DUBAI, U.A.E. — I recently participated in a discussion where someone said, “Why is Obama taking such a strong stance on Ukraine?” Huh? Meantime, the “Obama is weak” trope is commonplace; with the retort being, “What would you have him do? Send troops?”
This is a 1938 moment. It’s clear we’re really just hoping Herr Putin will be appeased by Crimea only, and won’t go further. We play-act at diplomacy with the Russians virtually laughing in our faces while they do send troops — shredding a key principle which has undergirded the modern world’s peace among major nations, and threatening return to an earlier and nastier paradigm. If Russia can invade a place on the phony pretext of protecting its countrymen, well, there are a lot of them in a lot of places. We can’t have this. Russia must pay a price sufficient to get this demon back in the bottle.
I’ve suggested that Obama’s fecklessness on Syria emboldened Russia. Actually, we can go back to 2008 (pre-Obama) when Russia was countenanced to grab a chunk of Georgia with scarcely a murmur of scolding. Or back to the 1990s, when I already felt we were muffing the opportunity to enfold Russia securely into the world community. We were too inhibited by our habitual enmity, unable to turn completely on a dime. Nor could Russia, but we should have been better.
It’s been widely argued that expanding NATO to Russia’s border was a mistake, a provocation. But it was Russia that chose to see it that way, though we did fail to spin it differently. However, now we see that NATO expansion was not a mistake; being obligated to defend all its members debars Russia from invading any of them, like the Baltics. Likewise Ukraine, had it been brought into NATO.
So, yes, we are in a new cold war. It’s not of our making. If we failed in friending Russia, it’s really Russia that has unfriended us. For quite some time Putin has been on a vicious anti-Western jag. And this lot is just as bad as the Soviets if not worse. Russia has trashed its 1990s Budapest treaty guarantee of Ukraine’s territorial integrity (which international law would require anyway), on the ridiculous pretext that Ukraine now has a different government, which Russia refuses to recognize, calling it the product of a coup (whereas in fact Ukraine’s parliament properly ousted Yanukovych for his crimes) — while Russia does recognize the new Crimean “government” installed by its soldiers after chasing out the elected officials at gunpoint. The secession referendum, also at gunpoint, is also insupportable. As is the claim that Russia is acting to protect its countrymen. While Putin denies Russian troops are even there!
He and his apologists seem hepped up with a Nietzschean sense of Russian moral superiority over a flabby West. Our indeed flabby response to the Crimean atrocity can only abet this sickness. What makes Russians so puffed up about their nation? — thoroughly corrupt, cynical, undemocratic, bullying, drunk on military swagger and literally drunk on vodka — a nation so crummy that, not coincidentally, its birth rate is just about the world’s lowest. (Who’d want to raise a child there?) Russians seem to feel, “We may be a crummy nation, but we’re a strong one.” Well — bully for you.
Much more could be done (non-militarily) to punish Russia, but we’re too economically beholden. (As Lenin said, the capitalists will sell the rope to hang them with.) I used to think globalized world trade would make military adventurism foolhardy, endangering a nation’s linkages to the global economy. But now we see that cuts both ways; nobody is actually willing to punish military adventurism by cutting those links at cost to themselves.
Europe is held hostage to Russian gas; we should use our new fracked gas bounty to free them from that. Russia should be expelled from the G-8 and, more importantly, the WTO, which it worked so long and hard to get into. Or, at least, this should be explicitly threatened if Russia annexes Crimea, rather than our thus far piddling, unspecified, and thus non-credible threats. Going to the UN Security Council would only point up our diplomacy’s make-believe (because of Russia’s veto there) — but why not instead convene the General Assembly (where there’s no veto) for a resolution to condemn Russia’s action and pretext?