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Putin’s Rise Highlights U.S. Descent from Global Stage

Rob Garver
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Current and former U.S. officials fretted about the international standing of the United States on Sunday, as multiple global crises in the news made it increasingly clear that U.S. influence alone is not enough to assure either stability in general or specific outcomes favored by the Obama administration. 

On ABC’s This Week Sunday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel conceded that the U.S. may not be perceived, internationally, as being quite as powerful as it has been in the past. 

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“I do think that there is a sense out there…by some, that somehow U.S. power is eroding, or we’re not going to use our power, or we’re too timid about our power,” Hagel said. “I don’t believe that. I think we have been wise in how we use out power.”

Hagel challenged the notion that the U.S. has weakened, but echoed an assessment made by President Obama that the U.S. cannot fix global problems on its own.

On the perception that the U.S. is weak or indecisive, Hagel said, “I have seen some of that, yes, and I think that’s the kind of reality that’s out there,” However, he added, “We are still the dominant power. No one is in our universe, whether you apply a metric or measure of economic power, military power. But that doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem alone. No nation can do that.” 

Hagel’s interview was aired after a three-day stretch in which Russian President Vladimir Putin took a public victory lap in Crimea, the region of Ukraine that Russia invaded and annexed earlier this year; played in a televised ice hockey exhibition (in which he scored six goals); and presided over a massive parade of Russia’s military might in Moscow. 

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Putin, whose troops have been massed on the border of eastern Ukraine for weeks seemingly in prelude to invasion, asserted publicly last week that he had withdrawn the units to their training grounds. However, U.S. and NATO intelligence services said that no such movement has occurred. 

House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and reported that Putin had, indeed, moved some troops, but that it was a simple rotation of conscripts whose two-year enlistment was running out. 

“The only thing we’ve really seen is that they are pulling troops out, but for the sole purpose of rotating out their conscripts,” he said. “This is a function of making sure they have fresh conscripts at the border.” 

Rogers, who has announced that he is retiring after his current term in order to pursue a career as a talk radio host, criticized the administration’s overall stance on foreign policy as too reactive, and not sufficiently assertive. 

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Also on Face the Nation, Secretary Hagel’s immediate predecessor in the office, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, offered some insight into the current situation in Ukraine based on his past dealing with Putin. 

“The key to understanding Putin is the past,” he said. “Vladimir Putin is all about lost empire, lost glory, lost power. When he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geostrategic geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, he meant it.”

Gates said that he doesn’t believe the U.S. has any viable military options for influencing the situation in Ukraine. Of Putin, he said, “I don’t think he’ll rest until there is a pro-Russian government in Kiev or a federated Ukraine where the eastern part of the country, for all practical purposes, looks to Russia.” 

Putin, Gates said, “is reasserting Russia’s place as a superpower and a force to be reckoned with around the world.” 

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While he laughed at the idea of Russia presenting a national security threat, Gates said he was concerned about the global impression – identified by Hagel – that the U.S. may not be as much of a global power as it once was. 

“Our allies are watching to see whether we will be there for them they are challenged, internally or externally. Other countries, whether it’s Russia, china, Iran or North Korea are looking to see if what they perceive as withdrawal from international leadership presents them with some opportunities down the road.” 

He added, “If there is a perception that the U.S. is withdrawing back home, then other countries are going to look for opportunities to advance old nationalist ambitions or satisfy revanchist claims. In the end, he predicted, the world faces increasingly frequent conflict if the U.S. does not assert its role as “guardian of the international order.” 

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