In a melancholy passage of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle observes that we can follow certain courses of action which will put us in situations where there is no right response. Whatever we do, it will be wrong, or at least unhappy.
Confronted with the West’s habitual acquiescence in the face of Russian (and not only Russian) swagger and belligerence, Aristotle would no doubt have said, “See what I mean,” or words to that effect.
Skillful diplomacy might have headed off the crisis in Crimea. But we did not field skillful diplomats. We sent John Kerry, backed up by Barack Obama, Susan Rice, and Joe Biden. As in 1854, “someone had blundered.” Tennyson recorded the result. Today, the “reset button” turns out to have been disconnected at the source. Obama really did push it. Comrade Putin paid it no heed. He had taken the measure of the man long ago. And if there was any doubt, in 2012, in a candid-camera moment, Obama pleaded with Putin’s protege Dmitry Medvedev to give him more “space” about missile defense. “This is my last election,” Obama confided quietly to Medvedev, “After my election, I have more flexibility.” Noted.
The microphones weren’t supposed to pick that up. In any normal world, the remark would have gone a long way towards sealing Obama’s defeat in 2012. But this isn’t any normal world. It is the world according folks like Wolf Blitzer, who mocked Romney for describing Russia as, “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”
Oh, how Obama jumped all over that during the debates. Remember? The mockery was non-stop. “The 1980s Are Now Calling to Ask for Their Foreign Policy Back.” Harkh, harkh, harkh! Good line, Barack. But it looks like Mitt was right, doesn’t it? And having temporized, preened, tergiversated about American foreign policy for five years, what are you going to do now?
Exit polls show that yesterday’s vote in Crimea to be “annexed” by Russia won by 93 percent (UPDATE: later tallies put it as high as 97 perecent.). That’s a showing that would have satisfied Stalin. The vote is “illegitimate,” you say. There will be “consequences,” you threaten. The West will enact “sanctions,” you thunder.
Meanwhile Putin is enacting what one commentator accurately described as his “slow-motion Anschluss” of Crimea, possibly with the rest of Ukraine, or at least a large part of it, to follow.