The Atlanticist

Russian capo Vladimir Putin has taken the measure of the weak-kneed putative leader of the Free World Barack Obama. His troops have occupied Crimea and now encircle and menace the rest of Ukraine.

The West has not been this weak and irresolute since the nineteen thirties.

On Western leadership Russian Parliamentarian Oleg Paneleyev noted “They talk and talk, and then they’ll stop.” Quoting a West African proverb President Teddy Roosevelt famously counseled “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” President Obama has turned Roosevelt’s maxim on its head.

The important question is “where and why will the bear’s tanks stop?”


President Obama’s, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s and Ambassador Mike McFaul’s much ballyhooed “reset” of US relations with Putinist Russia was a protracted wishful delusion and abject failure, to which Obama betrayed the Poles, abandoning an anti-missile defense system, and to which American media and foreign-policy elites remained blindly in thrall to, notwithstanding not a shred of evidence it had legs. The left-leaning and Obama-partisan Washington Post concluded his foreign policy is based on “fantasy.”

From the get-go the Obama administration downplayed Russia’s aggression and responded with words not action. It called Russian troops entering Crimea an “uncontested arrival,” not necessarily “an invasion.” This is the same administration that conjured a video as causing Islamists’ attack on the US Benghazi consulate and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens. When Putin put Russian troops in Crimea’s airports a meaningful response would have been, tit for tat, to put a contingent of NATO troops at Kiev’s airport.

In February US Secretary of State John Kerry said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “reaffirmed President Putin’s statement that Russia will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and insisted “..everybody now needs to step back and avoid any kind of provocations.” But the West’s not stepping forward is what’s provocative.

Kerry assured Russia contemplated economic sanctions were not “a threat” and not meant “a personal way” but rather a matter of respect for the international structure. Every time Obama and Kerry open their mouths, Putin has to be asking himself “Why not go to the Vistula or the Oder?”

He may have even less respect for Europe. Author and political activist George Wiegel notes Putin and company regard the Europeans “with barely disguised contempt.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel chided Russia for “19th century behavior. “ Western Europe’s elites tell themselves in the 21st century “soft power” is the currency of international relations. History isn’t over. Human nature is eternal. Force, for good or ill, trumps scraps of paper and soft power. The Romans resolved their Carthage problem with force of arms. The Ottoman Turk army destroyed the Byzantine Empire. Europeans at epic battles such as Lepanto and Vienna used force to contain the Ottomans. Wars, not protestations about international law, ended slavery in the US and vanquished Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Ukraine’s military is “hollowed out.” While a nonnuclear Ukraine couldn’t on its own withstand a full Russian invasion, with Western military aid it could make Putin pay dearly. However, “wary of inflaming tensions with Russia” the Obama administration, tellingly and dishonorabley, turned down its request for military assistance.

Ukraine was foolish to give up thousands of nuclear weapons for toothless 1994 Budapest Memorandum on security Assurances, in which Russia (and the UK and US) pledged not to threaten or use force against Ukraine or violate its territorial integrity and if Ukraine were invaded the US and UK (and Russia) promised to appeal to the UN Security Council– a worthless commitment as the only conceivable invader Russia, would veto any resolution responding to its aggression, however weak.

The world’s bad actors are watching.

Iran’s mullahs are beavering away on nuclear weapons, while buying time in a negotiations farce with the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, to abandon them with. Diplomacy would be more effective coupled with a credible threat of or actual military action. Like Putin Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei believes America with Obama in the White House is feeble.

Military strikes remain the only assured way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. A couple hundred sorties would do the job.


President George W. Bush balked, instead hiding behind a British, French and German diplomatic farce designed principally to prevent an American military solution. And Obama, notwithstanding multiple statements Iran would not be permitted to go nuclear has no intention of stopping it.

The Chinese are flexing their might with their neighbors. They’ve blockaded Filipino troops on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea. Tensions with Japan will continue to rise. An increasingly assertive and heavily armed China and Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the West’s lame response should concentrate Prime Minister Abe’s thinking on the merits of going nuclear.

North Korea is more likely to make mischief.

What’s to be done? Obama declared “there will be costs.” He has all the credibility of the pitiable lad who tells the schoolyard bully “Please stop hitting me or I’ll say stop again.” The Russians are thinking “They talk and talk.”

It’s time to act. While America’s and Europe’s ability to affect events on the ground in Crimea is very limited, Putin must pay real economic and military costs.

But for having the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and hard-headed, ruthless leadership, Russia is weak. Its population is declining and suffers from epidemics of alcoholism and Aids. Russia has the biggest domestic problem with Islam of any country in Europe, and suffers extraordinary corruption contributing to a sickly economy largely dependent on oil and gas. It is therefore no wonder 40% of people between 18 and 35 want to emigrate.

Severe economic and financial sanctions would be a good start.

By executive order Obama should approve 28 liquid-gas export facilities currently in regulatory limbo and lift America’s oil-export embargo, which Congress says he has authority to do. Exporting gas to Europe would be good for the economy and over time weaken Russia’s energy stranglehold.

The US imposed visa restrictions on those involved in human-rights abuses in Ukraine. Liberalizing visa issuance and rolling out a welcome mat to Russian scientists, engineers, programmer, doctors and other skilled workers would be good for the US economy and bad for Putin.

Additionally, the US should exit the START treaty. The missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic should be reinitiated. American and Western European troops and nuclear weapons under NATO should be redeployed to Poland and the Baltic States. NATO cooperation with Russia should end.

US defense spending as a percent of GDP has been falling for decades.


*Heritage Foundation

Obama wants to cut America’s nuclear and conventional arsenal further. He and Secretary of Defense Hagel propose shrinking the US army to its smallest level since before the pre WW2 buildup. As Putin forcefully reminds, the world remains a dangerous place. Instead of slashing US defense spending, America should increase it.

Under America’s defense umbrella, Europe has underspent on defense for decades, and continues to cut. The UK, France, Germany and Italy spent 2.5%, 2.3%, 1.4% and 1.7% of GDP respectively on defense. They should dramatically increase defense outlays.

Military assistance should be offered forthwith to Ukraine. And consideration should be given to putting American, Western European and Polish troops east of Kiev as a trip wire.

A feeble West invites the Russian bear to take another bite and forage further west, and gives a green light to bad actors the world over.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the putative leader of the Free World Barack Obama is a sheep in sheep’s clothing and consequently the greatest security threat to the West and the liberal world order.

 

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