It’s no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin is the undisputed, most powerful person in the world. Just check Forbes Magazine. The publication unabashedly gave him that distinction the last four years and running. Without question, he has exerted influence and unrestrained military force while thumbing his nose at opposing global leaders. But has all that hay-making also made his Motherland more powerful than the United States of America?
Putin has been strategic and decisive with his political cards. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration tried the “Russian reset,” and the idea was floated that the former communist nation could have a seat on NATO. But it was Putin who thought better of getting cozy with America. He bought the uranium, brokered strategic alliances with American rivals such as China, and built an economy based on providing natural resources to Europe on one side and Asia on the other.
While Russia has been pursuing its own economic and political interests in these regions, the U.S. has suffered the short end of trade deals in both Europe and China. Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that American taxpayers dole out 70 percent of NATO expenses. The very countries it protects quake in their shoes about Russian might, while countries like Germany thumb their nose at America. Clearly, Putin and Russia have greater influence.
Another undisputed fact remains that the United States has the largest, most powerful military in the history of the world. However, the vast majority of nations fear Russia and not the U.S.
Why is that? The Ukraine.
When Russia rolled tanks into the Ukraine and held a referendum that annexed the Crimea, NATO did nothing. The world watched as toothless sanctions were levied against Putin’s inner circle. But foreign leaders and citizens around the world took note that not a single American shot was fired in response. It’s plausible that if the Russians absorbed all of the Ukraine, NATO allies wouldn’t raise a glove to expel them. In many ways, the Ukraine was the 21st Century shot heard ’round the world.
The Middle East
When President George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks by invading Afghanistan, America looked like a dragon ready to scorch the Earth. When he wrong-headedly stormed Iraq, there was a growing panic among other Muslim nations that they could be next. Bush gave grim speeches with the tone of an American cowboy. We were going to “smoke ’em out” and “hunt them down.” Those words had force. America unleashed the terrifying campaign called “Shock and Awe.” When terrorist forces gained ground, America responded with “The Surge.”
But post-Bush, American policy fell into a quagmire. Distracted by the promise of regime change in unfavorable countries and the “Arab Spring,” the goal of defeating terrorism morphed into supporting rebels and warring factions. The end result was that America looked incompetent. Money and weapons found their way into the hands of enemy terror groups, ISIS took over huge tracts of land and conquered entire cities. Finally, President Obama issued the embarrassing “Red Line in the Sand.” It was almost immediately crossed. America appeared weak.
In terms of Russia’s global reach, Putin sided with faltering Syrian President Assad and turned a losing war against both rebels and ISIS into what looks like a pro-regime win. Putin’s willingness to accept civilian casualties took away ISIS’ human-shield defense and made Russia the most feared military in the region. They say war is Hell, but Putin appears willing to embrace the horror for the expansion of Russian interests. He’s exerted so much influence over the region that the U.S. could only attend cease-fire talks at his behest. At the end of the day, foreign entities understand that the Russian army is far more willing to invade and spill blood than the U.S.
It’s clear that President Trump seeks to regain the power mantle. He makes speeches that parallel the thinking of powerful nations, such as putting “America First.” The inherently American problem is a Congress pushing to be the world’s police force and using up its political clout by denouncing world leaders and wasting oxygen on sanctions. Until America gets back to sparsely defined, strategic successes and proves its massive armed forces will deter invasion, Putin’s Russia will remain the big dog on the world stage.