Contributor Post Created with Sketch. This Ends With a Moscow Beer Summit

 

The typical conservative criticism of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy — one yours truly has indulged on repeated occasions — is that it fails to account for willful aggression. Under the White House’s reading of the world, there are no animosities, just misunderstandings. Given this line of reasoning, the imperative of international relations is not so much deterring hostility as it is lifting our antagonists out of their false consciousness.

There are two varieties of liberal rejoinders to this proposition. The more forceful rebuttal is that this is nothing more than a caricature, a confusion of diplomatic subtlety with outright weakness. The more guarded version concedes that the president may have been naive in his earlier days, but has developed a more sophisticated reading of the world in office. Evidence for either is hard to find in the interview the president gave to CBS’s Scott Pelley this week, as reported by Politico:

“I think [Putin’s] been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,” Obama said in an interview with CBS that aired on “CBS This Morning” on Friday. “You would have thought that after a couple of decades that there’d be an awareness on the part of any Russian leader that the path forward is not to revert back to the kinds of practices that, you know, were so prevalent during the Cold War.”

Obama attributed Putin’s feelings to a sense of nationalism.

“He’s said that he considers the breakup of the Soviet Union to be tragic,” Obama said. “I think there’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”

Obama told CBS’s Scott Pelley during the interview, recorded Friday in Vatican City during Obama’s swing through Europe, that it is “well-known” Russia is massing troops along the border with Ukraine, though whether their intentions are intimidation or something more remains unclear.

He said that the U.S. has no intention of inhibiting Russia, but that it does intend to let Ukrainians decide their future.

To appropriate the president’s signature verbal tic, let’s be clear: letting Ukrainians decide their future requires inhibiting Russia.

“What I have repeatedly said is that he may be entirely misreading the West. He’s certainly misreading American foreign policy,” Obama said. “We have no interest in encircling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives.”

Putin may be paranoid — a lifetime spent in the KGB followed by a stint holding together a massive country through brute force will do that to a guy — but are his analytical skills the ones in question here?

Best I can tell, he reasoned that the West was in no mood for a fight, with America gun shy from the White House on down and Europe in hock to Moscow for energy. He also knew that Western handwringing over Crimea’s historical affiliations with Russia would create a fig leaf for inaction — and while career diplomats stroked their chins in Foggy Bottom, Russian armored personnel carriers could take up residency on the peninsula

No doubt, there is a head of state misunderstanding the situation here.

In case you’re wondering, he’s the one whose side is losing.

There are 26 comments.

  1. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Surely it doesn’t hurt that Russia seems to have met with precious little resistance from within Crimea itself?

    • #1
    • March 28, 2014, at 1:14 PM PST
    • Like
  2. Aaron Miller Member

    This ends in a Kiev beer summit… with Putin hosting.

    • #2
    • March 28, 2014, at 1:14 PM PST
    • Like
  3. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Misthiocracy:

    Surely it doesn’t hurt that Russia seems to have met with precious little resistance from within Crimea itself?

     Of course, though I think it’s safe to say that the presence of the Russian military gives us an artificially low reading of local hostility. That was surely part of Putin’s calculation — what difference do sovereign borders make if you’ve got a chunk of the populace that’s game for annexation anyway?

    • #3
    • March 28, 2014, at 1:21 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Misthiocracy:
    Surely it doesn’t hurt that Russia seems to have met with precious little resistance from within Crimea itself?

    Of course, though I think it’s safe to say that the presence of the Russian military gives us an artificially low reading of local hostility.

     I dunno. Georgia managed to make its displeasure known when it was invaded.

