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If we have learned anything from the events of the past week in Ukraine, it is that diplomacy without the credible threat of military force becomes a weapon in the hands of the most ruthless. President Vladimir Putin has proven, as well, that diplomacy even with the threat of strong sanctions is meaningless to the deranged psyche of megalomaniac despots and dictators. The soft power of sanctions and diplomacy is not a weapon against tanks and missiles in the hands of a madman.

This has been a jarring wake up call for many in the American foreign policy establishment, who have been deep in slumber since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991. Unfortunately, we in the West have enjoyed many halcyon days of the post-Cold War order. Simultaneously, we have proven time and time again that we have an amazing capacity to delude ourselves into the belief that this is a Kantian world in which human reason leads us to a just, moral world. Unfortunately, Putin has proven that for some actors on the world’s stage this is a Hobbesian world where, in his deranged, power-hungry quest he is determined to make life for his fellow man “nasty, brutish and short.”

The Ukrainian people have proven to be remarkably valiant in the face of this horrific ongoing Russian onslaught and are putting up a significant fight. The scenes of bombed out buildings, of men who have never before held a weapon, lining up for arms, of civilians schooling themselves in the art of making  Molotov cocktails in their kitchens, or people rushing into the subway holding children in their arms, are reminiscent of World War II and are bone-chilling.

The list of countries that have supported this Russian onslaught is as predictable as it is short. China (which is in an uncomfortable because it claims to regards “sovereignty” as a regnant value, but who deeply despise America); North Korea (which has ravenous eyes toward Seoul); Belarus (which is shivering in its shoes, wondering if it is next, and allows Russian troops on its soil); Venezuela (whose immense hatred of the U.S. predetermines its knee-jerk reactions); Syria (whose leader Bashar al-Assad’s very life was saved by Putin); and the Islamic Republic of Iran (which looks at the globe with the same hegemonic eyes, coupled with a toxic mix of religious zealotry).

All of which leads me to remind us that while all of this is taking place in Eastern Europe, not too very far away in Vienna, there are negotiators who carry this same naïve Western mind-set into the room, and who have assured us that they are about to sign a deal with Iran. These are people that former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned us about when she said, “We in the West make a grave mistake when we transpose our values onto the rest of the world.”

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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