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The World Is a Sumo Wrestling Match

One risky thing that politicans sometimes do is to point to an opponent and mention something that he’s done—some electioneering tactic. The move plays to a common desire built in to the electorate: the desire for politicians who are not politicians. Who do nothing. (Coolidge was wonderful in his apathy.) A danger attends, though: Attack your opponent for, say encouraging military veterans to air television commercials undermining your valor, and your opponent will note that you provoked articles in the newspaper claiming that he shirked his military dutes. In other words: everyone works to maximize his own profit, always. Calling attention to your opponent’s activities in pursuance of that goal can purchase short-term points, but it is only a matter of time before people realize that you are electioneering cavalierly, too.

Anyway, this truth came to mind when I read a news article about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent speech in Munich, Germany. Putin’s thesis is that the United States of America is “attempting to force its will on the world.” Well, that’s about right, in the sense that a sovereign nation, adrift in the anarchic sea of nations, always endeavors to increase its health. The only hale policy is actively to defend against viruses. Putin has not made any remarkable observation, and hasn’t exhaled any long-held secret. He’s described the foreign policy of every able nation. He’s describing Moscow’s frenzied buy-up of natural resources within its borders and without. He’s describing why he orders his intelligence people to murder political leaders whom he doesn’t like. And he’s describing the nascent American missile defense system in the Czech Republic.

But Putin knows this. Witness his next few lines:

Attacking the concept of a “unipolar” world in which the United States was the sole superpower, he said: “What is a unipolar world? No matter how we beautify this term it means one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master.”

“It has nothing in common with democracy because that is the opinion of the majority taking into account the minority opinion,” he told the gathering of top security and defense officials.

Perhaps some clarity is in order. Clarification one: The world is already unipolar, if unipolar is understood as the remainder when you remove “bipolar” and “multipolar” as options. The United States can project force in ways that no other state can, and the United States has a strategic nuclear shooting solution on every other state, and in almost every scenario we have survivable second strike ability. There is no counterbalance. It has been this way for a while. And yet in the congressional well our biggest territorial debate is over whether Puerto Rico should become the fifty-first state. (They do not want to, because they do not want to pay our taxes.)

Clarification two: Unipolarity has nothing whatever to do with masterhood. That the unipolar America desires not to be any kind of oppressive master is proven in the fact that our War on Terror has involved something less than destruction of the several enemy states. Something binds America. And it isn’t the “norms” dreamed up by bureaucrats working for non-governmental organizations. It is the deceny of the American people. They desire health, and they desire not to obtain it at the detriment of others.

Clarification three: Unipolarity is antithetical to democracy, that’s true. This is why, to take an example, Vladimir Putin’s increasingly dictatorial rule in Russia is cause for concern—because Russia is supposed to be a democracy, and Putin operates undemocratically. (Or at least illiberally.) The international system, though, isn’t democratic at all. It is a collection of behemoths, each throwing its weight around until it is satisfied. The international system is a sumo wrestling match, not a senate. But one can immediately understand why the lightweights would like for it to be a simple parliament. Such a system of equal representation would magnify their power out of proportion with that power history has afforded them by virtue of their ideals and deeds. In calling for proportion—for democracy—Putin is agitating for the tyranny of the discredited.

So, when he says, “[p]eople are always teaching us democracy but the people who teach us democracy don’t want to learn it themselves,” he has it exactly backward. And Putin is speaking more than a little hypocritically. He, after all, is not democracy’s exemplar, and Russia anyway maximizes its influence in the world with the self-same zeal as does the United States.


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