The current economic crisis entered the political stage as a scene-stealer.Â Demanding immediate and prolonged attention, the U.S.’s eyes shifted from foreign affairs to the domestic, spurring introspection on our spending habits, lifestyle, and values.Â
While some soul-searching certainly was and is necessary in dealing with the economic malaise, the U.S. faces ever greater threats abroad and an increasing inability to respond.Â With press attention focusing on the struggling automotive industry, Obama’s healthcare plan, and whether Anita Hill and Sonia Sotomayor’s experiences are different (Ba-duh), international developments have taken a backseat.
Political scientists and commentators have predicted the end of an era of U.S. hegemony, yielding power to four vastly expanding economies–Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
While Barack Obama’s election may have helped relations with American allies tired of Bush’s “suck it” diplomacy, Russia and China remain largely impervious to President Obama’s conciliatory overtures. Recent developments show that Russia is rising.
Putin’s invasion of Georgia last August signaled the end of Russian dormancy.Â The Soviet Union may have fallen in 1989, but twenty years later Russia has re-emerged as a force in the region.Â Controlling the pipeline to Western Europe’s oil, the economic interdependence of East and West is indelible, even as political ideologies remain antagonistic.Â Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s appointment of the despotic Ramzan Kadyrov to lead Chechnya further demonstrates the country’s turn away from liberalization toward tyranny.Â Kadyrov’s opponents are mysteriously disappearing and human rights activists have been killed or kidnapped.
Political and economic developments have bolstered Russia’s position and hindered the United States.Â Industries in Eastern Europe are crumbling, leaving citizens jobless and causing some to wonder whether liberty and free markets was a good trade for the security Soviet management brought.Â Right-wing politicians are gaining ground and political infighting in the Ukraine among President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has paved the way for a candidate favorable to the Kremlin.Â Meanwhile, the Obama adminstration’s focus on fixing the mess inherited from the Bush years leaves them with a foreign policy toolbox devoid of hefty loans and military threats.
What should be done?Â President Obama needs to take a more active stance on foreign policy with Russia. The Cold War is over.Â The world is no longer entangled in an ideological battle between socialism and capitalism.Â However, threats from an illiberal state persist.Â While Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea warrant attention, and the Russian threat may not be the most pressing issue currently, it will provide a formidable obstacle to peace in the world if the U.S. remains disengaged.