Like it or not, the world is a dangerous place, and getting more so. None of the portents look good. Vladimir Putin not so subtly says, in ever louder voice, that he’s in charge of events now, and the rest of the world should just get used to it. When Vlad roars, the rest of the world squeaks.
He was in louder voice than ever Thursday, reminding a televised forum in Moscow that his parliament has authorized him to use force “if necessary” in eastern Ukraine, which he called, for the first time, “New Russia.”
Whether portent or not, leaflets were distributed at synagogues in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk ordering Jews over 16 to register with the Commissioner for Nationalities and pay a $50 registration fee by May 3. A leaflet is an unusual and unlikely medium to announce a such a bold government decree, and it was not clear where the leaflets were authorized, and by whom. But there they definitely were, enough to chill to the bone anyone who has ever read a history book. The more things change in Eastern Europe, the more things remain as they ever were.
The roaring of the master of the new Russia and the squeaking from the mice in the West mocks the brave talk from Barack Obama and his men, with the latest of the dozen or so warnings to Mr. Putin to behave himself. But the grim Russian and the rest of the world have his number, just when bold and imaginative leadership in the West has vanished.
“Whatever one may think of Putin’s moral posture, which is deplorable,” says Paul Johnson, the eminent British historian, “he is regarded as strong, decisive and vigorous, pushing Russia’s interests at all times, with considerable success. In contrast, Obama is written off as weak and irresolute, with no clear short- or long-term aims. He gets high marks for rhetoric, but scores zero for action. In short, he’s a windbag.”
Tough stuff, and right on the mark. President Obama is what the ranchers on the plains call “all hat and no cattle.” Mr. Putin continues to play him like a cheap guitar (or maybe a zither), and the president continues on his merry way, off nearly every day to raise money to elect Democrats who will applaud as he dismantles American arms, strangles the domestic economy with a growing tangle of red tape, and fritters away American influence.
John Kerry, the secretary of state, met his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts and the high commissioner of the European Union on Thursday in Geneva, and they all agreed to strongly condemn “and reject” all expressions of “extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.” That’s nice, but nobody half-awake thinks it means very much. Mr. Putin no doubt agrees that seizing someone else’s country is not nice, either, but he’s not giving anything back.
The mischief in Ukraine is making everybody in Eastern Europe nervous, and why wouldn’t it? The Polish defense minister, visiting the Pentagon on Thursday, said the “destabilization” of Ukraine reminds the Polish people that they can only defend themselves against the Russians by sticking close to NATO, the United States and their own army.
“The events of the recent months and the aggressive policy taken by Russia made Poles realize that things must not be taken for granted … we are making a significant effort to modernize our armed forces.”
Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense, made the usual noises echoing President Windbag, citing the NATO charter, that “Article 5 is clear than an act of aggression against one member of NATO is an attack on all members.” Speechifying like this naturally evokes the aroma of gunpowder and portents of the disaster that nobody wants. This grim moment in time could have been avoided if the leader of the free world — the role Mr. Obama asked for twice but clearly doesn’t want and a role he doesn’t know how to play — had learned to lead from the front instead of his preference for “leading from behind.” (He may think he’s Ginger Rogers, but he’s not.) We understand he’s bored with the job. We’re bored with him, too.
Leadership is hard. Playing at leadership is easy. Confronting an aspiring tyrant like Mr. Putin is hard. Devoting presidential attention to raising campaign money, working on his putting and making sure women get all the condoms and abortions they want is easy. And that makes it easy for Mr. Putin to rearrange the power settings in a world ripe for domination.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.