; some would argue better than ours, given that they were able to stay in the game as long as they did.  But communism, with its emphasis on control, coercion, and the primacy of the collective, was invariably a terrible hand.  After all, if it was such a good idea, then why did it have to be forced on people?  Conversely, capitalism represents free enterprise, liberty, and the primacy of the individual.  We had the better hand, i.e., the superior ideology and, more importantly, the moral authority that came with it.  We had a full house, and, while the Russians had a great poker face, all they could ever muster was a busted flush.

Fast forward to today.  One of the reasons we’re losing the battle of international public opinion with the Russians is because we have weakened our own hand by lurching away from our Constitutional principles espousing limited government, a laissez-faire economy, and rejection of foreign adventurism.  We’ve tarnished our credibility and are now subject to catcalls of “hypocrisy!” by our adversaries.  It’s not a coincidence that the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) that this administration used as justification for intervention in Libya and wanted to use in Syria is the same doctrine that Putin used in Georgia in 2008 and is using in Ukraine now.  By embracing a doctrine that could be twisted and lawyered so much as to justify intervention pretty much anywhere at any time for any reason, we condone that behavior by other nations.

Observe the massive increase in the size of government and dependence on welfare programs over the past 5 years here in America.  More Americans are receiving some sort of government assistance now than ever before.  Further, as laws and regulations pile higher with each passing Congress (they need to “do something,” remember?), actual innovation and productivity give way to what anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs,” which are reminiscent of the make-work jobs of the Soviet era.  Inventors and scientists and innovators are supplanted by bureaucrats, actuaries, and middle management.  Such an environment breeds lethargy and deadens the spirit.  This is an unprecedented move toward the very ideology of collectivism and centralized government control that we thought we vanquished 25 years ago.

Bottom line, the more we drift leftward toward a statist Euro-socialist model, the more we degrade our economic might, the idea of American exceptionalism, and the moral authority that comes with being the torch-bearer for the free world.  Once that is gone, we become “just another country.”  And that torch?  It sits atop the Statue of Liberty.  It’s time we remember why it was sent to us.