Global cooling 1

With the facts on the ground now established in Crimea — several thousand facts in the form of Russian troops — the question now becomes: Will sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia work? Will it reverse Vladimir Putin’s adventurism and deter future aggression?

Michael Gerson asks these questions at the Washington Post – as if there would be any sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia.

In any case, his answer is no.

He writes at the Washington Post:

One of [Putin’s] primary foreign policy goals is to relitigate the end of the Cold War. His intervention in Ukraine will press toward that objective until serious resistance is met. Like international aggressors before him, Putin would prefer the fruits of war without its costs.

Does he have reason to believe the resulting isolation of Russia will be sustained? The history of the “reset” says no. The weariness of Congress and the American public with conflict — which Obama emphasizes and encourages in his own rhetoric — says no. America’s humiliating dependence on Russian influence in the Syrian crisis says no. The desire for Russian help in the Iranian nuclear negotiations says no. The dependence of Europe on Russian natural gas says no. European Union vacillation and disunity say no.

It is, perhaps, this confidence that has led Putin not only to intimidate but also to humiliate. To sponsor Edward Snowden. To follow a 90-minute telephone conversation with Obama with troop movements. Many Russian goals in Crimea might have been achieved by intelligence assets and paramilitary forces. The use of Russian troops was intended as a broader message to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East: Don’t waste your hopes on the West.

Criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are now coming in waves. Its policy is improvised and feckless. Or it consists of cliches (“an interdependent world”) and condescension (“19th-century behavior”).

But Obama deserves more credit for good intentions and intellectual consistency.

Or no credit because of naivety and ignorance? Or – as we read him – an actual desire for America to lose, decline, and fall?

His foreign policy does have a theory. He believes that as U.S. power retreats from the world, a variety of good things will fill the vacuum. Allies and international institutions will take more responsibility. The United States will be better able to promote liberal norms, unburdened by discrediting military power.

If he believes that, then naivety and ignorance is right.

Gerson continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. He puts the best possibly interpretation on Obama’s actions: they may be mistaken but they’re benign.

This vision gives permission for drastic defense cuts, abandoned “red lines,” a scramble for the exits in Afghanistan and the ceding of leadership in crises such as Syria. It dovetails with domestic political imperatives — for Obama to be the ender of wars, focused on nation-building at home. …

The columnist himself has a better grasp of geopolitical realities:

The problem is this: When enlightened liberal norms are divorced from U.S. power, liberal norms do not win out. The vacuum is filled by:

●Radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, which prosper in chaos. In an atmosphere like Syria, the most brutal are the most successful, and eventually become regional and global threats.

●Despots such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who still believe in military solutions — such as using chemical weapons and “barrel bombs,” filled with oil and metal shards, on civilians — because these solutions are working for them.

●Nationalist powers such as Russia and China, which is now throwing its military weight around East Asia. Japan is experiencing an upsurge in nationalism.

In the 20th century, the United States was both unique and irreplaceable because it exercised great power without the blood-and-soil nationalism of Russia, Germany or Japan. It stood for universal, liberal, democratic ideals. We should not expect those humane ideals to thrive in the vacuum left by a retreating America.

He would seem to be using “liberal” in the real meaning of the word, and not as a euphemism for anti-Americanism, statism, and collectivism.  In which case, his liberalism isn’t Obama’s liberalism. But he seems to think it is. Which is why, we suspect, he takes so mild a view of the president’s motives and intentions.

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Charles Karuthammer, also writing at the Washington Post,  is more scathing: 

Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come.

He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness.

Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia annexed it 20 years before Jefferson acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

Now Russia looms over the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin can take that anytime he wants — if he wants. He has already destabilized the nationalist government in Kiev. Ukraine is now truncated and on the life support of U.S. and European money (much of which — cash for gas — will end up in Putin’s treasury anyway).

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

“That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” says Kerry. Makes invasion sound like a breach of etiquette — like using the wrong fork at a Beacon Hill dinner party.

How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet? Followed by the assertion that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” — like NATO? — “make no sense in an interconnected world.”

Putin’s more cynical advisers might have thought such adolescent universalism to be a ruse. But Obama coupled these amazing words with even more amazing actions.

(1) Upon coming into office, he initiated the famous “reset” to undo the “drift” in relations that had occurred during the George W. Bush years. But that drift was largely due to the freezing of relations Bush imposed after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Obama undid that pushback and wiped the slate clean — demanding nothing in return.

(2) Canceled missile-defense agreementswith Poland and the Czech Republic. Without even consulting them. A huge concession to Putin’s threats — while again asking nothing in return. And sending a message that, while Eastern Europe may think it achieved post-Cold War independence, in reality it remains in play, subject to Russian influence and interests.

(3) In 2012, Obama assured Dmitry Medvedev that he would be even more flexible with Putin on missile defense as soon as he got past the election.

(4) The Syria debacle. Obama painted himself into a corner on chemical weapons — threatening to bomb and then backing down — and allowed Putin to rescue him with a promise to get rid of Syria’s stockpiles. Obama hailed this as a great win-win, when both knew — or did Obama really not know? — that he had just conferred priceless legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad and made Russia the major regional arbiter for the first time in 40 years.

(5) Obama keeps cutting defense spending. His latest budget will reduce it to 3 percent of GDP by 2016 and cut the army to pre-Pearl Harbor size — just as Russia is rebuilding, as Iran is going nuclear and as China announces yet another 12-plus percent increase in military spending.

Puzzling. There is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse. Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military.

Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?

Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier. …

Next weekend’s Crimean referendum will ask if it should be returned to Mother Russia. Can Putin refuse? He can already see the history textbooks: Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back. Not bad for a 19th-century man.

Posted under Commentary, communism, Russia, Soviet Union, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, March 7, 2014

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  • liz

    What can one say? Pathetic and embarrassing, for sure, but that’s the least of it. It’s like we’ve given a four year old a loaded gun, and since he’s the little “Prince”, none of the adults can bring themselves to take it away from him and send him to his room. They’re just taking cover and hoping for the best.