A Russian strongman, taking advantage of the geographic and political realities on his borders, makes a power play in blatant defiance of Western wishes. He uses the specter of lurking fascists, a dispute between rival governing factions that each claim legitimacy, and the need to protect ethnic Russians to act boldly and redraw the map in eastern Europe, all while knowing full well that the United States and Great Britain – as much as it galls them – are simply not capable of removing his forces from the ground they currently hold.
I’m speaking of course, of Joseph Stalin shifting the borders of Poland hundreds of miles to the west and installing a Communist government over a few months in 1945.
I bring this up to show that, with all apologies to the apocryphal Mark Twain, sometimes history goes beyond rhyming and does indeed repeat itself. And, with the exception of the fifteen years or so after 1991, Russian behavior in eastern Europe and the Caucasus has been playing on loop. This – as you might expect from a 70-year status quo – is not exactly news…unless you happen to be a member of the neoconservative hawkosphere. For these people, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea is a shocking event, one that demands answers and blame. And – spoiler alert! – the blame lies at the feet of Barack Obama.
The president keeps telling the world that he doesn’t see this as a Russian problem. The idea of returning to the Cold War — when we checked Soviet expansion and stood up for free peoples — is anathema to Obama. With massive Pentagon cuts, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a prominent senator decrying efforts to brush back Russia (“tweak”) and evisceration of the Syrian “red line,” Putin has made an entirely rational calculation that he can destabilize Ukraine or, at the very least, exert Russian domination over Crimea, with very little if any consequence.
Ah yes, those idyllic days of the Cold War. I’m sure it’s news to Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, East Germans, Belorussians and yes, Ukrainians that “we checked Soviet expansion” for those forty-plus years! You could cruise the Danube and see nothing but “free people” for decades, that is until this Obama character showed up with his red lines and, uh, #Benghazi.
On Oct. 18, 1962, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko visited President Kennedy in the Oval Office and told him that the Soviet Union would never deploy offensive military capabilities in Cuba. This was a lie, as Kennedy already knew, and four days later he called Gromyko out on the lie in his famous “quarantine” speech, usefully embarrassing the Soviets and rallying U.S. public opinion at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Fifty-plus years later, Mr. Putin told Mr. Obama that Russia had intervened in Crimea because “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” were at imminent risk. That, too, was a transparent lie, as every report out of Crimea attests. The difference this time is an American president who registers no public complaint about being brazenly lied to by a Russian thug.
Were you wondering what it took to get the WSJ editorial page to wax nostalgic about President Kennedy’s mostly hamfisted handling of the Cold War? Now you know!
“To invade Crimea is a huge step and he would only have done it with a president who has shown from the very beginning that he’s living in a fantasy world,”
It’s true – an American president living in a fantasy world is absolutely a prerequisite for Russian rulers overpowering their neighbors. This means other fantasy world Presidents include: Truman (1945), Eisenhower (1956), Johnson (1968), Carter (1979), Clinton (1994) and George W. Bush (2008).
Look, I’m clearly not fan of the Obama administration generally or of its foreign policy specifically (so many examples!). But attempting to lay one of the most dependable geopolitical realities of the last century (i.e., Russia will bully its neighbors) at his feet undercuts your ability to take him to task for the the (many, many) things he actually deserves to be taken to task for.
Putin is a thug. Just as Stalin and Khrushchev were. But we’ve had a terrible hand to play in eastern Europe for 69 years running, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Barack Obama or John Kerry. Russia gonna Russia.