The seeds of failure in Syria and Ukraine were planted long ago

Kennette Benedict writes: In September the United States, along with European and Middle Eastern partners, deployed air power to destroy the radical forces that are occupying territory on the Iraqi-Syrian border. And in his September 24 speech to the UN General Assembly, US President Barack Obama harshly criticized Moscow for seizing Ukrainian territory and backing separatists, saying that “we will impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”

Though more than 1,000 miles apart, these two foreign policy challenges for the United States have much in common. For the sake of civilians — ordinary people trying to make a living, feed their children, and live with a modicum of dignity — we all hope that efforts to end violent conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine will succeed. But Washington’s approach to both problems is ad-hoc and may be much too late. Without new institutions of regional governance, economic integration, and cultural dialogue, these efforts will likely fail to bring about peace and stability.

By “too late” I mean years and even decades too late. That’s because the two major foreign policy debacles the United States faces today could have been avoided by building new institutions when the opportunity first presented itself at the end of the Cold War.

In the 1990s, though, the US foreign policy community fell into intellectual disarray. The hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union had seemed nearly immutable, and ideological positions blinded even intelligent analysts to the need for a far-reaching post-Cold War plan. Very few had been contemplating what would be needed once the USSR collapsed. There were no plans to help build former Soviet societies after years of economic stagnation and environmental neglect, as there had been for Germany and Japan after World War II. Nor were proposals for international cooperation to prevent future schisms and new “cold wars” given much thought. The national security and foreign policy establishments in the United States and Europe did not undertake any thoroughgoing reviews or take seriously any new ideas that went beyond the already-existing United Nations. [Continue reading…]

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