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Last April, two months after the Maidan Revolution of Dignity had displaced Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and a few weeks after Vladimir Putin had annexed Crimea, a major player in the unfolding drama of Ukraine called me to talk over the volatile situation. It seemed that Putin, having blithely ignored Russia's treaty obligations by ingesting a chunk of his neighbor's territory, might not stop there. So toward the end of our conversation, my Ukrainian friend asked, "If this gets very bad, can we count on the United States?" To which I could only reply, "I'm mortified to have to say it, but prudence demands that my answer be ‘No' — at least until January 21, 2017."

The 44th President of the United States replaced Pax Americana with a new world disorder. Will the 45th learn from his mistakes? (illustration by Michael Daley)

The foreign policy of President Barack Obama and his two Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, is so close to being a comprehensive catastrophe as to suggest comparisons to the great power meltdown that erased the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary from the chessboard of history a century ago. Of course, there will be more left of the United States when Obama's term of office ends than there was when the Emperor Karl "relinquished every participation in the administration of the state", Habsburg rule in central and south-eastern Europe ceased, and the two small states of Austria and Hungary were left behind; the United States itself is not going to come apart at the seams in the wake of the Obama administration. But very little of the world order of which the United States was the linchpin and guarantor will be left on January 21, 2017. Indeed, there is very little of that post-Cold War order left today.

Vladimir Putin's Russia, a kleptocratic, Mafia-like police state sitting atop a crumbling society, is nonetheless poised to dismantle the fundamental international security architecture that has kept the West safe since 1949. The decisive test may well come over the next few months in the Baltic republics; if Putin, using his now-familiar excuse of ethnic and nationalist solidarity and his now-familiar tactics of the Big Lie and destabilisation by special forces, takes a bite out of Latvia or Estonia, what will Nato do? Despite its solemn obligations under Article 5 of the Nato treaty to regard an attack on one member state as an attack upon all, the most that can be expected from the Obama administration, on its record, will be further economic sanctions; the few European states willing to face down Putin will find no American leadership to follow; Article 5 will thus be rendered null and void; and that will mean the de facto end of history's most successful security alliance — and the abrogation of the victories it won in 1989 and 1991.

On the other side of the globe, China is flexing military muscles to match its economic prowess, enlarging a blue-water navy that will soon be capable of challenging American guarantees of freedom of navigation through some of the world's major maritime choke-points, including the Strait of Malacca. Japan and South Korea, having seen Obama's "pivot to Asia" for the charade it is, are already considering serious rearmament to protect their interests. No Taiwanese who hopes for his country something better than what has been happening in Hong Kong rests easily. North Korea, for its part, remains in thrall to a lunatic with a terrible haircut and nuclear weapons at his disposal, thanks to further American spinelessness and diplomatic failure.

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Tony Sandy
February 24th, 2016
2:02 PM
If Trump gets in and North Korea starts throwing its weight around even more, then what happens? I would rather have Obama doing nothing than Trump doing everything i.e. starting WWIII

Anonymous
December 22nd, 2014
3:12 PM
But Cuba's our friend now, 'cuz the Pope made it so. President and Pope, hand in hand, tell us so. No scuttling, but a warm, happy feeling. Pope Francis said, "Today we are all happy because we have seen two countries, which had moved away from each other for many years, take a step closer yesterday." No broken windows to be seen there, huh, Mr Weigel ....

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