The strength of the once mighty western nations has been hollowed out through comfortable complacency and illusions of wealth. Europe was content to shirk the expense and effort of maintaining any military strength, leaving that chore to the U.S. Tired of that task, the once indispensable U.S. chose as its 'leader' an individual eager to follow Europe's lead while basking in the conceit that his oratorical skills and rhetoric would transform the world into a peaceful planet.
What we are left with is an America that is neither any longer really:
Liked or trusted,
Nor respected or feared
By anyone of any significant stature.
Mr. Putin understands this. And the lesson certainly is being learned by the realists in the Forbidden City intent on having China replace the U.S. as the dominant power in the Western Pacific. The lesser nations in that Asian region already are adjusting to the change there.
The upshot of all this is that either Putin's Russia or China or perhaps both eventually will overreach and cross some real line that cannot be ignored. At that point the hollowed-out west will be forced to take real -- rather than rhetorical and symbolic -- action. By then though, doing so will entail a presently unimaginable price in blood as well as treasure. Worse still, unlike the run up to World Ware II, the tardy awakening and action may be too late to avoid the West being defeated and consigned to history's dustbin.