The parallels to the late 1940s in foreign policy can be frightening.
Back then, it was Adolf Hitler’s European dominance aspirations that were at work, along with Italian fascism and Japanese Pan-Pacific domination that were the issues.
Hitler took the lead in stealing attention for much of the period, taking one country after another until England was all that was left of a free Europe.
In the meantime, the United States hummed along, blissful in its political divide of New Deal concepts and conservative pragmatism, duking it out in one of those periods where the conservatives had been all but shut out thanks to an economic collapse. It was budgetarily struggling and largely disarmed, facing the need to build and equip a massive armed force if it entered the war.
The domestic arguments today are eerily similar: Big spending to stimulate a moribund economy vs. pragmatically figuring out how to pay for it all, balanced against the need for national defense. Today, unlike the 1930s, however, is factored in the weariness and worn-down condition of our troops and equipment after 13 years of constant war.
When the Japanese delivered a right cross to the American chin at Pearl Harbor, the disputes over whether, if or how to afford a war to stop the Axis powers came to a rapid end, much as Sept. 11 had ended divisiveness for a time.
Vladmir Putin’s bare-shirted attempt to take back parts of the Soviet Union one by one to rebuild the former Communist empire are obvious. None other than former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger has presciently predicted the events of the past several weeks, from the fomented desire of Russian-speaking people to be ruled by Russia in first Crimea and now Eastern Ukraine to the raising of flags over city halls taken one by one through force, riot or internal turncoat measures.
Much as had occurred in the 1930s with appeasement of Hitler, it is possible to find many in the United States favoring isolationism, to look the other way as the Soviet empire is rebuilt, one former independent state at a time.
And, much like the 1930s, the question becomes, where will it stop? What is Putin’s end game? Is it to rattle the West? Is it to rival the West? Is it to dominate the West and make up for what had been thought as the “loss” of the Cold War symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, now a generation ago?
In the 1930s, Hitler found like-minded world-dominators in Italy and Japan.
Putin, so far, lacks clear-cut world supporters, but it must be noted that until he stepped into Crimea, he was leading world events surrounding the Middle East, specifically Syria.
The question becomes, while Putin sits at center stage, should the United States be watching for that right cross to the chin from somewhere?
And, do economic ties of the world now, with international interdependence, make a difference that didn’t exist in the 1930s, or has America fallen economically to the point where the rest of the world can exercise power over the nation because of its dependence on others?