These days, we experience one of the most violent foreign policy developments of the last decades: Russia has invaded Ukraine. It is the culmination of a crisis that has been in the making for years – at least since the Euromaidan protests of 2013/2014 ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian government and Russia subsequently annexed Crimea. During the entire crisis, the posture of western governments (most notably that of the United States) has been of great interest: Ukraine has sought a closer alignment with the West to gain economic and military assistance. At the same time, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been committed to rolling back western influence and to prevent further countries bordering Russia from joining the western alliances.
US posture has been not uniform over these eight years: The annexation of Crimea presented the Obama administration America with a fait accompli, and Obama reacted with lukewarm sanctions. Obama’s successor Donald Trump was proud of his alleged good personal relationship with Putin, watered down the sanctions, and even attempted to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Selenskyy by tying an aid package for Ukraine to Selenskyy’s announcement of investigating Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine. Current president Joe Biden has taken a tougher line on Russia again, but the exact response to the ongoing crisis is still in flux.
That brings us to today’s article: How does the United States react to local crises in faraway countries? After all, most Americans (including many elected officials and bureaucrats) know little of the place in question. Still, America’s global role resting on its political, military, and economic leadership demands that these crises are addressed. This challenge was by no means smaller when America was just about to transition into the role of a global power in the 1940s. One event stood out among the developments back then: Rooted in two specific local crises, president Harry S. Truman’s speech on March 12, 1947, asking Congress to approve of a support package for Greece and Turkey would have far-reaching implications for US foreign policy – until very recently.
Big anniversaries of historical events are often the occasion for me to write something for this blog. 100 years ago, this happened. 500 years ago, that happened. Yet never have I gone as far back with that as I will today: 2500 years ago, in the summer of 480 BCE (keep in mind that there has been no “Year Zero”), a storm was brewing in the eastern Mediterranean. The most powerful man in the world, Persian great king Xerxes I, had set out to make Greece part of his domain. In this post, you’ll find out why he did that, and how his enterprise initially went. The next post (coming in September) will pick up the story from there and tell the rest of the tale of these Greco-Persian Wars and their repercussions until today. As always, there are plenty of board games on the way.