- - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Count me among those — a dwindling minority, I’m afraid — who think that politics should end at the water’s edge. No one, Republican or Democrat, ought to take pleasure at the spectacle of America’s foreign policies failing and the perception of America as a hobbled giant.

That is, self-evidently, what we’re seeing: Russian boots are on the ground in Ukraine. North Korea is firing missiles. Iran’s negotiators are playing high-stakes poker, while the U.S.-led side doesn’t seem to know a flush from a straight.

In Syria, Iran’s proxies confront al Qaeda forces (forces the administration two years ago congratulated itself for having defeated) while the much-ballyhooed agreement to remove chemical weapons has stalled.

Hard-won gains in Iraq have been squandered. There’s a real possibility that the Taliban will reclaim Afghanistan once American troops depart. Venezuela is in turmoil. China is acting the bully in Asia.

As threats and crises multiply, what is President Obama doing? He’s proposing to reduce the size and strength of America’s military to pre-2001 levels.

Can anyone still regard the United States as a reliable ally? More consequentially, is America still seen as a formidable adversary?

Mr. Obama’s critics call him ambivalent and indecisive. Perhaps, but those are symptoms. The underlying malady is his conception of America’s role in the world.

Late last week, responding to developments in Ukraine, the president said: “The United States will stand with the international community.”

He advised Russia to be part of “the international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward.” He said that would be “in the interest of the international community.”

News flash: The “international community” is a figment of the imagination — right up there with Batman, Wonder Woman, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

It’s also the key that opens the door to a room filled with fashionable fictions. Among them: that there are “universal” values and principles, that the world’s most powerful political figures are, just like us, “rational actors” who seek peace, favor freedom, tolerance and democracy, and believe that diplomacy based on “confidence-building” and reciprocal compromises leads to “conflict resolution” — an outcome they’d prefer to shedding blood and achieving victory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given lip service to such warm and fuzzy ideas. In an op-ed published by The New York Times last September, he appealed for “mutual trust,” endorsed “shared success” and laid out the steps the “international community” should take to keep “hope alive.”

He added: “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

Is it not now — at long last — clear that Mr. Putin was just spinning us? North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar Assad, China’s Xi Jinping, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan also are among those who sometimes talk like Berkeley professors, but in truth practice raw, 19th-century machtpolitik.

In theory, the idea of a “post-American” world — a global order featuring “shared leadership” and even “shared sovereignty” — sounds lovely. In practice, it can only mean global disorder — a Hobbesian state of nature in which the most rapacious and brutal regimes do whatever is necessary to establish their hegemony over whichever regions they covet.

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