For more on the latest developments in Ukraine, watch a special live edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
By Fareed Zakaria
Inevitably, the crisis in Ukraine is being discussed in Washington largely through the lens of political polarization. It seems like any and every topic is fodder for partisan dispute these days, even the weather – actually, especially the weather.
Many Republicans are arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the Crimea region of Ukraine because of President Barack Obama's weakness. Putin saw that Obama didn't want to go to war in Syria, for example, and this emboldened Putin.
Well, who knows right? It's tough to know what would have happened in an alternative universe. Imagine that we still had Putin around in charge of Russia, but imagine he faced a different president, one who was tough, aggressive, who had no compunctions about invading countries.
Oh wait, we ran that very experiment in 2008! Putin faced George W. Bush, a president who had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq for good measure (and, in the latter case, defying massive international pressure and opposition). And yet, Putin invaded Georgia. And not, as he did this time, in a stealthy way with soldiers who were already there who simply switched their uniforms. He sent in Russian tanks roaring into Georgia and – without any referendums – simply annexed two pieces of that country.
Does this prove that Bush was a wimp after all? No it doesn’t. You see, there has been some very good and careful scholarship – by Daryl Press and Jonathan Mercer among others – that looks at historical cases to figure out whether having a reputation for "toughness" actually deters your opponents from doing bad things – like invading countries.
In general, the answer is, no.
Countries make these decisions based on many factors. But the most important ones seem to be a careful analysis of the power dynamics of the specific case. So in Ukraine, Russia would ask, is this a vital interest of the United States? And what is Washington's capacity to act in this particular situation?
More from CNN: 5 lessons for a new Cold War
In other words, Putin would look at his cards, look at Washington's cards, and the specifics of the situation in Ukraine rather than assuming that because Bush invaded Iraq, he would defend Georgia, or that because Obama didn't invade Syria, he would do nothing about Ukraine.
Politicians in Washington are convinced that Putin was encouraged by Western weakness. But it's actually quite possible that Putin felt he was acting to stop the West's growing strength. After all, just look at the situation from Russian eyes.
In 1991, Moscow gave up its 75-year-old Soviet empire. It also gave up large parts of its 300-year-old Russian empire including Ukraine. Since then, its historic rival, NATO, has expanded closer and closer to Moscow's borders. And then, the West encouraged Ukrainians to take to the streets and depose their president, who had close ties to Moscow.
Now none of this excuses aggression or justifies Putin's thuggish response. But if we are going to find a political solution in Ukraine that will stick, we need to recognize that the issues at stake are not personal – and that they are much larger than Obama's alleged weakness and Putin's paranoia.
My family members all the time say that I am killing my time here at
web, however I know I am getting knowledge daily by reading
such pleasant articles.
Yes Obama is very Weak, Not a Strong Leader America Needs... I'm very disappointed with Obama and Congress
Agreed. Leading from behind.
We have a past. It is something called history and everything that is happening between nations has happened before at some point in history. Is it lazy reporting that leads to the leaving out of history?
The Korean War is considered by many historians to be a de facto proxy war between the Russians and the U.S. There are parallels to be drawn here. America has been pulled into many proxy wars with the Russians/Soviets. Why aren't you talking about this? What worked and what didn't and why do you refuse to bring in the lessons from history in what seems to have become superficial discussions about incredibly complex and important world events with
Why are you leaving HISTORY out of it when this where our answers lie?
I just noticed this post and like it much better than the one on asymmetric warfare which did not seem as balanced.
finally someone has enlightened our people that the issue with russia and ukraine deeper that what is presented to the public. A lot of us just respond to a news flash and never stop to find out what is the root cause of this news flash. This is what i am seeing going on with the cat and mouse game with usa and russia. Russia sees america as a country that is usin
its only super power status to dominate the world. do not be fooled, but america and usa are still enemies therefore russia will not sit back and alllow Ukraine there next door neighbor to fall into the so-called allied camp of the usa. Russia sees this as a move by the west to encircle russia. america would not be happy to a russia getting very close to usa nextdoor neighbors . My solution, usa need to back off from encouraging ukraine to joint nato . This could some day spill over into a war. with the west and it would not be pretty, russia is no a push over
Leroy, well put, Americans ( the common man) needs to understand that your Governments have sent Americans to war for no reason through the last century and continues to do that . America has NEVER won a war, lost millions of lives destroyed millions more and all in the name of Democracy. Americans funded the IRA, supported Sadam Hussien against Iran, its a nation with no morality and will soon learn the hard way..Idiots like Zakaria are compounding the problem and unless Americans take America back from those idiots on Capitol Hill, it's going to be a disaster soon.
I for one do not put any credibility into statements made Fareed Zakaria. When you given a job, the first thing that you do id humor your boss, That I feel is what is happening to all the news that we receive from U.S. sources.
NATO is not a historic rival of Russia.. NATO is a historic rival of the Soviet Union that no longer exists. This is Putin's delusion that everyone seems to be confused by. Putin perpetuates this cold war mentality and paranoia. NATO is absolutely no threat to Russia. Putin use this argument in order to justify intimidating and invading neighbors for the sole purpose of protecting Russia's economic interests.
Zakaria is an idiot, trying to conform. he has no clue about a word he says, CNN needs to get rid of this twit before the organization loses it's reputation
FAREED IS LOOSING CREDIBILITY WITH RECENT UNFAIR STATEMENTS ON GAZA AND FLIGHT MH17 CRASH...
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
Every week we bring you in-depth interviews with world leaders, newsmakers and analysts who break down the world's toughest problems.
CNN U.S.: Sundays 10 a.m. & 1 p.m ET | CNN International: Find local times
Buy the GPS mug | Books| Transcripts | Audio
Connect on Facebook | Twitter | GPS@cnn.com
Buy past episodes on iTunes! | Download the audio podcast
Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
RSS - Posts
Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.
Join 4,864 other followers