Why England Slept was one of the few things John F. Kennedy took credit for that Ted Sorenson didn’t actually write. In it Kennedy, a senior at Harvard in 1938, asked why Great Britain didn’t act during the German military buildup of the 1930s. Always a literary thief, he took the title from the earlier Churchill book While England Slept.
Well, we could ask the same question of successive American administrations. Both Republicans and Democrats watched Putin rise and hardly lifted a finger until it was too late to stop the invasion of a major European country. Why did we sleep and how many chances did we have to wake up?
We slept for the reason most people sleep. We were tired. Forty six years of Cold War from Berlin to Korea to Vietnam to the fall of the Berlin Wall fatigued us. We’d done more than our share of the job. We spent trillions in dollars and lost over 90,000 KIA in Korea and Vietnam alone. Vietnam separated the American people from the intelligentsia and the West was on an almost constant close to war footing. Remember SAC?
When the Soviets hung up the hammer and sickle at the end of 1991 we needed the rest. Then about ten years later came 9-11 and we were distraced by that for twenty years. All the while after 1991, Putin watched and planned. Wake up calls? We had four major ones.
1) Former KGB colonel becomes president of Russia at the end of 1999. Bill Clinton and the gullible George Bush ignore the fact that a Soviet spy runs Russia. A bloody KGB man! Bush even says in 2001, “I was able to get a sense of his soul. He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” If, of course, the KGB vet thinks its best interests are defined by invading other nations.
2) Putin says in 2005, “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Gee, is that a hint? Think he might want to reverse the disaster now that he’s the Russian president? Nahhhhh.
3) Putin invades Georgia at the end of 2008, still under Bush’s watch. Technically Medvedev was president of Russia, but Putin still called the shots. Did Bush then organize a boycott of Russian goods, rouse NATO, and or send arms to the Georgians? No. Revanchist Vladimir Putin took note.
4) Putin invades Ukraine the first time and takes Crimea in 2014. With a fellow fan of the Soviet Union in the White House, Putin had no trouble from Barack Obama when he took the Crimea. Putin sees the trend.
Putin took a break, at least on invasions, during the Trump administration. Trump was so mercurial, so unpredictable, that Putin couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t nuke Moscow if they looked at him the wrong way. Well played, Trump. Putin would wait for greener pastures and a Democrat administration. He got one, Russian and Chinese Intelligence probably helped bring it about, in 2021.
Putin then started making belligerent noises, testing the Biden administration. Biden gave him what he wanted on a lessening of Trump sanctions and a virtual halt on American oil exploration and production. Putin the irredentist saw this weakness and incompetence and put the Ukraine plan into motion likely in mid 2021. And here we are. We slept most of the time over twenty years and now we’re paying for it. But we didn’t have to. The signs were there all along.