The full magnitude of seminal events can be hard to grasp when we are in their midst. The ongoing war in Ukraine is far more than a bloody, but localized, conflict on Russia’s western periphery. It began with a massive miscalculation by Vladimir Putin — that he could invade and occupy Ukraine with minimal resistance in a matter of days. Ukrainian soldiers would drop their weapons. The Ukrainian government under President Zelensky would cut and run. The U.S. and European governments would protest loudly but do very little in practice. After all, Putin had invaded and occupied territory in neighboring Georgia (2008), and in Crimea and eastern Ukraine (2014) at little cost. The U.S. political leadership was weak and Europe was hostage to its dependence on Russian energy (natural gas and oil) supplies.

Instead of a Russian cakewalk, we are witnessing a first-order geopolitical earthquake that is shaking the foundations of the post-World War II international order. Europe has been irreversibly altered, NATO has been reborn and the future of Russia, itself, is increasingly in question. Also, it is entirely possible that this war will change the geopolitical trajectory of faraway East Asia, where another totalitarian great power with territorial ambitions is watching. The profound implications for America and its place in the world are increasingly obvious.

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