Looking back on the events of the last few weeks, I found myself wondering if there’s a Russian word for Lebensraum. For those who have an appreciation of the history of World War II — I’m not sure how modern progressive high school history texts might refer to it, if at all — the parallels between the Nazi’s territorial expansion and Russia’s recent actions in Crimea are striking and more than a little terrifying.
It’s not simply the bold aggression, which — like Germany’s behavior towards its neighbors in the 1930s — hearkens back to the way nations acted prior to the Congress of Vienna, but also the inadequate and utterly unprepared response of the West.
It might simply be one of those peculiarities of history that will repeat ad infinitum regardless of the warnings. Following the Holocaust, cries of never again resonated throughout the West.
Yet, a scant three decades later, western indifference allowed Pol Pot to ravage Cambodia just as the Soviet Union, head of the most murderous ideology in the history of mankind, was reaching its global apex. Three more decades, and America’s misinterpretation of the end of history left the country’s national security apparatus so unprepared in the face of clear threats that 3,000 citizens ended up buried under the rubble of the Twin Towers and Pentagon.
Now, here we are again, witnessing an ominous international development that signals the rise of an expansionary Russia. And not only do we find ourselves woefully underequipped for an appropriate response, but also chasing policies that will exacerbate our weakness.
What should America’s response include? I mean, beyond telling a few mid-level Russian bureaucrats they can’t visit Disneyland? Well, re-arming the American military might be in order. The U.S. naval carrier fleet, the one arm that can actually project force, is facing another potential reduction even as China quadruples its own carrier fleet. American land and air forces aren’t faring much better under President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the man Obama hired to dismantle American armed forces.
The series of defense cuts to which the administration has subjected the American military is perhaps the most ill-conceived policy in a forest of ill-conceived policies generated by this president.
Don’t get me wrong. The sequester, also known as the budget control act, though perhaps artless, has been a net positive in keeping the growth of government at least partially restrained while in the hands of an executive who wants to pump it full of steroids. The sequester allowed some easing of the deficit and even some growth of the economy despite the governmental pressures arrayed against it. But you don’t solve a household budgeting issue by cutting back on your mortgage payments any more than you credibly solve the nation’s fiscal problems by abrogating the government’s first responsibility.
A realistic and far-sighted energy policy is another area in which the United States could affect some order on the world scene to American advantage. Specifically, de-controlling liquefied natural gas exports as a start. Natural gas prices in the U.S. are extraordinarily low due to the vast amounts now recovered, which is a large part of the reason economic activity has ground to a near-halt in Western Colorado, although one hastens to notice gas is still being drilled for in other, less economically oppressive and federally owned places in the nation.
Meanwhile, gas prices are significantly higher in Asia and Europe. In a sane trading environment, this would be called a “market” — all the more so considering natural gas is the choke chain Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps around the neck of Europe.
Instead of beefing up defenses and establishing a strategic energy policy, the U.S. takes the European route — slashing the military and redirecting the savings into large, inefficient and counter-productive social programs that do nothing but ensure a steady supply of recipients and grow public bureaucracy beyond sustainability.
We focus not on ways to leverage our incredible natural resource wealth, but instead try our damnedest to suppress it through pseudo-scientific bans and moratoriums, ironically done in the name of environmental protection while the Russians, who couldn’t give a whit about environmental stewardship, happily fill the void.
There is a smugness that affluent societies develop over time, one that assumes the old rules no longer apply — or, more aptly, that new ones of our enlightened making do. No doubt they should. But wishful thinking and warm fuzzy thoughts are no replacement for realistic policy, as the ideologically inspired genocides of the 20th century scream for us to remember.