I had a really illuminating discussion with Colin Jenkins of the Hampton Institute about Russia. Vladimir Putin has aggressively taken a country that was emasculated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and made it quite clear that he doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks.
There is a very real possibility that, say a decade from now, Russia could be the world’s hegemon. This will not come from ever taking the United States head on – although he came strangely close to that during the Syria gambit – but will come from a receding United States. While the use of drones by this administration does show that President Obama is cynically patching up a wounded empire instead of finding a new way, it also illustrates that the American appetite for wars abroad is very much wounded.
The United States is a wounded hulk, an empire in decline, a wasteland that will never again be the magnet of immigrants from around the world that it was. It enjoys daily mass shootings, a depressed economy and a confused body politic. None of these things are good for America’s standing – one pastor at my church noted that she had heard many students abroad tell her that they are scared of coming to the US as this country has earned a reputation for being a mass murder zone.
Putin’s Russia, meanwhile, has earned the place of both the Winter Olympics, which were in Sochi last year, and the World Cup in 2018. Such events don’t matter as much as the use of force in geopolitics and that is the critical definer in why there is a real possibility that Russia could be the world’s remaining hegemon.
Only a handful of developing countries still use military force with regularity and primary among them are Russia and the United States. The critical difference, in 2014, between the two isn’t that the country’s military capabilities but their country’s stomachs for conflict. While Putin may be seen as a despot by much of the world, his approval rating during hisassault on Ukraine was 86percent in Russia.While Obama failed not just in getting international support but support at home for military action in Syria, Putin has gotten his country involved in at least five wars since he became president. That is a lot for a country of only 143 million people.
It is very doubtful that the stomach for empire will resurge – the vast military industrial complex that the United States created will most likely end up being used on its own people through the militarization of police. The fall of the United States comes not from an enemy attack but from its own incoherence and self-destruction. The only country on earth that can still use force with confidence is Putin’s Russia – and he shows no sign of abetting.