Tuesday, March 04, 2014

President Obama's cautious, restrained, responsible leadership on the Ukraine situation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The usual warmongering idiots on the right, from John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Krazy Bill Kristol and anyone else who likes to play partisanism with international relations and world affairs, not to mention many in the "mainstream" media who buy into American hegemonic militarism and dick-wagging, are training their sights as much on the American president as the Russian one, as if somehow the person to blame now is not the guy waving his dick around Crimea but the guy in the Oval Office who apparently isn't waving his dick enough to satisfy domestic American bloodlust.

Yes, all this is somehow Obama's fault, or at least made worse by Obama's supposed inaction, or by his supposed lack of leadership, or by his something, it's not entirely clear. You can find yourselves McCain's spittle-spewing rants, or Kristol's seemingly reasonable but actually utterly insane views, but let's turn here to the non-liberal editorial board of the non-liberal Washington Post, which alone proves that the "liberal media" is anything but, which on Sunday took the liberty of attacking Obama for somehow making the Ukraine/Crimea crisis worse, or enabling Putin, or not being tough enough, or something:

FOR FIVE YEARS, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which "the tide of war is receding" and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances — these were things of the past.


The urge to pull back — to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls "nation-building at home" — is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, "Maximalist." There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he's also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn't make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.


Military strength, trustworthiness as an ally, staying power in difficult corners of the world such as Afghanistan — these still matter, much as we might wish they did not. While the United States has been retrenching, the tide of democracy in the world, which once seemed inexorable, has been receding. In the long run, that's harmful to U.S. national security, too.  

So... what? Obama is supposed to... ramp up military spending with reckless fiscal abandon, like it's the 1980s all over again and the key is to bankrupt the Soviet Union through a renewed arms race? Or... send toops to Crimea to engage the Russians who are unofficially there? Or... well... just wag his dick around like he owns the fucking world?

Look, there are many reasons to be critical of Obama's approach to international relations and, more so, national security generally. But how exactly is he some sort of isolationist pussy with his head in the clouds? This is the guy, after all, who pulled U.S. forces out of the disastrous misadventure that was the Iraq War; who has had enough of the pointless nowhere that is the Afghan War; who forced regime change in Libya when he sided with the rebels; who took a restrained, nuanced, responsible approach to the Arab Spring, who redirected counter-terrorism activities fully against al Qaeda and who gave the risky order to take out Osama bin Laden; who has waged a controversial drone war in the Middle East to weaken al Qaeda and others; who made an historic breakthrough in relations with Iran; and who has rebuilt America's credibility on the world stage after Bush and Cheney obliterated it. Again, there are things not to like there, like the drone war, and certainly there has been a lack of clarity on, say, Syria, though it's not exactly clear what he should do there other than what he's doing, namely, supporting the rebels without overcommitting and otherwise working with America's allies, here as elsewhere, on alternatives to military intervention. 

All of which is to say, Obama is both a realist and an internationalist who understands that the world has changed and that the U.S., its military, and its approach to global engagement must change with it.

And so what exactly he is supposed to do about the Ukraine that is, oh, realistic? Because there isn't much he can do that isn't insane.

And that's what's missing from all these attacks on Obama: a realistic alternative to what he's doing now. Which suggests that these idiots -- McCain, Graham, Kristol, WaPo, etc. -- have nothing, just venomous loathing of the president and a desire to make him look bad, along with a commitment to American global hegemony that is itself remarkably, embarrassingly unrealistic and very much the opposite of Obama's restrained, nuanced realism. 

As LG&M's Paul Campos puts it, regarding the WaPo hit piece, "The Editors manage to write 800 words on the Russia-Ukraine crisis without making anything that even begins to resemble a concrete policy suggestion, while at the same time excoriating the president for failing to 'lead' from his BULLY PULPIT," as if all Obama needs to do is wave his dick around and threaten American might, as if somehow American might makes right, which of course is just fucking stupid and irresponsible.

Besides, Obama is doing something, something far more productive than trying to push his weight around in a part of the world where America's weight means little and where military intervention would be catastrophic: working on non-military ways to isolate and weaken Russia, using Russia's participation in global markets against it, and of course working with Europe to make this happen. Russia may really want to regain control over Crimea and even to reinstall its puppet in Kiev, and certainly at some level Putin dreams of resurrecting Great Russia (he thinks losing the Ukraine was a disaster), but how will he react with his country's economy heading into a tailspin because it's been cut off from its export markets and its access to capital?

Furthermore, while Republicans and some in the media are asserting, with their typical shallowness, that Putin is winning and Obama is losing, the reality is quite different. Even if Russia takes Crimea and continues to threaten Kiev, this could all be a massive miscalculation on Putin's part, as he settles in for an expensive and potentially explosive occupation of a foreign (if heavily Russian) country and finds himself cut off from Europe, specifically, unable to get his natural gas to European markets. As Michael Cohen writes at The Guardian:

Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He's compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia's natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.

So, really, why should Obama do more than he's doing? Why should be push his -- and America's -- weight around? Why should be pull out his dick? That would only arouse Russian popular sentiment in Putin's favor and weaken efforts to push Putin back through non-military mechanisms. Indeed, I would argue that Obama's apparent weakness, according to his idiotic critics, is actually strength, an expression of caution, restraint, and responsibility that is really the only viable option at the present time and that could, over time, lead to a long-term resolution to this crisis.

Obama's critics are salivating for war, or something. Thankfully -- for America, for the Ukraine, for Europe, for the world -- they're not the ones calling the shots.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home