- - Sunday, February 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the Olympic flame quenched in Sochi, attention now shifts to other contests where losing participants shed far more than tears of exhaustion.

In flashpoints such as Kiev and Caracas, where liberty hangs in the balance for tens of millions of people, the world watches what the U.S. will do to help, fearful that diminished financial resources and our lack of resolve after many missteps in the Middle East embolden the advance of tyrants.

Pushing the ‘tilt’ button on America’s relations with Russia

Eyes now train on Moscow, waiting to learn President Vladimir Putin’s thoughts about the fate of Ukraine.

Without a financial lifeline comparable to the $15 billion package Russia has put on hold, the Ukrainian economy will melt down, potentially in days. Only the International Monetary Fund could provide a sufficient bailout package, but likely with conditions that Ukrainian taxpayers would find exceedingly burdensome.

On the other hand, Russian aid for Ukraine would come with a price that Kiev protesters likely would be loath to pay — toeing Moscow’s line, integrating with the Russian Federation and rejecting Western alliances.

Mr. Putin’s dangerous alternatives for Ukraine hold broad implications, because there are pockets of ethnic and religious minorities throughout the Russian Federation seeking more autonomy from Moscow and even harbor ambition to break away and form new states.

The dangers for Ukraine’s and Russia’s relations with Western nations seem monumental.

Abandoning the Venezuelan people

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is tamping down dissent, continuing the legacy of the late socialist tyrant Hugo Chavez, who tirelessly fought U.S. initiatives and gave aid and comfort to rogue nations such as Iran.

U.S. silence on Venezuela, which should be a natural ally and has been a longstanding trade partner, is more than simply awkward. Human rights are getting trampled in grievous assaults.

Inaction on Venezuela means that friendly and unfriendly rivals who see an opportunity to advance their interests potentially will support Mr. Maduro while courting other nations close to our porous southern border.

Is America rejecting global leadership at the wrong time?

Once, America was an inspiration for hundreds of millions of persons under totalitarian rule.

Since 2008, the U.S. has steadily retreated from the bold promise articulated by John F. Kennedy in 1961: “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In addition to Ukraine and Venezuela, Iraq and Afghanistan are convulsing in violence amid the Obama administration’s failure to win lasting peace partners in Baghdad and Kabul, and unrest continues in Libya, Egypt and Syria.

Differences with failed states, such as North Korea, remain unresolved.

Yet relations with state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, are said to be improving in the absence of concrete evidence that the U.S. can stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

No American and no U.S. ally will be better off in a global system led by Russia or dictated by Beijing. Nor will any freedom-loving person thrive in chaos resulting as conflicts spread across the globe.

We stand today on dangerous ground: Beneath our feet, geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting, shaking the foundations of the global system and threatening the financial stability of vulnerable workers.

The protests that started 33 years ago in Gdansk, Poland, and spread across the Soviet Union, spurring its demise, are coming to Washington, D.C. It is only a question of time.

Mounting geopolitical and economic instability threaten free peoples and investors everywhere.

Charles Ortel serves as managing director of Newport Value Partners (newportvalue.com), which provides economic research to executives and to investment firms.

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