More than most years, 2014 will be retrospectively consequential. The US post-1945 order finally enters its transition era. Most obviously, Putin launched an ill-conceived war to challenge its foundations. Other developments promise significant portent. Modi’s rise in India is but one example. Domestically, Americans’ facade of a post-racial society collapsed. And Neocons re-emerged.
Americans remain lucky internationally for now. Russia’s war began with clumsy improvisation and lurched to a strategic dead end. Ukrainian grit surprised Moscow – just one of many Russian strategic intelligence failures. China, India and others support Moscow symbolically in part yet preserve their own options and interests in the present order. They follow their own timetable for systemic change, not Putin’s.
America avoided directly engaging Russia, denying Moscow the co-equal status it craves. That US stance encouraged Merkel and the EU to confront Russian aggression themselves. Russian hawks (like Sergei Markov, etc.) concede their hopes to split the alliance (to date) are unrealistic. One would like to think a coherent US strategy helped shape these events. Equally plausible is American tactical improvisation simply was more fortunate.
Putin? We’d rate him 2014’s net loser. Had he stopped at Crimea, he faced no sanctions and enjoyed stratospheric domestic approval. Russia is far weaker, more isolated, and domestically more fragile than during the Sochi boondoggle. From canceling Russia’s pet Southstream pipeline into Europe, ruble woes – Russian Central Bank Chief Elvira Nabuillina may have the toughest job in Russia today – to a bad gas deal with China and Putin’s isolation at the G20, Russian horizons shrunk a great deal.
Ukraine, conversely, is far more unified and committed to a European liberal path than ever. Two successful elections and a newly vibrant society show potential. Russia’s war in the Donbass forged a new nationalism and but sidelined a region (along with Crimea) that would’ve sent significant votes for Communists and pro-Moscow parties in Kiev.
Ukraine’s struggles are still beginning. IMF-driven reforms will pack a dislocating wallop. Kiev’s economy will remain on edge for some time. And vital domestic initiatives such as lustration and anti-corruption are still embryonic.
Merkel’s clear stance against Russian revisionism surprised Moscow. Many predicted she would follow German SPD party’s equivocation and German industrialists’ demands for “understanding”. Her marathon 6 hour November conversation with Putin in Australia may mark a watershed. Merkel now directly confronts Russian subversion in the Balkans. It’s a new German EU foreign policy leadership role. Will it work? Does she have the vision to sustain it? Can she maintain German domestic support?
2015 may be another story. EU sanctions expire soon if not renewed. Some US European experts are certain sanctions will be lifted. Moscow re-packages itself as a peace maker yet again to empower EU apologists. Putin hedges bets by advising Moscow technocrats to prepare for ten years of confrontation.
Neocons took 2014 by storm. 2015 can only offer more blue sky.
2014 marked the year Democrats en masse scrambled to join. Yet Democrats can’t articulate an alternative to Obama’s foreign policy that differs. The Right and Rand Paul’s conversion to internationalist Realism (while Paul remains instinctually an isolationist) remain the exception. Interestingly, Fred Kagan and others openly declare their true home is in the Democratic Party (again).
The Neocons’ greatest 2014 success is framing ISIS as an existential threat. A tentative and reactive Obama Administration jumped on to ill-advised, ill-considered spastic kinetic force without a clear strategy.
The New Republic‘s demise is a different story. The larger and more important indictment? TNR long ago ceased to be an authentic, liberal, progressive voice.
Should TNR be a new Gawker or Buzzfeed for a certain social set, perhaps it’s a fitting epitaph. The staff’s reaction to young owner Chris Hughes’ decisions reveals a mindset accustomed to benefactor patronage. To discover they’re employees like much of America is a harsh lesson.
America’s long vacation from social realities crashed on a global stage. Ferguson, Eric Garner in NY, Tamir Rice (the 12 year old boy shot by police because he had a bee bee gun) and so many others highlight the cost in lives and potential lost. American social dysfunction can’t be obscured. And it’s more than de-legitimized, excessively militarized local law enforcement.
The US for the first time nationally experienced how social technologies fueled protests from Tehran to Tunisia, Hong Kong to Maidan. Many Americans didn’t like uncensored voices. Protestors (from varied backgrounds) self organize, distribute video and photos, and use Livestream for alternative broadcasts to cable “news” coverage. (That America in 2014 lacks an actual cable news channel at all is merely symptomatic).
Racial inequality is the most prominent aspect of American disinterest in forging a healthy, inclusive society. Socio-economic stratification continues to widen. Congress’ roll back of its own weak 2008 Wall Street reforms — at the request of Wall Street — underscores the fault lines only grow. Dysfunctional government that responds only to the few doesn’t happen by accident. Nor is it sustainable.
Richard Haas observed that Foreign Policy Begins At Home. Our effectiveness abroad is directly linked to good governance at home. The link above deliberately is to the Daily Show. American youth (or young at heart), unfettered by old wedge issues on race, gender and class, can make a powerful difference – if they choose to engage politically.
These are the year’s highlights (or low points) to us. What did we miss? Who or what do you think made 2014?