    • #4
    • March 28, 2014, at 1:58 PM PST
    • Like
  5. Elephas Americanus Inactive

    We don’t have to resort to military action or Obama’s petulant sideswipes to ding Russia. We could, say, throw our support to the claims on current Russian territory made by nations that are a bit more powerful than Ukraine. We could voice support for Japan’s reclaiming Karafuto Prefecture on Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands, for example. And the Chinese have long resented the Treaty of Aigun, one of the Unequal Treaties that ceded Outer Manchuria to Russia, cutting off China’s access to the Sea of Japan. Just look how much land that was part of China for centuries is now in Russia:

    I bet Beijing would love to have all that territory (now called Primorsky Krai) back. Outer Manchuria/Primorsky Krai was supposed to be jointly administered by China and Russia, and Deng Xiaoping was said to have mentioned that China will get it back someday. I’m sure that, knowing America and the West stands with it, the P.R.C. could snatch that up faster than Putin got Crimea.

    • #5
    • March 28, 2014, at 2:39 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik Post author

    Misthiocracy:

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Misthiocracy: Surely it doesn’t hurt that Russia seems to have met with precious little resistance from within Crimea itself?

    Of course, though I think it’s safe to say that the presence of the Russian military gives us an artificially low reading of local hostility.

    I dunno. Georgia managed to make its displeasure known when it was invaded.

     There’s no question that the Georgian population was more hostile to a Russian takeover than the Crimeans. My point is simply that even though many (likely most) in the Crimea weren’t averse to a change in management, not all were. Had they decided to join Russia through a conventional democratic process, that’d be a trifling consideration — minorities have to live with their defeats in a democracy, after all. But popular support from a fifth column doesn’t legitimize another state’s violation of territorial sovereignty, even if it does make it more likely to succeed. 

    • #6
    • March 28, 2014, at 2:51 PM PST
    • Like
  7. Valiuth Member

    Silence may imply consent, but only if one is actually free to speak. 

    The Russian actions where completely criminal and lawless, as they did not involve the consent of both affected parties (Ukraine and Crimea). Had the Ukraine actually been engaged in any kind of illegal action in Crimea such as ethnic cleansing then they might have had a reason to ignore Ukrainian protestations. This though was not the case. Ukraine was not by any international standards an illegitimate regime, as witnessed by the overwhelming global recognition of their new government. 

    This is not a misunderstanding any more than a mugging is a misunderstanding. By failing to put Russia down here we are inviting more lawless behavior in the future. Not only form them but form others. 

    • #7
    • March 28, 2014, at 4:05 PM PST
    • Like
  8. Totus Porcus Inactive

    Obama seems to think he just hasn’t been clear enough disavowing Western interests in Eastern Europe and in telling “Vladimir” that he doesn’t need to worry about a Western military response of any kind to the invasion of Ukraine. He has leaped head first into the mistake of thinking that Putin’s public rationale for taking Crimea is honestly held, as opposed to calculated for its effect on Western audiences.

    In Obama’s positively awful Brussels speech, he repeatedly said things like:

    Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.

    and

    The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor [sic] a military solution.

    Putin can only take that as a green light to do whatever he wants in Ukraine, as long as it’s draped in a phony cloak of ethnic affinity. Then Obama will shake his head and lament Putin’s misunderstanding. And give another bad speech.

    • #8
    • March 28, 2014, at 4:26 PM PST
    • Like
  9. Percival Thatcher

    You see, Russia is just a regional power, bitterly clinging to its guns and religion and antipathy to people who aren’t like it.

    Let’s sign them all up for Obamacare. Everything will be just fine then.

    • #9
    • March 28, 2014, at 4:31 PM PST
    • Like
  10. Z in MT Inactive

    It is interesting how Obama phrases his understanding of Putin’s motivations.

    “a deeply held grievance”

    “the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”

    Even Obama’s foreign policy is colored by his experience as a community organizer. It’s as if Obama can’t accept aggression that isn’t explained away as a reaction to some previous real or imagined wrong done to the aggressor by an oppressor, “The Man”, in this case the West.

    • #10
    • March 28, 2014, at 5:05 PM PST
    • Like
  11. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    Z in MT:
    It is interesting how Obama phrases his understanding of Putin’s motivations.
    “a deeply held grievance”
    “the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past.”
    Even Obama’s foreign policy is colored by his experience as a community organizer. It’s as if Obama can’t accept aggression that isn’t explained away as a reaction to some previous real or imagined wrong done to the aggressor by an oppressor, “The Man”, in this case the West.

