Thursday, March 20, 2014

Russians Laugh at Obama's Weakness as Ukraine Crisis Enters More Dangerous Phase

Obama just does not understand that peace comes through strength and that any perceived weakness invites war!

It's three weeks now since Russia seized the Ukraine. During that time Obama has reacted with mostly ambiguous and symbolic statements and actions. He talks about "costs" to Russia yet the only concrete action he took were limited economic sanctions on just 11 Russian and former Ukrainian officials. On Thursday, he added 20 more names to the list following the lead of the European Union.

Russians laughed at Obama's weak response. One official said it must be the work of some "prankster" and pointed out that not all Russian officials have money deposited in western banks. Also, wives of officials were not included. It's possible that in a number of cases the family money might be in the wife's name to avoid just this sort of action.

Ukraine has requested immediate military aide in the form of ammunition and defensive weapons. Instead, Obama sent military rations or MREs (meals ready to eat). Quite a gesture to a country that lost seven million people to a famine caused by Josef Stalin in the 1930's where people had to resort to cannibalism of family members to survive.

Obama's Attempt at De-escalation Gives Putin the Green Light

Russians wasted no time taking the name of an
autonomous Crimea off the region's parliament building.
In the midst of Obama's typical dithering when it comes to foreign affairs a handful of observers asserted that he was actually trying to defuse the situation and give Putin a way out. But it's clear from Putin's actions that he saw Obama's sidestepping as weakness and stepped on the accelerator.

At the point of a gun Russians conducted a referendum on Crimean independence with the result that 97% of those voting wanted to join Russia. That's surprising since opinion polls taken over several years suggest only very narrow support for such a move.

Following the vote the Russians didn't waste any time and immediately began dismantling the name above the Crimea's formerly autonomous parliament. The same day Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order officially annexing the Crimea and making it part of Russia. Below, a woman in Crimea watches Putin's speech while holding an image of her idol Josef Stalin. It looks like the good old days are back once more!

Russians in Crimea celebrate annexation with communist flags and images of Josef Stalin. Stalin, whose policies caused the deaths of 7 million native Ukrainians made it possible for Russians to dominate Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine.
In his speech after signing the annexation order Putin said:
PUTIN: "Our Western partners headed by the United States prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun."
"They have come to believe in their exceptionalism and their sense of being the chosen ones. That they can decide the destinies of the world, that it is only them who can be right."
Those words might sound familiar to Obama. The left has been saying nearly the same thing for years and Obama might have said them himself when George W. Bush was President. The irony must be too much. But perhaps these words, and the Left's belief in them describes why Obama is so hesitant to act in foreign affairs.

First Crimea, Next, THE WORLD!

Following a similar formula to the seizure of Crimea, the Russian government is making noises about eastern Ukraine and also the Republic of Latvia.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on the Ukrainian border. Where will it all end? The Washington Post put together this "cheat sheet" graphically displaying reasons to be concerned about renewed Russian expansion:

This is not to suggest that Russians will invade or annex each of these countries of concern. If Obama, leading the West, (or not leading) continues to do little more than symbolic noises without even a wrist slap of real consequences for Moscow, the Russians won't have to invade. They will simply signal their displeasure and their targets will fall in line and do Russia's bidding.

Obama too busy with basketball to bother with Ukraine?
What Would Reagan Do?

Instead of leading Obama is busy declaring Happy Hour at Democrat fundraisers and working on March Madness basketball tournament predictions. The official White House web site even has a page dedicated to this activity. Real leadership on Ukraine appears to be absent.

Elected officials and former National Security personnel from both the Republican and Democrat side of the aisle have urged stronger measures and more visible leadership (1,2,3,4,5). Even Hillary Clinton says we need to do more. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, declared this crisis "a call to action." At some point that "action" must be more than words.

Actions speak louder than words and action is the only language Putin understands. Concrete steps Obama and the West might take include (1,2,3,4,5):
  • Obama threatened to "isolate" Russia in the world community if it seized Crimea. It's time to do just that and cut Putin off from international forums. Not just throw Russia out of the G-8 which treated Russia as an equal but end NATO and other links, like trade organizations, as well.
  • Give the Ukrainians the defensive weaponry they need.
  • Restore cuts to America's military. 
  • Do more than send John Kerry or Joe Biden to Poland and the Baltic States. Restore the missile defense treaty with Poland (and the Czech Republic) which Obama foolishly canceled because he believed the Russians were our friends. Send additional military aid to the region.
  • Provide massive financial support for Ukraine as that country attempts to transition away from reliance on Russia.
  • Russians closed down local news media in Crimea and replaced it with state propaganda. Beam Western news and information into Crimea and Ukraine.
Writing at Slate, Fred Kaplan suggests we discuss with Ukraine and allies over open phone lines Putin is most likely bugging the possibility of sending covert military aid and Delta Forces to disrupt and punish any Russian military expansion.

Oil and Gas: The Most Effective Weapon but One Obama is Loathe to Use

The suggestions above are short and near term proposals. What is needed is a long term plan that deprives Putin of the ability to engage in such lawless activities. The most effective tool to use is oil and gas. Putin's military and the Russian economy depend on oil and gas to survive. Reduce that revenue and Putin is impotent.

Ideas to investigate corrupt Russian oil and gas executives and freeze their holdings in the West do not go far enough. Drive down the price of oil/gas and provide new sources of supply to Europe and Putin's options dry up. With the stroke of that pen Obama is always talking about he could order the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to speed up applications for new liquefied gas exports. He could also open up the process for exploring for oil and gas on federal lands that has been largely shut down since he became President. In a few years massive new supplies of energy would drive down world prices and force the Russians to retreat. Reagan did it in the 1980's. But would Obama?

As of now, not even the Meals Ready to Eat (MREs)Obama promised earlier have left their storage locations in the United States let alone been delivered. Putin surely knows this and takes it as yet another sign of Obama's weakness and indifference. Five years into his presidency and Obama appears incapable of providing strong leadership. Unless that changes nations like Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea will continue to threaten world peace. The best hope for peace is a strong America and that's one job Obama doesn't seem to understand!

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