Ukraine actually straddles all three of these trends. The revolution there happened because the Ukrainian government was induced by Russia, which wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, into pulling out of a trade agreement with the EU — an agreement favored by the many Ukrainians focused on building prosperity. This split has also triggered talk of separatism by the more Russian-speaking and Russian-oriented eastern part of Ukraine.
So what is to be done?
The world is learning that the bar for US intervention abroad is being set much higher. This is due to a confluence of the end of the Soviet Union’s existential threat, the experience of investing too many lives and at least US$2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan to little lasting impact, the US’ rising energy independence, the intelligence successes in preventing another Sept. 11-style terror attack and the realization that to fix what ails the most troubled countries in the world of disorder is often beyond the US’ skill set, resources or patience.
In the Cold War, policymaking was straightforward. There was “containment.” It described what to do and at almost any price.
Today, Obama’s critics say he must do “something” about Syria, which is understandable. Chaos there can come around to bite other nations. If there is a policy that would fix Syria, or even just stop the killing there, in a way that was self-sustaining, at a cost the US could tolerate and not detract from all the things the nation needs to do at home to secure its own future, I’m for it.
However, the US should have learned some lessons from its recent experience in the Middle East — First, how little is understood about the social and political complexities of the countries there; second, that military and diplomatic pressure can, at considerable cost, stop bad things from happening in these countries but cannot, by themselves, make good things happen; and third, that when nations try to make good things happen they run the risk of assuming the responsibility for solving future problems.