     I’m going to bet that Barry’s never been punched in the face. Let’s just say it’s a lesson everyone should learn, once – and then he’d have a better understanding that not everything, not every person, not every event, not gravity, can be assuaged with the calm assertions of a pampered fop who thinks if he can only speak to people, he can make them understand.

    They understand, all right. They understand we have a Sissy-in-Chief who embarrasses himself the more he rationalizes his inaction.

    • #11
    • March 28, 2014, at 5:46 PM PST
    • Like
  12. Jerry Carroll Inactive

    This appears to be the reaction in Mother Russia to Obama’s talk of sanctions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz_m6N1IYuc

    • #12
    • March 28, 2014, at 7:37 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Western Chauvinist Member

    I watched the replay of that interview. It was torture. I had to stop it several times just to hurl invectives at the screen before continuing.

    I find it incredible that that man is the president of this country and the ostensible “leader of the free world.” Fabulous. And not in a good way, but rather in a way of or relating to a fable. It would take a great novelist to pull off a fictionalized Obama with any credibility. Even Scott Pelley strained himself trying to look as if he took the President seriously.

    Notice how his answers are always descriptive without making value judgments. “…willing to show a deeply held grievance…” “the path forward is not to revert back to the kinds of … practices” (long pause before choosing “practices”). If you just read the words and didn’t know the setting or the speaker, you might mistake Obama for Putin’s press secretary.

    Meanwhile, Reagan was excoriated for calling the “USSR” the “evil empire.” I think Obama would throw a clot before saying something so direct about Putin (not so about Republicans, though). Unbelievable where we are in 30 short years.

    • #13
    • March 28, 2014, at 8:03 PM PST
    • Like
  14. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chri… Coolidge

    Our President becomes an apologist for a country that invaded another. He has rationalized Putin’s actions out loud so he can sleep better tonight. Barry knows that Barry did the right thing.

    Behold: Smart Power

    • #14
    • March 29, 2014, at 5:49 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Aaron Miller:
    This ends in a Kiev beer summit… with Putin hosting.

     Wouldn’t that be a Vodka summit? I’ve had Russian beer…um, no, nyet, nein…..

    • #15
    • March 29, 2014, at 8:44 AM PST
    • Like
  16. Profile Photo Member

    All that Obama can credibly do is talk and hope to run the clock out until the next administration has to deal with Putin.

    Can you see Obama credibly drawing a “red line” against any Russian activity? He couldn’t hold to his own red line again Syria, let alone a real world power.

    Can you see Obama leading a military coalition (from the front, from behind or the middle) against Russia?

    There is nothing he is capable of, so he has to pretend that nothing that is happening is important and let someone else figure it out in late January of 2017.

    • #16
    • March 29, 2014, at 9:13 AM PST
    • Like
  17. Mike H Coolidge

    On armed resistance, is life under Russia going be so oppressive as to justify recklessly endangering the lives of all the people living there? Even if it is not an ideal situation, I question whether resistance based on philosophical ideals of governance are warranted when regime change is unlikely to have a large negative effect on the day-to-day life of citizens.

    • #17
    • March 29, 2014, at 9:42 AM PST
    • Like
  18. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Hartmann von Aue:

    Aaron Miller: This ends in a Kiev beer summit… with Putin hosting.

    Wouldn’t that be a Vodka summit? I’ve had Russian beer…um, no, nyet, nein…..

     Czech beer is really good. They could hold the summit in the Sudetenland.

    • #18
    • March 29, 2014, at 12:09 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Freesmith Inactive

    The Germans do not favor sanctions against Russia, but Americans do.

    Crimea puts up no resistance to Russia’s invasion, but America’s lack of action against it is called “chicken.”

    The US defense budget ($293 billion in 1999, $580 billion today) is being hollowed-out, but some Ricochetti want us to rattle sabers and put down new military “tripwires.”

    The thrill of battling Islamic fundamentalism via military action has paled with the American public, but all of a sudden Ukraine is a big deal and we hear chatter about a New Cold War with Russia.

