The Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked strong reactions across the world, from empathetic solidarity with the Ukrainian people to crass anti-Russian bigotry. Looking to ride the wave of both sentiments is a domestic foreign policy establishment that is eager to restore the U.S.’s global standing and sense of historic purpose — and perhaps their own soiled reputations after two decades of a disastrous “global war on terror.”
“The post-9/11 war on terror period of American hubris, and decline, is now behind us,” declared the Obama administration’s former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “We’ve been trying to get to a new era for a long time. And now I think Putin’s invasion has necessitated an American return to the moral high ground.”
For the veteran foreign affairs reporter George Packer, Vladimir Putin’s war should jolt Americans out of the melancholy “realism” of a declining superpower and remind us of “a truth we didn’t want to see: that our core interests lie in the defense of [democratic and liberal] values.”
Then there is former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who revealed more than he intended when he declared that “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has ended Americans’ 30-year holiday from history.”
Only a Pentagon bureaucrat could so easily dismiss the epochal events of recent years: a pandemic, an economic meltdown, an uprising for Black lives, and the acceleration of rising temperatures that threaten to destroy this era of human civilization. Sure, you can picture Gates saying, that stuff is kind of important, but a land war in Eurasia? Now that’s real history.
But there’s a common and depressing framework shared by Gates, Packer and even Rhodes, who once memorably described the Beltway foreign relations officialdom as “the Blob” which the rest of the Obama administration was trying to disrupt.
The U.S. has had ample opportunities in recent years, under Democratic and Republican administrations, to lead the way in defending liberal values and taking the moral high ground on such pivotal issues around the world as vaccine access, migrant rights and renewable energy conversion. Yet these centrist Democrats only seem to envision U.S…