Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy:

As international affairs researcher Matthew Waldman noted in 2014, “strategic empathy” isn’t about agreeing with an adversary’s position. It is about understanding it so you can fashion an appropriate response. Whatever your views on NATO enlargement might be, there is overwhelming evidence that Russian leaders were alarmed by it from the start and expressed their concerns repeatedly. Moscow grew increasingly opposed as its power recovered and as NATO crept ever eastward. Given the United States’ own tendency to indulge in worst-case analysis and view minor security problems in distant lands as if they were existential dangers (not to mention its willingness to use force to try to solve such problems), you’d think the U.S. foreign-policy community would be acutely aware of great powers’ tendency to exaggerate threats and be highly sensitive about their immediate vicinity’s security environment. Try to point this out, however, and you’re likely to be denounced as a naive apologist for Putin.

I’m less puzzled—but still disturbed—by the ease with which the Blob has fallen back on all the familiar tropes in the foreign-policy establishment’s playbook of greatest hits. Read the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the Atlantic Council’s website, and yes, even Foreign Policy, in recent weeks and you’ll get a steady diet of hawkish posturing, with only occasional dissenting views on offer. Putin alone is said to be the source of the problem, neatly demonized along with dictators Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, every member of Iran’s political elite, Xi Jinping, and anyone else we’ve ever been seriously at odds with. Although Washington has been on good terms with any number of bellicose but mostly pro-American despots, the West insists on viewing this crisis not as a complicated clash of interests between nuclear-armed states but as a morality play between good and evil. As usual, society is told that what is at stake is not Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment but the entire direction of human history. And right on cue: Here comes the well-worn Munich analogy, as if Putin was a genocidal maniac whose real aim was to conquer all of Europe the same way Hitler tried to do. One can despise everything he stands for and much of what he has done—as I do—and still reject from this sort of simplistic alarmism.

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