The 'West' is looking weak in Ukraine. So much that a Russian newspaper provocatively predicted Putin to be next leader of the 'Free World'. Of all ironies! The West has in someway to blame itself for the dilemma it is in. It has failed to write itself a script adapted to a changed world. Repeatedly it starts a linear bellicose rhetoric with no graceful speech for a U turn. That will make the world unsafe.
The collective wisdom of the west seems to be lacking that skill. Smaller power junkies, like Europeans, think that Uncle Sam and his missiles will put any upstart or even powerful country in its place if it challenges western writ.
The fact is that Uncle Sam sapped his strength in Iraq. That was the height of US hegemony in a twilight period between the Soviet collapse and the yet to rise China. Having exhausted its sole superpower dividend in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US no longer seems 'Almighty'. The world appears 'dangerous' from even Uncle Sam's spectacles. The paranoia of its security agencies is apparent when they are reduced to preoccupy themselves with trashed personal emails of citizens whose 'right to privacy' they are meant to protect.
But the script hasn't changed. The response to Ukraine crises is classic contemporary western huff. It has been full of gesture politics and threats with empty barrels aimed at Russia in the hope it will be intimidated by lectures on international law. Trouble is that international law works within a feudal system. There is one interpretation for the most powerful and another for the rest. The club of 'powerful' is growing.
Russia and China too feel they can impose this dual interpretation of international law. Russia used the US logic of pre-emptive strike (used in Iraq) to take over Crimea. Now using the logic of 'failing State' somewhat similar to US explanation about its protracted role in Afghanistan nation building, Russia is justifying possible incremental encroachment into Eastern Ukraine.
The rhetoric of the west in dealing with this new multilateral world is still based on cold war logic and the twilight years. When the challenge is too powerful, or economic stability at stake, the west has to eat its rhetoric. Increasingly western leaders look limp and weak.
This does and will in future give the 'others' more confidence to act rashly until one day Uncle Sam will either have to stand up physically precipitating the last war of humanity, or accept defeat.
Take Ukraine. Once the revolution reached its goal, the west should have sensed Russian design and quickly changed tack by abandoning the new unelected Government of Ukraine for including neo Nazi elements. It should have taken Putin's bluff of EU, US and Russia working together for a financial package. It should have outsmarted Russia by suggesting a UN sanctioned interim Government and call urgent elections.
That is exactly how this standoff will end. Russia will hold on to Crimea but refrain from entering Eastern Ukraine and an early election called with international monitors in the country and protection for minorities.
Had the west scripted this option early it would have been in the driving seat. Instead we are doing 'catch up' issuing free lessons on international law (Rasmussen, Hague and Kerry) which are unconvincing when others point to Iraq, Libya and Syria.
The issue is not that the west should be tougher. The point is that the west needs a better script adapted to the changed multi superpower world. It needs a more sophisticated approach that can increase the ante but then do a quick witted U turn with honour without looking weak.
International diplomacy is a game of deceit (Wikipedia, NSA files) played with honour but our politicians seem stuck in a bygone era of hegemony reading from a chapter forged at a time of power vacuum. Putin on the other hand does appear prepared for 21st century's new multifocal world diplomacy. Whatever we may say about his 'evil' actions, let us face it, his footwork was deft.