Thursday, April 17, 2014

Obama vs. Putin: The Mismatch !

''The United States does not view Europe as a battleground between East and West, nor do we see the situation in Ukraine as a zero-sum game. That's the kind of thinking that should have ended with the Cold War.''  -- Barack Obama, March 24

Lovely sentiment. As lovely as what Obama said five years ago to the United Nations; No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.''  That's the kind of sentiment you expect from a Miss Ameri9ca contestant asked to name her fondest wish, not from the leader of the free world explaining his foreign policy.

The East Europeans know they inhabit the battleground between the West and a Russia that wants to return them to its sphere of influence. Ukrainians see tens of thousands of Russian troops across their border and know they are looking down the barrel of quite a zero-sum game. Obama thinks otherwise. He says that Vladimir Putin's kind of neo-imperialist thinking is a relic of the past -- and advises Putin to transcend the Cold War.

GOOD GOD! Putin hasn't transcended the Russian revolution. Did no one give Obama a copy of Putin's speech three weeks ago upon the annexation of Crimea?  Putin railed not only at Russia's loss of empire in the 1990s, he went back to the 1920s: ''After the revolution, the Bolsheviks...may God judge them, added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine.'' Putin was referring not to Crimea (which came two sentences later) but to his next potential target: Kharkiv and Donetsk and the rest of southeastern Ukraine. Where right now he has his agents in those areas stirring up the Russia-leaning sympathizers.

Putin's irredentist grievances go very deep. Obama seems unable to fathom them. Asked whether he'd misjudged Russia, whether it really is America's greatest geopolitical for (as Romney stated in one of his pre-election debates), he disdainfully replied that Russia is nothing but  ''a regional power''  acting ''out of weakness.'' 

Where does one begin? Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan were also regional powers, yet managed to leave behind at least 50 million dead. And yes, Russia should be no match for the American superpower. Yet under this president, Russia has run rings around America, from the attempted ingratiation of the ''reset'' to America's empty threats of ''consequences'' were Russia to annex Crimea. Annex Crimea it did. For which the ''consequences'' have been risible. Numberless 19th and 20th-century European soldiers died for Crimea. Putin conquered it in a swift and stealthy campaign that took three weeks and cost his forces not a sprained ankle. That's ''weakness'' ?

Indeed, Obama's dismissal of Russia as a regional power makes his own leadership of the one superpower all the more embarrassing. For seven decades since the Japanese surrender, our role under 11 presidents had been as offshore balancer protecting smaller allies from potential regional hegemons. What are Americas' allies thinking now?  Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and other Pacific Rim friends are wondering where this new ''warm and fuzzy'' America will be as China expands its reach and claims. The Gulf states are near panic as they see the United States playacting nuclear negotiations with Iran that, at best, will leave their mortal Shiite enemy just weeks away from the bomb.

Admittedly, America never sought the role that history gave it after World War ll to bear unbidden burdens ''to assure the survival and the success of liberty,'' as moving described by John Kennedy.
American citizens have an appropriate aversion to the stark fact that the alternative to U.S. leadership is either global chaos or dominance by the likes of China, Russia and Iran.

The Way I See It.....Obama doesn't even seem to recognize this truth. In his major address in Brussels, which happened to be the very day that Russia seized the last Ukrainian naval vessl in Crimea, Obama made vague references to further measures should Russia march deeper into Ukraine, while still emphasizing the centrality of international law, international norms and international institutions such as the United Nations. Such fanciful thinking will leave our allies with two cghoices: bend a knee -- or arm to the teeth. Ether acquiesce to the regional bully or gird your loins, i.e., go nuclear. As surely will the Gulf states. As will, in time, Japan and South Korea.

Even the Ukrainians are expressing regret at having given up their nukes in return for paper guarantees of territorial integrity. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was ahead of its time -- the perfect example of the kind of advanced 21st century thinking so cherished by Barack Obama. Perhaps the captain of that last Ukrainian naval vessel should have waved the document at the Russian fleet when they came to take his ship.

UPDATE:  Yesterday, the United States, Ukraine and the European Union reached an agreement that called for armed pro-Russian bands in eastern Ukraine to surrender the government buildings they have seized. Hours before the Geneva agreement it was announced that Pro-Russian militants tried to storm a military base in Mariupol, prompting a firefight that left three of the activists dead, 13 wounded and 63 captured. But neither President Obama nor Vladimir Putin signalled that the crisis was over, especially since Putin asserted historic claims over Ukrainian territory and the right to send in Russian troops on television before the agreement was announced. All Obama could say afterwards was the talks offered ''a glimmer of hope,'' but ''we're not going to count on it,'' and added that the U.S. would take more punitive action if Russians didn't abide by the terms.

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