Tuesday, December 16, 2014If human history is any guide, Vladimir Putin's foreign adventures are plausible, perhaps even admirable. Adopting the standards typically applied to historical figures, Putin successfully established Russia's influence in its "near abroad" and even made a significant territorial acquisition. If he'd been ruling in the 16th century, he'd probably be considered a success.
Unfortunately for Putin, he's living in the early 21st century, and it's becoming increasingly clear that his political approach is kind of a disaster. You see, there's a reason why there haven't been a many major changes in the political boundaries of states in the last 50 years, with the notable exception of states growing smaller ( crack-ups & secessions like Yugoslavia or Eritrea) and a couple of fairly equitable mergers (Yemen & Germany). Outright annexations of neighboring territory - which we used to call conquest - has happened much since WWII.
And why is that? There are lots of reasons, of course, but to me one of the more salient is that in the modern world conquest is stupid. Look at Putin - he's wrecked his economy and has politically isolated himself. The rise of nationalism has made direct occupation of a foreign population totally counterproductive - you're never going to get a return sufficient to pay for the costs of occupation and your restive, probably very unproductive captive work force.
These days the smart imperialists have relied on establishing client states instead - intervening to install friendly governments with at least a patina of legitimacy. That's what the U.S. tries to do, and even THAT really doesn't work that well (see: Iraq, Afghanistan).
So, sorry notsorry Putin, I'm afraid that your anachronistic policies are resulting in a well-deserved comeuppance. There's 99 things about the modern world that is depressing, but the goofiness of foreign conquest ain't one of 'em.