Saturday, August 02, 2014

Back to the future

Every since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, I've been fretting about today's analogies with the 1930s, when a ruthless dictator outsmarted and outflanked an enfeebled West, to plunge Europe and the world into the worst war that ever happened.

It's not just that America has retreated as the world's policeman, leaving the streets unguarded with predictable results. The retreat has been moral as well. Without the courage to defend our ideals, we have left the argument to the authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, the Castro brothers, Hugo Chavez and his successor--and China, of course, the only arguably successful authoritarian of them all. Listen to Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary. It wasn't so long ago that the newly freed states of Eastern Europe were the most exciting places on earth, escaping from a half-century or more of Russian rule. Several have moved back into Moscow's orbit, and two have actually been invaded. They were longtime members of the Russian Empire, but not Hungary! It wasn't occupied by the Red Army until 1944, and unlike Ukraine it is actually a member of the EU. No matter!

"I don't think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations," says Mr. Orban, who has busily been following the Putin model in Budapest.  "Liberal democracy can't remain globally competitive." Toward that end, Hungary has stalled on adopting the euro as its currency, because that would put its economy too much in the hands of the technocrats in Brussels.

Having lived through a half-century in which the United States was the model for the world, we fell into the trap of believing that the argument had been settled for all time. But of course the argument is never settled. When America lays down the policeman's badge, no one else will pick it up; the criminals will rule the streets. and the citizens will survive as best they can.

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