The ongoing crises in Syria and Ukraine are not limited to their own borders – Russia has its own stake in both conflicts, and its agenda is hardly aligned with the West’s. But President Obama told reporters last week that he does not view developments though an outdated lens.
“I don’t think this is a competition between the United States and Russia. I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine,” he said. “Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”
This came up on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, featuring a panel in which Bill Kristol, of all people, was brought on to offer an expert view on foreign policy. This perspective stood out for me:
“So, look; it’s nice for President Obama to say it’s not ‘a Cold War chessboard.’ I don’t know why he says that with some disdain. That was not an ignoble thing for us to play on that chessboard for 45 years. We ended up winning that Cold War.“And I do think Putin thinks he’s playing chess. He thinks he’s playing even a rougher game than chess and we have to be able to match it.”
What I found fascinating about this was Kristol’s candor. In effect, the president reminded the world last week to stop clinging to a Cold War mentality that no longer applies. A few days later, true to form, Kristol made a Sunday show appearance to complain – he likes the Cold War mentality and wants to keep it around, whether it makes sense or not.
It was a reminder that for many on the right, viewing international events through a Cold War lens isn’t just preferable, it’s cause for alarm when U.S. leaders disagree.
Back in August 2008, there was a regional conflict between Russia and Georgia, and in the midst of his presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared it the first “serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War.”
Between the end of the Cold War and August 2008, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq; there were two major conflicts in the Balkans; there were multiple crises in Israel; there were some awfully tense moments with North Korea; there were crises in Rwanda and Darfur; and among other things, there was 9/11 itself. But for McCain, none of them constituted the kind of serious international crisis that the Russian-Georgian conflict represented.
And so it came as no surprise when McCain announced last week that he believes Putin might try to seize some part of Ukraine once the Olympics are over, presumably through some kind of invasion.
McCain and Kristol haven’t explicitly asked for someone to bring them a Cold War chessboard, but they’re getting closer.