This is why we can’t have nice things:
In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour back in Washington.
I don’t mean Barack Obama. He’s doing pretty much everything he can, with what are a very limited set of policy options at his disposal. No, I’m talking about the people who won’t stop weighing in on Obama’s lack of “action” in the Ukraine. Indeed, the sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational historical context.
As in practically every international crisis, the pundit class seems able to view events solely through the prism of US actions, which best explains Edward Luce in the Financial Times writing that Obama needs to convince Putin “he will not be outfoxed”, or Scott Wilson at the Washington Post intimating that this is all a result of America pulling back from military adventurism. Shocking as it may seem, sometimes countries take actions based on how they view their interests, irrespective of who the US did or did not bomb.
Missing from this “analysis” about how Obama should respond is why Obama should respond. After all, the US has few strategic interests in the former Soviet Union and little ability to affect Russian decision-making.
Our interests lie in a stable Europe, and that’s why the US and its European allies created a containment structure that will ensure Russia’s territorial ambitions will remain quite limited. (It’s called Nato.) Even if the Russian military wasn’t a hollow shell of the once formidable Red Army, it’s not about to mess with a Nato country.
That was Michael Cohen at The Guardian, and he wears glasses so he must be smart. Here are his brainiac credentials:
Michael A Cohen is author of Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Campaign Speeches of the 20th Century and How They Shaped Modern America. A regular columnist for the Guardian and Observer on US politics, he is also a fellow of the Century Foundation.
See? He wrote a book! He’s a REGULAR columnist! He’s a FELLOW! You gotta give mad respect to someone like that. I bet he even went to college and stuff too! (Here’s a more detailed bio.)
But wait! There’s more!
Even a week ago, the idea of a Russian military intervention in Ukraine seemed far-fetched if not totally alarmist. The risks involved were just too enormous for President Vladimir Putin and for the country he has ruled for 14 years. But the arrival of Russian troops in Crimea over the weekend has shown that he is not averse to reckless adventures, even ones that offer little gain. In the coming days and weeks, Putin will have to decide how far he is prepared to take this intervention and how much he is prepared to suffer for it. It is already clear, however, that he cannot emerge as the winner of this conflict, at least not when the damage is weighed against the gains. It will at best be a Pyrrhic victory, and at worst an utter catastrophe.
Ruh roh! Vlad done screwed the pooch this time! Here’s why:
At home, this intervention looks to be one of the most unpopular decisions Putin has ever made.
The economic impact on Russia is already staggering.
Even Russia’s closest allies want no part of this.
Russia’s isolation from the West will deepen dramatically.
That was from Simon Shuster at Time magazine. That’s what I said, TIME magazine. They sell that magazine in supermarket checkout lines so you know they are all like important and stuff. And Simon Shuster (not to be confused with Simon & Schuster) is actually based in Moscow so he’s got the inside scoop. That is why he was able to confidently predict just last week that Russia would not invade Ukraine.
Still not convinced? Then try this from Peter Beinart at The Atlantic:
If you’ve listened to President Obama’s critics in recent days, you’ve almost certainly heard two claims. First, that under Obama, America is in retreat around the world. Second, that America’s retreat emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
Let’s take the second claim first. Obama’s critics differ as to which moment of White House fecklessness spurred Putin to act. “Ever since the [Obama] administration threw themselves in [Putin’s] arms in Syria … I think he’s seen weakness. These are the consequences,” insists Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, by contrast, suggests, “The big one that started this was the absolute retreat on our missile defense system in Poland and Czechoslovakia.” Either way, there’s a causation problem. If it was Obama’s weakness—in the Middle East or Eastern Europe—that encouraged the Russian president to invade Ukraine, then how do Corker and Rogers explain Putin’s decision to do something similar in Georgia in 2008, back when George W. Bush was president?
See? See? Bush did it too!
Back in 2008 when George Bush was the lamest of lame ducks and was really unpopular and we were still fighting two wars that we needed Russia’s support in and the Democrats controlled Congress and we were in the middle of an election, Bush did NOTHING!
Only a complete idiot would say that in both cases Vladimir Putin accurately assessed that he could act with impunity because our president was too weak to stop him.
So keep all that stuff in mind before you go calling Barack Obama a feckless idiot. Obama’s foreign policy is all fecked up.