March 6, 2014 3 Comments
I just had my class read former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ The Parties vs. the People. And while I think Edwards goes to far in his critique of the parties and partisanship, the Republican’s absurdist and knee-jerk response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine has me admitting that Edwards is certainly onto something. I’ve read a number of posts, etc., so far on this point, but Kristof’s is definitely the best I’ve seen:
Shrewd reporting about the Ukraine crisis comes from The Onion, which declared that American reaction is evenly divided — between the “wholly indifferent” and the “grossly misinformed.”
In the latter category, it seems, belong the chest-thumpers who blame the Crimea catastrophe on President Obama.
“We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression,” scolded Senator Lindsey Graham (revealing his own weakness: grammar). “President Obama needs to do something!”
Likewise, Senator John McCain complains that Obama’s foreign policy is “feckless,” so that “nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.”
Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, worries that Russia is “running circles around us.” The Washington Post warns in a stinging editorial that “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.” The Wall Street Journal cautions that the basic problem is “Obama’s retreat from global leadership.”
Oh, come on! The villain here is named Putin, not Obama, and we should have learned to feel nervous when hawks jump up and down and say “do something!” We tried that in Iraq. When there are no good options, a flexing of muscles by NATO or by American warships in the Black Sea would only reinforce President Vladimir Putin’s narrative to his home audience while raising the risk of conflict by accident or miscalculation.
I love this point:
The basic constraint is that there are more problems in international relations than solutions. [emphasis mine]
And some nice historical context:
The critics I cite often rely on two fallacies: first, that Putin is driven by Obama’s weakness; second, that the seizure of Crimea is a great win for Russia.
The Soviet Union didn’t invade Hungary because of President Eisenhower’s weakness, nor Czechoslovakia because of President Johnson’s weakness. Russia didn’t help dismember Moldova because of George H.W. Bush’s weakness or invade Georgia because of George W. Bush’s.
We don’t have much leverage because Putin cares far more about Ukraine than he does about being in the G-8. So, by all means, let’s raise the cost of aggression with banking sanctions (which proved most effective against North Korea and Iran), but let’s also recognize that, in the long run, it’s Putin who has stumbled here.
Russia has just driven Ukraine into the West’s orbit and acquired a long-term headache.
I’m far from an expert on international diplomacy or Russian domestic politics, but it takes only the most cursory reading to understand 1) no matter how much the Republicans complain, this is overwhelmingly about Putin and Russia, not Obama; and 2) no matter what, there’s just not a hell of a lot we can do; 3) we are actually doing what we can. Hard to imagine any American president– Republican or Democrat– handling this much differently and to pretend otherwise is just naked and stupid partisanship. The stuff we can do? We’re doing it! And Republicans are just shamefully pretending otherwise. I’ll conclude with the conclusion of EJ Dionne’s column on the matter:
There’s also this. A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: the first, that we will not commit U.S. military forces in this crisis, but secondly, we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?