The developments in Ukraine have given rise to a very interesting discussion over whether we are on the cusp of a major events that will affect global geopolitics. Some believe that we will return to the bipolar state of the Cold War, while others say that Russia is simply not powerful enough to form a rival pole to the West.
Meanwhile, events in the US are also taking an interesting turn. The debate over whether President Barack Obama is a force to be reckoned with is often expended on facile analyses of his decisions and behavior. Digging a little deeper into the issue reveals that Obama’s personality is not the real issue, but rather the deeper changes that are afoot as evidenced by his foreign policy choices.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a veteran who has held numerous important posts and who served under both George W. Bush and Obama, recently published a fascinating book in which he expresses the realpolitik of a bygone era of American diplomacy. In his book, Gates admits that he had serious misgivings about the US pushing the case for Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO. What he wondered as defense secretary was what would happen if Russia reacted and who would go to defend the former Soviet satellites in the event of aggression from Moscow. He also expresses the abhorrence of realpolitik-minded politicians who think the US must make its military presence felt all over the world, without weighing the benefits and costs.
Gates is clearly referring to people such as former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who got America embroiled in the war in Kosovo for no apparent geopolitical reason, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, who wanted to see American troops in Libya and Syria, and, of course, to the rabid neocons who pushed Bush into the devastating Iraq War. Gates believes that America does not have the strategic advantages it once had and should focus in efforts on Asia, and China in particular, while being extremely cautious about making any military commitments that do not have clear geopolitical benefits.
Gates further reveals much about Israel, suggesting that its current leadership is surreptitiously pushing America toward a war with Iran. Reading his arguments offers abundant explanation as to how we have reached a point of open hostility between Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, signaling a tectonic shift in the way the White House and the Pentagon are dealing with Israeli interests today compared to the past.
Gates also goes on to give an excellent description of the decision-making process in Washington, detailing how lobbies and a fixation with appearances undermine the mechanisms responsible for formulating policy. He also reveals a fact that is little known by the general public – that it is the leadership of the military which is generally the most vehemently opposed to armed interventions of any kind. Maybe this is because they know how devastating the mindless use of a superpower’s strength can be and are much more sensitive to loss of life.