Robert Gates worries that the public doesn’t understand what is at stake in Ukraine:
Crimea and Ukraine are far away, and their importance to Europe and America little understood by the public.
Therefore, the burden of explaining the need to act forcefully falls, as always, on our leaders.
Gates points to a recurring problem in our foreign policy debates, which is the large and increasing gap between the public and our political leaders on what the U.S. should be doing in the world. It may be true that most Americans don’t know and don’t care very much about the crisis in Ukraine, but to date no one has given them much of a reason to think they are mistaken in thinking that the U.S. shouldn’t get too involved. The burden of explaining why it should does fall on our leaders, but for decades our politicians and supporters of an activist foreign policy have acted as if the burden is on the skeptics and opponents to explain why the U.S. should mind its own business. Now that supporters of an activist U.S. role in the world are forced to make their case to a skeptical audience, they prove to be not very good at it. This is perhaps because the arguments in support of this view are so much weaker than the activists think they are. […]
I read the Gates piece because I wanted to see what he thought we ought to do in Crimea. After all, he’s a “wise man” or “best and brightest” or “old hand” or whatever we’re calling the center-right establishment these days. Read it for yourself, but it boils down to two things. First, Putin is a SOB and probably has some Machiavellian dreams where he’s the star of a one-man show called “Vlad Impales the World”, and re-annexing the historically more Russian parts of Ukraine is a step towards realizing those dreams. Second, Europe is too reliant on Russian gas. Neither of these are immediately dangerous to the US, and Gates doesn’t make a clear argument for their danger in the near future. Then Gates lists a bunch of small ball sanctions, interventions and insults, most of which are clearly not going to address the two dangers he raises. And he ends by whining about leadership.
This is the kind of “leadership” that is mentioned with reverence at keynotes at motivational seminars or sales conferences. It’s some kind of magic fairy dust that’s sprinkled on plans that don’t make sense without some loud clapping and flashy powerpoints.