Every week on Monday morning, the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum with short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture or daily living. This week’s question: If You Were President Obama, How Would You Handle The Situation In Ukraine?
Liberty’s Spirit: Keeping Russia out of the G-8 was a good move. Also finding a way to limit Russia’s ability to sell their oil and natural gas on the open market would also hit Russia in the pocketbook. Of course a wounded bear is not so easily contained and it is a fine line between showing international condemnation and making that bear even more hostile. Remember a wounded Germany after WW1, instead of being cowed by sanctions and world derision turned to the Nazis and hence we ended up with the horror that was WW2. A wounded and angry Russian bear could turn us back into the bad-old-days of the Cold War.
Russia is in a highly vulnerable state, economically and internationally. We do not want to make the same mistake with Russia that we made with post WW1 Germany. However, unless you are willing to go to war over Crimea (you need to ask yourself, and answer honestly, is this incident worth the lives of YOUR children before you decided military action is tenable) then the only alternative is economic sanctions and keeping Russia out of organizations like the G-8. Of course the reality is that the entire first world has to be in line in order for there to be any real effect upon Russia. However, Europe as usual does not have the stomach for anything but specious pronouncements as they are beholden to Russia for their energy needs, especially Germany. Also there are too many financial and economic ties to Russia for any one nation to truly do anything about Russia’s aggression. Businesses worldwide would have to be willing to take a huge financial hit if they boycotted Russia and that is not something that anyone is going to make happen anytime soon. You can ask what is the tipping point? Honestly considering that the world’s red line (not just Obama’s) has continued to be crossed when dealing with the Iranian nuclear bomb, nor stopped the slaughter in Syria, it is highly doubtful that anyone has the desire to really do anything about Putin.
However, it would be good to have those in the White House who understand that rhetoric really gets you nowhere with someone like Putin. That a “Smartpower” policy would have to have a policy of decisive containment (sadly we are dependent on Russia for our space program now), energy independence (no Keystone pipeline and a refusal to open up areas to drill leaves us energy vulnerable to the likes of Putin) and allies that believe you are on their side (canceling the missile shield in Poland leaves vulnerable all those east European allies who are now once again in fear of Russian hegemony). Obama’s foreign policy has completely ignored these three major policy areas in dealing with Russia. In fact, in the case of the missile shield and nuclear downgrade of our military, Obama completely capitulated to Russian demands from the outset.
Now would Putin be so aggressive if he thought that the US had descent leadership? He did invade Georgia while Bush was in office and compared to Obama, Bush was highly aggressive and continually attacked for his “cowboy diplomacy, aka military actions.” So the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t necessarily matter who is in the White House when you are dealing with an oligarch like Putin. However, containment of Putin’s aggression is possible if you practice “Smartpower.” Something the Obama national security team never has done and is totally incapable of producing.
GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: Commonwealth Russia’s annexation of Crimea is gon be like a short-term political high at home that will eventually fizzle out. Long term though, Russia gains nothing from the annexation but a bleak peninsula of no economic or military importance, and the distrust and/or hatred of her neighbors.
A campaign of insurgency – funded by interested nation states with all the faux cover that terms like non state actors can provide would be interesting to say the least.
Nasty things like IEDs or better – EFPs (explosive formed penetrators) detonating amidst periodic sniper attacks would certainly queer the mix of Commonwealth’s adventures in her Near Abroad if hooked up with a myriad of ‘Rebel’ groups in Crimea and their Public Relations wave. Rebel Radio and TV could play on underground chic – particularly in old Ost Europa
Spectacular attacks will keep the spotlight on the area, granting internat’l interest and attention.
Commando style attacks on communications centers – storming, seizing and holding TV and radio stations would have a short life span as Russia would most likely play back with a heavy hand – thus sparking the insurgency to actually launch attacks outside of Crimea – even in Mommie Russia herself.
JoshuaPundit: The first thing I think that’s important going in is to understand that what we did to Russia and the Serbs with Kossovo is far worse than what Putin did with the Crimea. And what’s more, we didn’t even have any national interests at stake there. It was simply wag the dog, to distract the news headlines from Bill Clinton’s intern problems and look good to the Muslim world. And it has negatively affected our relationship with Russia severely to this day.Memories are long in that part of the world.
The last thing we want, in my opinion, is any kind of military action. Ever since Barack Hussein Obama was a Senator, he’s demonstrated a disdain and a profound disrespect for our military, so the idea of any kind of action while he’s C-in-C is out of the question if we can possibly avoid it.
What would I do about the Ukraine? Assuming that Obama was out of the picture, John Kerry was out closing in on another rich widow and I had total control over things, I would schedule a sitdown with President Putin for some serious horsetrading and a discussion of our future relationship.
