Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is Obama's weakness partially to blame for Ukraine? The proof is in the Putin.

The virtually universal and independent ( that is to say non-partisan, non-political) opinion, along with the predictable partisan Republican cheap shots,  is that Putin's moves into Crimea were fueled and emboldened  by Putin seeing Obama as weak and irresolute,  has no respect for him, doesn't believe Obama would take a stand or take any action that would matter, and considers everything Obama says as just empty words. Unfortunately, the truth is, who doesn't think that?

Obama caved in to Republicans on domestic issues and reneged on promises so often going as far back as the 2008 Democratic primaries,  from his dropping the public option on healthcare to breaking his promise to close Gitmo and watering down financial reform and just about every other domestic issue,  that Obama's credibility was so low that when it was extended to foreign affairs Putin was convinced that Obama was not a force to be reckoned with in taking the kind of  action he took in Crimea.

Many people point to Syria and Obama's quickly abandoning of his so called "Red Line" if Assad used chemical weapons  as being the significant  moment that re-enforced Putin's lack of respect for Obama and his calculation that Obama would do nothing to stop his planned incursion into Crimea. Ironically, it was a deal brokered by the Russians, which so far Syria has failed to live up to, that replaced  Obama's promise of a missile strike against Syria for using chemical weapons.

But Obama showed something less than resolve and resiliency long before Syria when it came to foreign policy. Obama vacillated twice in Egypt, first, waffling over whether to continue to support  Mubarak or the demonstrators in the streets who revolted against Mubarak. Obama began by supporting Mubarak then switched positions when the outcome became clear and he eventually supported new elections.  But a year after those new elections Obama vacillated once again in Egypt,  this time when Morsi, Egypt's newly elected president was also overthrown for not delivering on promises he made and the military sided with the demonstrators.Some in congress called it a coup and wanted Obama to cut off military aid to Egypt. Obama never voiced a position one way or another and did nothing.

There was Obama's waffling  over supporting the rebels in Libya until France and Britain took matters into their own hands and sent fighter jets to attack Ghadaffi  in support of the rebels and, perhaps showing a bit of contempt,  didn't even bother to notify Obama in advance.  And long before any of that, the first time Obama was forced to take a position on an issue concerning foreign policy, when hundreds of thousands of Iranian demonstrators took to the streets protesting a rigged presidential election that returned Ahmadinejad to power, Obama, embarrassingly, took a public position deciding he didn't want to take sides.

With Iranians being shot and clubbed in the streets, all  Obama could manage was that he "didn't want to meddle in Iranian affairs". When a girl named Nadia was shot in the face and killed on the streets of Tehran and became an international symbol of the fight for democratic institutions against dictatorships in the middle east, long before what is now being called the Arab Spring, Obama couldn't even bring himself to publicly stand up for and support the demonstrators and democracy. Instead he said again, he didn't want to meddle. What Obama got in return was Ahmadinejad accusing him of meddling.

So no one should be surprised that Putin has shown no concern over a meaningful response from Obama to  moving troops into Crimea under a pretext everyone knows is false.  Or, as seems inevitable, to the eventual annexation of Crimea which it which most experts say would be a violation of international law.

It was pointed out here, and also by Hillary Clinton which the news media immediately distorted for their own purposes, that Hitler used precisely the same pretext to send German troops into the Sudetenland in 1938 -- ostensibly to protect German speaking people from gang violence (of which there was no evidence) because the government in Czechoslovakia was incapable of protecting them.

This is the rationale Putin is using for invading Crimea.  Had Obama himself pointed out the same historical truth, given history and how the Nazis had killed tens of millions of Russians, that historical fact could have had a much stronger affect on Putin  than any of Obama's proposed "limited sanctions". At the very least it would put him on the defensive and force him to try and explain why it's not the same both internationally and to the Russian people.

Instead there's been virtual silence from Obama, except for the occasional political cliche like Putin "being on the wrong side of history",  while the historical truth grows more similar everyday.  Russian troops, or local militias supported by Russian troops have been acting like storm troopers, threatening unarmed civilians, shutting down Ukrainian TV stations,  replacing them with Russian propaganda, attacking and roughing up unarmed journalists, and conspicuously masking their faces,a virtual admission they are behaving like criminals.

Most recently, there was the erecting of barbed wire on the border between Crimea and eastern Ukraine by these militia, the surrounding of Ukrainian military bases and demands of surrender, and the threat that Putin might push even further into Ukraine, all of which has so far brought nothing of substance from Obama or the NATO countries the U.S. ostensibly leads.

Certainly Obama could have done more even in the war of words. Obama could have accepted Putin's claim that the military on the ground wasn't Russian (as preposterous as most observers say that claim is) and turn it against him.

By accepting Putin's claim, Obama could have  issued a warning to those "local militias" that if they provoked a military confrontation, if they attacked Ukrainian forces, or unarmed civilians,  the U.S. would have no choice but to defend Ukraine against attacks in accordance with its 1994 defense agreement with Ukraine to defend it in return for the Ukraine giving up it's nuclear arsenal. What could Putin do? Claim they are Russian soldiers after all and warn that the U.S. is risking a conflict with Russia when the U.S.could say it is only doing what Putin himself claimed to be doing,  protecting people from violence?

Obama could have even invited  Putin to join the U.S. and NATO and send in Russian forces to Crimea in a joint operation to help protect citizens from violence and help keep the peace. What could Putin say to that? No?

Instead Putin is only getting threats of limited, targeted and as yet  unannounced sanctions. No response or warning against the thuggery being carried out against unarmed Ukrainian civilians,the  military threats against the Ukrainian military and demands of surrender, or violence by so called local militias. Or Putin's intention to annex Crimea.

There is no indication Obama will have any kind of strong response to any of these things.  Which is the best reason in the world for the Russian president to have no second thoughts that he's been a hasty Putin.

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