The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” — Vladimir Putin, April 2005.
George Kennan, the father of U. S. containment policy in the Cold War beginning in the late 1940s, continually reminded us that the soul of Russian leadership would never stray very far from the czars and that “Russia will always be Russia in the pursuit of its strategic interests”. We have been reminded of this on numerous occasions over the past ten years, but seem not to be able to deal with its reality.
The current manifestation of this reality in Ukraine is the most threatening since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. President Putin is obviously unreconciled to the loss of Russian empire and, in fact, plans to restore it. If we are naive enough to believe that he is not serious, it will have very troubling consequences for the U. S. and world order. We think this is not a chess game? Not a zero sum contest? Maybe not to President Obama, but certainly to Putin. This is a battle between a community organizer and a KGB thug who has outwitted him at every step.
Putin’s march into the Crimea is an act of war, under auspices reminiscent of the Nazi march into Czechoslovakia to “rescue” the Sudetenland Germans, a brazen act which led to the capitulation of the West at Munich in 1938. You know the rest.
But what do we expect from a feckless leader who draws a meaningless “red line” at every trouble spot and then does absolutely nothing when it is crossed except give another speech warning of consequences that never materialize. This weakness has clearly emboldened Putin and don’t think the Chinese are not watching closely as they plot their next move in the South China Sea.
I’m not suggesting that we go to war over the Crimea, but there are a number of well-identified measures we should already have taken to inflict economic pain on Putin and his cronies, with or without European support. And we should have immediately terminated Russian membership in the G-8 and the World Trade Organization and boycotted the upcoming G-8 meeting in Russia.
Meanwhile, Obama conducts a 90 minute phone call with Putin. For what? This should have been a two-minute call in which Putin was informed that, in the words of Bush 41, “this will not stand”. And in public pronouncements he should have spoken in past tense, as in “I have ordered these things”.
You have to wonder if Obama knows what American strategic interests are. He doesn’t seem to think that we have any in this showdown. He certainly didn’t mention any in his very weak statement on the situation. America must lead, in concert with the UN and Europe, but alone if necessary. That is the burden of the world’s only superpower and leader of the free world. Meanwhile, the administration announces major cuts in military readiness in order to reallocate resources to its domestic wealth redistribution strategy and the cause of “social justice” in the world. Great timing.
Daniel Henninger reminds us of a speech by Ronald Reagan in Chicago in 1980, in which he said that “a realistic hope for peace is possible only if the U. S. maintains the ‘vital margin of safety'”. Henninger adds that this is not about public threats of war, it’s about maintaining the marginal advantage in diplomacy and the belief on the part of our adversaries that we might act militarily. If friends and enemies reach the conclusion that no one believes it, the margin is gone.