I would happily offer to swap the entire Ukraine if necessary in a covert agreement in exchange for Russia looking the other way and keeping stuhm while we dealt with Iran’s nukes. We have no interests there. Especially if I offered this carrot with a regretful mention of my being forced to resort to the ultimate stick if we couldn’t agree – barring Russia and anyone trading with them from doing transactions via the US banking system. Since oil trades are delineated in dollars and the world banking system flows through New York, this would be the ultimate sanction on Russia, one they couldn’t get around. Plus the Europeans and the Chinese would be forced to go along because of their exports and financial dealings here in America. What we’re doing now is mere pinpricks.
I think there’s a very good chance Putin would go for it, especially since dealing with me, he’d be pretty certain I planned to solve that particular problem with Iran anyway, agreement of no agreement.
You see, I look at it from the standpoint of what benefits us and gives Putin a little something to save face with. That’s exactly the opposite of what you’re seeing with Obama and Kerry.
I’m not particularly worried about Putin expanding to any of the other countries near his border aside from Moldava,perhaps. With the exception of Finland, they’re all NATO allies who could call on Article Five of the treaty, and Putin knows it. He’s a rational actor. Russia is not in a position to fight that kind of war right now, and going after the Finns would be a serious mistake. The Russians tried that before and it was not pleasant for them in the least.
Provided we no longer have a president who’s a serial prevaricator who can convince our allies we can be depended on, building up the military power and our security cooperation with the Visegrád Group would also be a good check on any ideas Putin or anyone else might have. Those countries certainly don’t trust Obama, and with good reason. But that can change with different leadership.
The Glittering Eye: There isn’t much that can be done at this point. The economic sanctions that are palatable to the Europeans aren’t enough to discourage the Russians so we’re limited to ineffectual gestures and condemnation. The president has already condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and repeating it won’t make it more effective. Less to, if anything.
Most of all we shouldn’t get cozier with Ukraine’s government. There’s little reason to believe that they’re freedom-loving liberal democrats. Indeed, in all likelihood they’re the same corrupt kleptocrats that the Yanukovych and Tymoshenko governments were.
We might have been able to do something if we’d started twenty years ago. We could have tried to slow the transition from the Soviet system to the present one, allowing liberal institutions to gain strength. We could have given the fledgling Russia a little more support. We didn’t need to treat them like vanquished foes. We could have discouraged the expansion of the EU and NATO into former Warsaw Pact and Soviet countries or, at least, slowed it. That expansion, coupled with the interventions in Serbia, Kosovo, and Libya, convinced the Russians that NATO wasn’t a defensive alliance but an anti-Russian alliance.
We’ve also over-emphasized the importance of individuals, first Yeltsin, now Putin. But that’s a somewhat different subject.
Every one penny drop in the price of oil takes money out of the Putin’s pockets. We can influence the price of oil by a) producing more and b) consuming less. Lowering the price of oil is a two-edged sword. It will hurt Russia and it will help China.
The Razor: This is an easy question: I’d handle it exactly as Obama has.
It’s impossible to learn something new when one knows everything. Obama believes he knows the situation better than anyone on his staff, which is why he pursues this policy. Since he knows everything and implemented this policy, he cannot change it.
From his narcissistic perspective, he has done nothing wrong. It’s Putin who refuses to see reality, which from an outside perspective is Obama’s reality, not the reality that exists outside his own mind. From Obama’s perspective Putin is acting irrationally and almost insanely because Putin refuses to acknowledge the post-Cold War/Transnational reality where Russia is no longer a powerful nationalistic state. Because Obama is completely unable to perceive the world in any other way, let alone from another person’s perspective in an objective, unbiased way, he cannot understand Putin’s actions. They seem random and disconnected; it must puzzle him – and I wonder if he believes Putin is being poisoned or becoming mentally disturbed.
But from a perspective other than Obama’s we can see Putin’s action as quite rational when viewed in nationalistic terms. While I personally have wished Russia and China would see the world in a broader perspective, one that recognizes that international relations in the 21st century is not a zero-sum game, I understand that if a person sees you as an opponent you must treat him as an opponent. No amount of wishing is going to stop him from trying to hurt you. Therefore we have to react to Putin (and China, which is on deck to create the same mayhem in South Asia that Putin is making in Eastern Europe) in a way that he understands; by undermining his actions through diplomatic and military means when necessary. This would mean supporting rebel elements throughout the fringes of the Russian Empire, arming the Ukrainians, and generally attacking Russia through all means necessary short of a hot-war.
Luckily for Putin he has plenty of time before Obama leaves office, and that time may grow even longer if America elects an Obama-like Hillary Clinton or an isolationist-leaning Rand Paul. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to expand the Russian Empire, and from Putin’s perspective he’d be crazy not to take it.
Simply Jews: Thankfully I am not in the POTUS shoes at the moment, because in my opinion the man is in a bind in the current situation.
