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Russia's War on Ukraine: A Roundtable


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Common Sense With Bari Weiss

Niall Ferguson, Walter Russell Mead and Francis Fukuyama weigh in.

Bari Weiss

Mar 3 2022

As I write this, Russia’s war against Ukraine is entering its second week. Air raid sirens are ringing out over the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Russian troops are laying siege to the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. The southern city of Kherson has fallen. Nearly a million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

Why did Putin invade Ukraine at this moment? What is his endgame—and what is the West’s? Does this war augur the beginning of a new era? Perhaps even a new Cold War?

Yesterday, I sat down with three people I deeply respect when it comes to thinking about history, foreign policy and American power. 

Niall Ferguson is an historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His most recent book is Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe

Walter Russell Mead teaches at Bard College and writes the foreign affairs column at the Wall Street Journal. His next book, due out this July, is called The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel and the Fate of the Jewish People

Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist who teaches at Stanford. His latest book, coming out in May, is Liberalism and Its Discontents.

You can listen to our whole conversation here:

But if you’re not the pod-type, below are some of the highlights from our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity. — BW

(Snip)

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BW: Walter, I know that we’re not supposed to be looking forward, but it feels, at least to me, like we may be emerging out of the end of an era that stretches back decades, even centuries. Do you feel that way? What do you think is around the bend for America, and for the world?

WRM: The post–Cold War era is over. Russia, China, Iran, and other countries are not just disliking the post-1990 world order but taking action to contest it. This is a different kind of world. Great-power competition is here. The world is not about passing resolutions at the United Nations or creating multilateral forums. Hard power is back. 

That’s frankly terrifying to a generation that thought that all of that stuff was over, but we have no ability to go backward. When you study history, you discover the one thing that history really seems to teach most strongly: people don’t learn much from history. That is, generations continue to make similar mistakes. In some ways, the experiences of World War II and the Cold War were an unusually deep lesson. But even that lesson has begun to wear off. And so this may kind of contribute to your sense of our being in a different place.

NF: We’re in Cold War II. Things are a bit different. In this Cold War, China is the dominant partner and the Russians are playing second fiddle. There will be a non-aligned movement, but it’ll be different countries that will be non-aligned. I think much of the action will be transpacific rather than transatlantic. That's why I’d watch this space—Taiwan is coming soon. But here we are. It’s the same old kind of conflict in the same old place.

BW: It feels like we’re stumbling into a world that is hard and serious and maybe brutal—and that, at least in the West, we don’t have any leaders who feel up to that challenge.

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