As Russia continues its unabated takeover of Ukraine today (with "secret soldiers" wearing no Russian army markers--but using all Russian military equipment) Conservatives are bashing President Obama for not standing up to Vladimir Putin. By all accounts, the 90-minute phone conversation over the weekend between the two heads of state consisted of Putin putting Obama in his place--stating that Russia will do whatever it so chooses in Ukraine to "protect its interests".
While the sight of an American President being treated like a lapdog dismays some of us, for the majority in the US, that is exactly what they are looking for. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll finds the vast majority of Americans--65%--believe the US should NOT take the lead when it comes to international affairs. That compares to 49% of people who held that world view after the 9/11 attacks.
Americans have long been isolationists. In his farewell speech, President George Washington warned of becoming entangled in European wars and affairs. The two oceans separating us from most of the other world powers gave us a certain sense of security--as any attempt to attack us from the outside would require vast resources and effort. But as technology has made the world smaller, our enemies only get closer.
Pearl Harbor and 9/11 have shown that oceans are no longer a real barrier to attack. The rise of Fascism and Communism in Europe and Asia--along with the proliferation of militant Islam in nearly every other part of the world shows how lack of American influence in a region can lead to the vacuum being filled by those who seek to do us--and millions of others--harm.
Those of us who like to study 20th century European history can find plenty of similarities between the current Ukrainian situation and that of the Sudetenland area of the Czech Republic and Austria of the 1930's. Back then, a German-speaking minority in those sovereign nations "demanded" an alliance with Nazi Germany--or so Hitler claimed to the rest of the world. The Germans rolled in the tanks to "protect" their brethren--and it appeared that the continent was on the brink of war.
Here in the US, isolationists implored President Franklin Roosevelt to stay out of the controversy--saying the US had no business sticking its nose into European affairs. And Roosevelt complied. Instead, it was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who went to Berlin to meet with Hitler. His capitulation--and allowance of Germany to basically "steal" entire sections of other nations--was hailed by the rest of Europe as "securing peace in our time". That time would last less than two years--when the Germans invaded Poland (again to "protect" Germans living there) and World War II would be underway.
The question that will always remain unanswered is what would have happened if the US and her European allies had stood up to Hitler in 1938? How many fewer people would have died? And how much shorter would the war have been? It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks and months if President Obama will give Putin what he wants to "secure peace in our time".