Will Putin hand Obama his Sputnik moment?

by Chris Zappone

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Barack Obama has been struggling to galvanize the American public with a call to action around national competitiveness in the area of technology, energy, education for at least four years. Yet, time and again his calls for a Sputnik moment both in 2010 and in his 2011 State of the Union address have been lost amid the clatter of partisan wrangling.

The reason for his call is simple enough – the gap between the US’s technological and economic edge and that of the rest of the world is narrowing. The more it slims, the more trouble the US may find itself in geo-strategically. Of the countries posing the biggest challenge – without a doubt, China is already No. 1 on the list.

So it’s with some interest watching the hand-wringing and calls to action in Washington following Vladimir Putin’s move in Crimea. According to a Quinnipiac Poll more than half of Americans polled believe the “Ukraine situation could lead to a renewal of the Cold War.”

Others see Putin creating the “bad guy” the Obama Administration has lacked and needed to galvanize the American people and to show them the “merits of a rule-based international.”

The irony in all this would be that there’s little of a threat from Russia for the US economy. The real economic challenge to the US emanates from China. That means that a “Sputnik” moment received and acted upon in the US could actually alter the status quo between the US and China.