Obama and USA don’t really have a military option, aside of a doomsday scenario, which will be sheer madness, taking into account the questionable qualities of both sides of the conflict. To support the (ostensibly) pro-Western side in the Ukraine means extending the patronage to a big group of raving ultra-nationalist with roots in the Ukraine stained past. So I would exclude the military option anyway.
On the political front the POTUS has a totally immovable adversary in Vladimir Putin. Not only Putin has demonstrated several times during the recent years that he is a better poker player than Obama, he is also immune to political pressure, having unprecedentedly strong support at home. And not caring much for the world’s opinion, it has to be added.
Economically POTUS’ hands are bound, at least in the short term. Trying to apply economic pressure at the moment, with Europe being held hostage by Putin’s hand on the gas and oil taps, will almost certainly leave US alone in the battlefield.
The only remaining way is to establish the infrastructure for replacement of Russian source of gas and oil by US and others, which will take time. This, however, should be done anyway, since Russian expansion is by no means limited to the Crimea adventure. Having the Europe fueling solution in place, Obama then can seriously move to the economic blockade of Russia – which in the long run is the only measure that could endanger Putin and his KGB cronies at the helm.
Ask Marion: If I were President Obama, I would never have found myself in his position with Putin and the Ukraine to start with. Weakness and/or dysfunction begets weakness and dysfunction!
I am a Sarah Palin kind of gal… so would be a Ronald Reagan kind of president in a skirt! However, that being said:
If I were President Obama I would start by keeping my mouth shut unless I was ready to act:
The President addressed an audience in the Netherlands this past Tuesday after which he stood at his podium awaiting the customary round of applause. Instead, none came… virtually nobody applauded. One audience member can be heard clapping a slow, awkward clap for a few seconds before promptly giving up after noticing that his enthusiasm was not catching on (He and the United States have become laughable.
And then I would follow the KT McFarland route, giving the following speech (short and sweet)… and then take action:
First: I will reverse my decision to halt the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. America will go ahead as originally planned and build the missile shield, but an accelerated basis. That means U.S. military personal will be working alongside Polish and Czech military to construct and operate the systems. The missile shield is designed to protect Europe from Iranian missiles, but you get the point. Uniformed U.S. military will soon be stationed near the Russian border.
Second: I will reverse course on the defense budget. Your defense minister just announced Russia is negotiating basing rights in seven nations around the world. He also said you were rebuilding old Soviet era military bases in central Asia. Your parliament has just voted unanimously to invade Ukraine. In light of that, this is no time for my Secretary of Defense to announce we’re gutting our military.
Third: I will allow the Keystone Pipeline to go ahead, again on an accelerated basis. That will not only give a boost to the American and Canadian economies, it will start driving down the price of oil.
Fourth: I will give my wholehearted support for fracking and horizontal drilling. American energy companies will now develop the vast oil and gas resources that lie, literally, under our feet. We’ve seen the U.S. go from natural gas importers to exporters in less than five years and the price of gas fall accordingly. We will now do the same with oil. Analysts expect the price of oil could decline by 20%.
I don’t have to tell you what that means for the Russian economy. Your economy and government are solely dependent on energy revenues. You need oil above $90 to meet payroll. It should settle well below that within a few years time. And free markets are a great thing – they anticipate change and will start short selling you now. That will make it difficult for you to pay for food imports, subsidies, your military buildup, and of course the extremely expensive the Sochi Olympics.
Fifth: I will send a trade delegation to Poland and other countries in Central Europe to explore ways of helping them use fracking technologies to develop their own gas reserves. Chevron and Shell have already signed a $13 billion deal with Ukraine. I expect others to follow.
At the same time I will throw roadblocks in front of any American energy company that seeks to develop your eastern Siberian fields. Your existing oil fields in western Siberia have, maybe, a decade left. You need our technology to develop new ones. You’re not getting it.
Sixth: It’s time we refocus on Western Europe’s over-dependence on Russian natural gas. We will explore ways to export our new found natural gas surpluses to Europe by underwriting building of LNG terminals to accept imports from America. And while we’re at it, we will reassure our NATO allies, especially those that used to be under Soviet control, that Article Five of the NATO charter is still valid. If you are setting your sights on them next, think again. It’s all for one and one for all.
Seventh: It’s high time we expand our relations with the oil and gas rich nations of central Asia. We will extend invitations to each of them to visit Washington, to see how America and American energy companies might work with them to build pipelines to get their energy exports to Europe and beyond bypassing Russia.
Time for some real leadership… of course that would mean that this administration wanted the U.S. to succeed!?!
The Independent Sentinel: If I were in Mr. Obama’s place, I would put the missile defense shield in Poland and send arms to Ukraine. After all, we sent arms to the Syrians and we apparently give Russia tactical weaponry for free.
If Putin thinks he can just walk into Ukraine and not pay much of a price, he will do it. The reverse is true.
If I had the same mindset as Mr. Obama, however, I would challenge Putin to a golf match.
Well, there you have it.
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