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An editorial in Monday’s Washington Post criticizes the President for basing his foreign policy on his personal fantasies about how he wishes the world would operated, instead of reality. In the President’s fantasy world, “other world leaders would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past.”

What makes this editorial most significant is that the Washington Post usually showers Barack Obama with effusive praise. This time it is remind the President that this is the real world and he needs to wake up.

Unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not received the memo on 21st-century behavior. Neither has China’s president, Xi Jinping, who is engaging in gunboat diplomacy against Japan and the weaker nations of Southeast Asia. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is waging a very 20th-century war against his own people, sending helicopters to drop exploding barrels full of screws, nails and other shrapnel onto apartment buildings where families cower in basements. These men will not be deterred by the disapproval of their peers, the weight of world opinion or even disinvestment by Silicon Valley companies. They are concerned primarily with maintaining their holds on power.

While stating that Obama is “not responsible for their misbehavior,” the editorial argues that “he does, or could, Play a leading role in structuring the costs and benefits” of Putin’s actions.

The editorial then lays out the damning reality that our allies in the area have no confidence in the U.S. and that Putin’s actions in the Ukraine should have been predicted as they are “modeled” on his incursion into Georgia in 2008, an action for which Russia paid no price.

The model for Mr. Putin’s occupation of Crimea was his incursion into Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. Mr. Putin paid no price for that action; in fact, with parts of Georgia still under Russia’s control, he was permitted to host a Winter Olympics just around the corner. China has bullied the Philippines and unilaterally staked claims to wide swaths of international air space and sea lanes as it continues a rapid and technologically impressive military buildup. Arguably, it has paid a price in the nervousness of its neighbors, who are desperate for the United States to play a balancing role in the region. But none of those neighbors feel confident that the United States can be counted on. Since the Syrian dictator crossed Mr. Obama’s red line with a chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 civilians, the dictator’s military and diplomatic position has steadily strengthened.

After critiquing Obama’s repeated call for “nation-buidling at home,” arguing that the U.S. has learned this lesson with Russia before, the editorial goes on to throw away the argument used by progressives in the Iran sanctions discussion that the only two choices are war and capitulation and reminds the president:

As Mr. Putin ponders whether to advance further — into eastern Ukraine, say — he will measure the seriousness of U.S. and allied actions, not their statements. China, pondering its next steps in the East China Sea, will do the same. Sadly, that’s the nature of the century we’re living in.

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