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Flashback: 'The 80's Called...'

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Posted: Feb 22, 2022 9:05 AM
Flashback: 'The 80's Called...'

Let's begin with a nonpartisan statement of clarity: The person who is overwhelmingly responsible for the crisis in Ukraine is Russian despot Vladimir Putin.  He has manufactured all of it, without anything even resembling a legitimate justification for any of it.  Casting about for political blame at home is a common impulse in a polarized time, and there are certainly factors at play for which the Biden administration is at fault. The president's shockingly incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan, for instance, was a disgrace, a betrayal, and a sign of weakness.  His 'minor incursion' gaffe at a press conference last month was a clear mistake -- as was this early signal to Putin:


But focusing too much on the American president's shortcomings -- and there are many, very much including in this context -- somewhat lets the true culprit off the hook in our political discourse.  Putin did this.  Biden's feebleness may well have informed his calculus, but this is still Putin's show.  This is not America's fault, or Ukraine's; it is Russia's.  The Kremlin could end the crisis today by redeploying Russian troops away from the Ukrainian border and making no effort to (again) meddle in a sovereign neighbor's affairs, or to invade.  To the extent that things escalate, it will be Russia's escalation.  There's a strong argument to be made that crippling, painful sanctions should have already been imposed over recent weeks.  Goalpost shifting about what 'counts' as an invasion will only invite more aggression.  The West has been promising bruising consequences against Putin for quite some time.  Are red lines still red lines?  Now what?  This performance by the Vice President in Munich, predictably, did not inspire confidence:


Putin is clearly not particularly intimidated by this crop of Western leaders; hopefully he doesn't push things even further, or perhaps the pinch of major sanctions will shift his decision-making matrix.  But as Putin illegally projects Russian military power into a democratic neighbor for the third time in the last decade-and-a-half, I'm reminded of this snide one-liner quip from President Obama during a 2012 presidential debate:  


Mitt Romney was right about the geopolitical challenge Russia and Putin posed then, and continue to pose now.  Obama made it a ridiculing punchline, and the media (the same media that's been positively obsessed with Russia's malign influence since 2016, as has been on a war footing in recent weeks) laughed and cheered.  Putin made an incursion into Georgia at the tail end of George W. Bush's presidency, then stole part of Ukraine on Obama's watch (during Obama's second term, following the '80's' comment), while helping Syria flagrantly violate Obama's red line on chemical weapons with impunity.  Now, under Obama's former Vice President,  Putin is trying to steal more of Ukraine.  One wonders if Obama ever regrets mocking Romney's correct assessment.  Probably not too much, because it helped Obama win, and power has always been Obama's overarching goal -- far beyond any 'principle' (see this and this for two glaring examples, off the top of my head).  But history should remember and record who was right and who was wrong.  Such things are consequential when it comes to matters of war versus peace, and democracy versus tyranny.   China is watching closely. I'll leave you with Romney still being right about Putin: