The danger in the Ukraine crisis was always that the Ukrainians — or some faction therein — would fight the Russians, escalating the crisis. Resistance from Obama was not in the cards. CNN quoted David Frum as saying that Obama had in effect gave Putin the “green light” to carve up Ukraine.
Obama’s admirers think so too, though they put it differently. Ronan Farrow has advised the president to do nothing as Russia advances. “So, President Obama waiting and exercising caution isn’t necessarily sitting on his hands. It may be the caution that we need right now.”
Farrow’s right. Obama’s not sitting on his hands. He’s waving Putin through. The effect is the same.
Even Obama’s former diplomatic appointees can see what’s happening. James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Obama administration, implored NATO to send troops to the Ukraine because nothing else would be believed. He said, “The best way to send Putin a tough message and possibly deflect a Russian campaign against more vulnerable NATO states is to back up our commitment to the sanctity of NATO territory with ground troops, the only military deployment that can make such commitments unequivocal.”
Interestingly Jeffrey doesn’t see Ukraine as an end-point of Putin’s plots but a way station to other “more vulnerable NATO states”. And he is anxious to prevent the action from shifting Westwards, may because he knows the stuff Brussels is made of.
The “fragile” EU, having expanded its remit East, now claims it is too fragile to resist Putin now that he’s on the counteroffensive. An article in Bloomberg says, “the U.S. readiness to impose new economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is offset by the European Union’s reluctance to introduce stronger measures that could threaten its already fragile economic recovery.”
Translation. They won’t even back serious sanctions. The soft-power superpower that is the EU has looked into its arsenal of diplomatic demarches and human rights declarations and found — nothing. So now they want Obama to ante up the lead in stopping Vlad. They’ll bring up the rear, maybe tomorrow. But Obama needs the EU in the van, with its greater market share of Russian goods. We have the classic tableau.
Alphonse: After you monsieur.
Gaston: No, no. After you.
Alphonse: But I insist. After you.
Neither Alphonse nor Gaston are going anywhere. Apparently the Ukrainians know this. Matthew Kaminski writes in the Wall Street Journal that Kiev thinks it’s been sold down the river.
Boris Tarasiuk, Ukraine’s former foreign minister, barely disguises his anger. He says: “We’ve not seen the same reaction from the U.S.” as during Russia’s 2008 attack on Georgia. U.S. Navy warships were deployed off the Georgian Black Sea coast. Large Air Force transport planes flew into Tbilisi with emergency humanitarian supplies. But who really knew for sure what was on board the planes? That was the point. Russian troops on the road to the Georgian capital saw them above and soon after turned back. The Bush administration dropped the ball on follow-up sanctions but may have saved Georgia.
By contrast, the Obama administration seems to think that pre-emptive concessions will pacify Mr. Putin. So the president in March ruled out U.S. military intervention in Ukraine. Maybe, but why say so? Late last month at a news conference in Brussels, Mr. Obama also openly discouraged the idea of Georgia or Ukraine joining NATO.
So the ball is back with Ukraine, which was the danger in the first place. Now the world is at the mercy of what the various militias on both sides do in the next few weeks. Having washed their hands of leadership; having given Putin the Green light, Obama and his allies find events are out of their hands and reposed with unknown commanders on the ground. A “hands-off” policy necessarily hopes the Ukrainian plane will fly itself — and what are the odds of that?
The Associated Press noted that, rather than graciously accepting the “pre-emptive concessions” Obama was handing him on a platter, Putin seemed almost determined to grind the cigarette out on his face. “They have been willing to do things to provoke the situation that no one anticipated,” Matthew Rojansky, a regional analyst at the Wilson Center, said of Russia. “It’s such a high-stakes, high-risk situation, and here they are right in the middle of it.”
Obama has been yelling ‘stop! stop!’ and still Putin is twisting his arm. The president made yet another plea to Putin according to Carol Lee in the Wall Street Journal: “White House Tells Kremlin Diplomacy Is Still an Option Despite Escalation”. Putin is making Obama crawl to lick his boots.
What is the point of this? Gerald Seib in another Wall Street Journal article notes that mind games are being played on Obama. Seib asks “what do you do when the person you seek to punish is willing to endure more pain than the person doing the punishing?” He was by the way, referring to Putin as the object of punishment. Why the chastiser either accepts defeat or makes a desperate play.
Putin knows Obama will not resort to military action. That leaves sanctions. By leaving the president with no other alternative than to strike back or lose face maybe Putin hopes to force him into a sanctions game that Putin feels the EU will leave him stuck in:
So far, the U.S. and its allies have hung together on some limited sanctions—travel bans for Russian officials, asset freezes for Kremlin cronies and restrictions on a Kremlin-associated bank. And there seems a clear agreement among the U.S. and its European friends to move to much tougher sanctions—against all Russian banks, perhaps, or the Russian energy sector—if Russian leader Vladimir Putin takes the dramatic further step of sending tanks or planes into Ukraine.
Putin is daring him to over-extend; to tread upon the European ice, which he knows in his heart will cave in under Obama. Fighting an all out sanctions battle would force Obama to rely on the EU, which Putin calculates will abandon him. In the resulting debacle, not only would NATO be shattered, Obama would be too. Seib continues:
If non-invasion destabilization is, in fact, the Russian strategy, the question becomes: Can President Obama convince his allies that such behavior is enough for tough new sanctions? Europeans are much less enthusiastic about economic sanctions than are Americans, because they have more to lose in the process. Their economy is more tied to Russia’s, so their companies have more to lose if economic ties are cut.
They also fear retaliation, specifically a cutoff of Russian gas supplies. As Robert Kahn of the Council on Foreign Relations points out in an analysis of the sanctions question, Europe receives about 30% of its natural gas from Russia, meaning “the effect of a disruption is sizeable in the near term.”
One reason why Putin has made a special effort to humiliate the president is that his profilers may have pegged Obama as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Putin the secret policeman must be thinking: how do you get a narcissist to melt down? Answer: by personally and publicly shaming him, thereby provoking a narcissistic rage.
That rage can take either of two forms: a reckless act or a withdrawal into a fantasy in which the narcissist remains invincible in some universe of his own.
Either would suit Putin. Ironically Ronan Farrow and Obama’s supporters may be doing an unwitting service by stoking Obama’s ego thereby calming him down. The question is whether they can flatter him enough to prevent a Putin-induced meltdown. So far, so good, except for odd little squeals from Obama calling Russia a “regional power”. But Putin may have only begun to twist in the knife. It’s sadist versus narcissist.
Too bad it couldn’t have been between Putin and Ronald Reagan. Or Tuco and Walter White.
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