Russian Policy and American Timidity

Herb London

3/18/2014 1:50:00 PM - Herb London

As Russian troops secured the Crimean peninsula, the ruble hit a record low and the Russian stock market plummeted, even as American and European officials threaten more pain to come in the form of sanctions and the freezing of assets. This is a costly proposition for Russia.

One might well ask: why did Putin choose to invade?

It happened for the same reason that underlies every act of aggression by one nation against another: “Because I can.”

For Putin, the cost of the west’s economic sanctions, they do not add up to the benefits of invasion. Ukraine is the linchpin in accomplishing his goal of restoring the “near-abroad” – the rebuilding of what was once the “Soviet orbit” to include the nations that were unleashed at the close of the Cold War.

Putin’s justification (that ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and Crimea should be reunited with Mother Russia), has drawn comparisons by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Hitler’s rationale for invading Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland -- consolidation of the German people. What’s troubling is that Putin’s contention could likewise apply to the Baltic States, where there are sizable Russian minorities.

It is startlingly obvious that Putin chose to invade because there isn’t a United States with the political fortitude to stop him. Aggressors in world affairs count on timidity: continuing Secretary of State Clinton’s analogy to Europe in the 1930s, it is well recognized that a combined French and British force could have stopped Hitler’s troops in the Rhineland, but they could not bring themselves to act.

The Obama foreign policy is predicated on soft power – the use of diplomacy to convince and persuade. But soft power only works with hard power behind it.

The so-called “reset” with Russia, which Obama has promoted, is reset on only one side: we give, they take. The notion that U.S. flexibility will result in mirror image Russian flexibility is now fully exposed for what it has always been – a fantasy.

Russia has as its sole foreign policy goal the promotion of national interest. At the moment, that interest is defined by Vladimir Putin, who in 2005 told the Politburo, “above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.” Redressing this “geopolitical disaster” is his aim.

In most respects, Russia is a backward nation. Life expectancy is in decline; alcoholism is on the rise; the birthrate is below replacement level. The economy is reliant on primary industry -- mining, oil and natural gas. Despite outstanding mathematicians and technologists, high-tech development is virtually non-existent. In real terms, economic conditions for the average person have not improved in decades.

What gives Russia its clout are nuclear weapons, sophisticated missiles and a large standing land and sea force. That said, the Russian military machine could not stand up to U.S. forces by any expert calculation, notwithstanding retrenchment in the American defense budget.

This calculus, however, is predicated on the will to act when action is necessary. By any measure, Putin has Obama’s number. He senses indecision and weakness. He realizes that consequences will not follow provocative actions.

President Obama has given his enemies repeated signals that his bluster is not his policy.

His rhetoric was appropriate after Syrian President Assad’s used chemical weapons, but in the end, his policy only reinforced the Assad regime. He canceled plans for radar installations in Poland and the Czech Republic in return for Russian cooperation in the war against terror; they got what they wanted, but we did not. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were invited to his Cairo speech, but the group has only strengthened its ties to al Qaeda, leaving Obama twisting in the wind.

The result is a Russian invasion that embarrasses the president, illustrates in graphic terms the fecklessness of Obama’s policies and undermines the prestige of the nation. This is a dark hour in our history; one that I pray can be reversed.