    Does anybody else think we’re getting played?

    • #19
    • March 29, 2014, at 8:12 PM PST
    • Like
  20. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Freesmith: … but Ricochetti want us to rattle sabers …

     Easy now. I’ve seen all sorts of diversity in the opinions of the Ricochetoisie on this issue.

    • #20
    • March 29, 2014, at 8:32 PM PST
    • Like
  21. Freesmith Inactive

    If Obama opts for tougher sanctions against Russia and the NATO allies go along with him, and the result are closer ties between Russia and China, will that be a triumph for American foreign policy or a blunder?

    I say blunder.

    But who’s advice will Obama have heeded if he does opt for tougher sanctions?

    Harry Reid’s or John McCain’s?

    Fareed Zakaria’s or William Kristol’s?

    • #21
    • March 29, 2014, at 9:06 PM PST
    • Like
  22. Devereaux Inactive

    Mike H:
    On armed resistance, is life under Russia going be so oppressive as to justify recklessly endangering the lives of all the people living there? Even if it is not an ideal situation, I question whether resistance based on philosophical ideals of governance are warranted when regime change is unlikely to have a large negative effect on the day-to-day life of citizens.

     But they already showed they were willing to do armed resistance – against the bullets of the previous regime. A reasonable number of Ukrainians gave life or limb to the snipers the regime had set up. Let’s not forget the remnant Ukraine has a fair number of battle-tested vets – from the Russian army. They were willing to fight.

    They don’t need our armed intervention; they need our intervention – with arms, some training, stuff to make the Russian army’s life miserable if they choose to invade. They need our moral support. They need money; the last regime drove their nation into the dirt for its personal enrichment. And Russia needs real repercussions.

    • #22
    • March 30, 2014, at 10:29 AM PST
    • Like
  23. Devereaux Inactive

    Freesmith:
    … and the result are closer ties between Russia and China, will that be a triumph for American foreign policy or a blunder?
    I say blunder.

     Closer ties – that’s pretty rich. Russia and China are foes. China still covets the land the Russians took a century ago – now a thriving coastal region.

    If America is NOT going to act imperious, look for China to consider taking that land back.

    • #23
    • March 30, 2014, at 10:32 AM PST
    • Like
  24. Profile Photo Member

    The United States guaranteed the sovereignty of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. We can debate all day the pros and cons of that guarantee, but we made it. I think two separate notions spring out of that:

    1. At common law, there was no affirmative duty to rescue someone, but if you offered to rescue someone, a duty kicked in. If nothing else, by promising Ukraine that we would protect its sovereignty, they relied on us and did not take steps they would have otherwise taken the absence of our commitment. It may be moral or immoral to defend another nation as a general rule, but it is immoral to induce a country to give up its means of self-defense with a promise to defend them that you later ignore.

    2. If we cannot be taken at our word to stand by this guarantee, which other guarantees will we disregard? There is surely some point at which America might have to make a credible threat of force to protect obvious American interests and our adversary will conclude that threats are not credible. With every red line we ignore, we are inviting future conflict.

    • #24
    • March 30, 2014, at 11:13 AM PST
    • Like
  25. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Quinn the Eskimo: At common law, there was no affirmative duty to rescue someone, but if you offered to rescue someone, a duty kicked in. 

    What if you promise to protect someone, and then when the moment comes you determine that any attempt at rescue would be futile, like a firefighter who knows it’s simply impossible to extricate someone from a burning building?

    • #25
    • March 30, 2014, at 12:05 PM PST
    • Like
  26. Freesmith Inactive

    Devereaux

    Russia and China drawing closer together could be literally rich. You may be interested in Spengler’s point-of-view:

    http://pjmedia.com/spengler/2014/03/26/not-even-wrong-about-russia/

    Yes, China covets territory held by Russia; but there are more economical ways to acquire property than to seize it with an army – trade, for instance.

    • #26
    • March 30, 2014, at 12:09 PM PST
    • Like