Why I Am Praying for Putin–and Obama

I am a history buff. I’ve read a fair degree of European history and military history–probably just enough to be dangerous! As I’ve followed the events in the Ukraine these past weeks, it has dawned on me that this is something not to be taken lightly. The Crimea is not simply some place far off in Eastern Europe. It represents a number of places in Eastern Europe that were both once part of the Soviet empire and that have Russian populations. And what is trickier is that many of these countries, including Ukraine now are engaged in NATO alliances, which at least theoretically involve obligations to intervene militarily if they are attacked. And of course, the US continues to have significant NATO obligations.

Vladimir Putin Attribution: Kremlin.ru

Vladimir Putin
Attribution: Kremlin.ru

I suspect there are some who are better historians who can tell me how this is different from the conditions that led to the folly of World War 1, when a flashpoint assassination activated a series of military alliances that led to a full scale European war that drained the life blood of a generation. Then, as now, everyone seemed to think that in the end, diplomacy would save the day, until it was overwhelmed by the momentum of events.

Barack Obama Attribution: By Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Barack Obama
Attribution: By Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m also troubled by the reality of a great nation, Russia, humbled by the crumbling of the former Soviet Union, stripped of what they perceived as their western buffer, devastated economically, now experience something of a resurgence of its power, at least regionally under a strong leader. While the formal humiliation was not, perhaps, as severe as that of Versailles, it occurs to me that the same similar dynamics could be at work in this situation.

It is almost 70 years since the end of World War 2 and many of us grew up thinking that another European conflict, particularly under the threat of nuclear weapons, was unthinkable. Sadly, the story of what Barbara Tuchman once called “The March of Folly” is that people and societies will do the unthinkable and irrational–all very rationally to appearances.

And so I found myself praying today for both Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, and the decisions each will make in the days ahead. They could make the difference between peril and peace, and it seems that wisdom from on high wouldn’t hurt.

[BTW, I welcome comments but I won’t approve/host those which are simply partisan rants!]