Sunday, April 13, 2014

Crimea Revisited: "We've Made it Clear"

ABC News
President Obama and his Secretary of State Kerry seem convinced of the efficacy of making grandiose pronouncements about consequences in the realm of international politics. They first made this policy clear in Syria, and are now reiterating their "speak loudly and carry a small stick" stance in the Russian annexation of Crimea.

In light of the best intelligence of the most sophisticated nation in the world, at least in regards to gathering intelligence, the separatist movement in Crimea (which is appearing to have likenesses in nearby regions) are the result of the rather obvious involvement of Russian special forces in those regions. Such actions violate the sovereignty of the state of Ukraine in the most blatant challenge to international borders since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

As laws only exist to the extent that they are enforceable, clearly something must be done. What bold and clear defense of international law will the United States take? After all, Barack Obama and Secretary Kerry "made it very clear" that there would be consequences, that there would be a very high price for Russia to pay. But what exactly does that mean? Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (what other state could he serve with a name like that) pressed Kerry on the subject of clarity in action. What are we going to do?

Secretary Kerry's definitive answer was that we would use "tools of the 21st century" to combat "behavior from the 19th century." He didn't elaborate on what those tools were, but I'm going to assume he wasn't going to use social pressure from Facebook and Twitter, unless of course, that's now national defense policy. It wouldn't be particularly surprising. Senator Johnson's admonition that Putin "only responds to action, and not to word" is only countered by Kerry's assertion that it has been made eminently clear that the United States will act. Just like Syria, it seems.

But this in itself would hardly constitute a crime, were it not for our president's tragic misreading of Russia's character. Both Hitler and Churchill were the successful statesmen they were (Churchill more so, thank goodness) for their ability to accurately read the will and sentiments of nations; it is what allowed Hitler to predict that France would succumb to a Nazi invasion, despite every single one of his general's protestations to the contrary. France--Hitler realized--was sick of war, and lacked to will to fight, even for its own preservation. Churchill, similarly understanding Germany and it's citizens' history, culture, and predicament in the 1920's, knew that Hitler was no laughable side-show, and posed a serious threat to Western civilization. This, before accurately predicting a similar threat from Soviet Russia on its heels. Obama seems to believe that Russia doesn't plan on continuing this expansion, first in Georgia in 2008, now into Crimea. Did he not hear Putin espouse the "Russian-ness" of Crimea, and Kiev (the capital of Ukraine, not in Crimea), and of Belaruss? Did he not hear the shock and hurt in Putin's description of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that "no one could have forseen"? If he did hear these implicit and insidious foreshadowing of Putin's plans for Russian dominance of Eastern Europe, he doesn't seem to think the problem is serious enough to warrant immediate and visible action. But the odds are high that he doesn't grasp this at all, given his public incredulity about Russia's desire for these expansions, as they are clearly "not in Russia's best interest." Unfortunately Mr. President, it isn't our job or area of expertise to dictate what is or isn't in Russia's best interest. We can only attempt to anticipate, form theories, and react accordingly.

The problem is with Obama's foreign-policy ideology and its evaluation of the character of nations and its leaders. Sometimes, people don't reciprocate kindness. Sometimes, generosity and giving the benefit of the doubt is--rightfully--thought by other heads of state as signs of weakness and permissiveness in matters of international law. Our current administration has tried its best to champion diplomacy as its primary tool, rather than violence, and it has already strained this in Iraq and Afghanistan. But here, words are empty. As Senator Johnson said, Putin doesn't respond to words, just as Bashar al Assad learned he need not worry about the big words of what was once the world's greatest superpower, since we don't have the will to follow up on our promises when they become politically inconvenient. We need action if we wish to avert a second Soviet empire with theocratic tendencies, casting a pallid shadow over Europe and Asia, but words are not real action, and "making it clear" that we're going to do "something" is not actually doing anything at all.

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