Walking Into It
The capitals of Europe have gone from complacency to a near panic in the last 72 hours, not simply over the crisis in the Ukraine but in the growing awareness that for at least the last half decade they've been standing on a trapdoor.
At least president Obama, the leader of the Free World, has.
The arms control agreements with Moscow; the "deal" with Syria; Obama's negotiations to disarm Iran of nuclear weapons; the Russian-controlled northern distribution network through which NATO forces in Afghanistan are supplied -- every one of these -- once counted as glittering achievements, the crown jewels of the administration, now reappears in a new and sinister light.
Marco Rubio instantly knew what the Ukraine meant:
Majority Leader Harry Reid should immediately halt his effort to force a Senate vote on Rose Gottemoeller next week to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security. As I, Sens. John Cornyn and Jim Risch said yesterday, we shouldn’t even be thinking about arms-control negotiations with Russia anytime soon. And especially not negotiations led by a State Department official, such as Ms. Gottemoeller, who has tried to play down and potentially kept information from Congress and our allies about Russian violations of arms-control agreements.
Michael Singh, a former national security staffer, wrote in the Washington Post that the administration chose not to see a whole series of oncoming freight trains.
In Venezuela ... in Syria ... in Ukraine ..." the administration ignored the obvious signs of trouble. "What contingency planning would have counseled, was ... taking early, proactive steps to head off crises. In each case, the chosen policy has seemed designed to minimize risk and cost in the short run — but at the expense of greater costs in the long run. We have stood by as crises have deepened and problems grown harder to solve, and our prestige has waned accordingly.
To see it coming would have invalidated the fundamental premise of Obama's foreign policy: that the train line was unobstructed; that he could talk to people he now knows he can't talk to. For a while the deal making seemed too almost too good to be true and Obama marketed his "opportunities" and "investments" with almost evangelical zeal. Even now Obama plans to tell Benjamin Netanyahu that time is running out for Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians. One of those magic deals Kerry's negotiated, like the one with Syria. He is figuring to tell the Israeli prime minister he had better buy now while supplies last or miss the deal of the century, the deal of a lifetime! Maybe he even plans to exhibit all the notices he's received from his "partners for peace" about how close he is to grabbing the Big Brass Ring.
It's almost too sad to watch. As the Washington Post editorial board just headlined, "President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy". And that's a verbatim quote.
In fairness the setup began during the Bush administration. George W. Bush famously said of Vladimir Putin:
I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. ... I wouldn't have invited him to my ranch if I didn't trust him.
But if Bush nibbled on the bait, it was Obama who decisively swallowed the hook. As Peter Weber wrote, partnering with Russia lay at the core of Obama's foreign policy. He called it the reset.
In March 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made news by presenting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a cartoonish "Reset" button that included a bit of a translation error. The U.S. used the Russian word for "overcharged" where "reset" should be. The button was supposed to symbolize newly inaugurated President Obama's outreach to Russia. In a way, it did.
What "reset" symbolized was his full acceptance of Putin's strategic deception. Scott Wilson at the Washington Post marks almost the exact moment when Obama made the fatal choice to lower America's guard, put his peacemaker back in the holster,and turn his back on Vladimir Putin, who was having coffee with one hand in his pocket, in order to hang the old irons up on a peg.
A president who has made clear to the American public that the “tide of war is receding” has also made clear to foreign leaders, including opportunists in Russia, that he has no appetite for a new one. What is left is a vacuum once filled, at least in part, by the possibility of American force.
“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”
Rarely has a threat from a U.S. president been dismissed as quickly — and comprehensively — as Obama’s warning Friday night to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former community organizer and the former Cold Warrior share the barest of common interests, and their relationship has been defined far more by the vastly different ways they see everything from gay rights to history’s legacy....
At the core of his quandary is the question that has arisen in White House debates over the Afghan withdrawal, the intervention in Libya and the conflict in Syria — how to end more than a dozen years of American war and maintain a credible military threat to protect U.S. interests.
The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.
And now he finds himself on the floor, his legs unaccountably unresponsive; aware something terrible has happened that he can't explain; while from the next room, an old TV a rerun of Star Wars tinnily plays the voice of Admiral Ackbar warning: "it's a trap!".
What's trap? Will someone shut that TV off? Ow! What's that pain in the back?
Gotta focus on Syria ... you know the surrender of the chemical weapons ... and Iran ... can't have nuclear weapons and when are the boys coming home through the Northern Route?
"Vladimir. Can you help me up? Vladimir?"
But maybe there was no real trap. As Michael Singh, Sarah Palin, even fuddy-duddy Mitt Romney guessed, it was all too good, "too quiet" to be true. Something was up. The signs were plain to see if only Obama could take the vanity blinkers off. But where's Vladimir and what's that damned TV on about? "It's a trap? It's a trap?"
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