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.
What exactly are you going to do about that, Mr. President? (UPDATE: Besides, I mean, the pretend sanctions against 11 individuals that caused such hilarity among the Russians yesterday?) For five years, you’ve been jetting around the world at vast expense to apologize for America. You apologized to the Muslims. You apologized to Hugo Chavez. You bowed deeply to the Saudi despot. You cancelled the promised missile defense programs for Poland and the Czech Republic, thereby both selling out important allies and waving the flag of weakness to the country that, come to think of it, might just be American’s “number one geopolitical foe,” as someone once said.
It’s all starting to unravel, isn’t it? The preposterous and hideously expensive socialized medicine program you shoved down the throats of the American people with no Republican support and against the will of a majority of the people: Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass it to find out what’s in it. Well, you bribed, cajoled, and threatened to get it passed, and now the American people are indeed finding out what’s in it. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan, period.” You said that over and over and over. You knew it wasn’t true. But you decided to lie to the American people in order to set about “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” That’s what you promised to do in 2008. And boy have you made good on that promise. For the first time in history, America’s credit rating was downgraded. You didn’t like that, and your secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, threatened Standard & Poor’s over the downgrade. Why didn’t the press howl over that abuse of government power? Because they’re slavishly devoted to you. But even that support is beginning to fray. Your deployment of the Internal Revenue Service to harass your political opponents: how long do suppose you can get away with that? Even the supine media is beginning to bristle. And now that the rest of the world is waking up to your weakness, and your incompetence, what will happen? You campaigned on a promise to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But you have gone out of your way to assure that it will. What then? China just unilaterally extended its air rights in the South China Sea. What are you going to do about that? And yesterday, Putin engineered a vote in which Russia takes back a large piece of Ukraine.
H. L. Mencken is said to have observed that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. That’s a pretty good witticism. But it isn’t quite true. If only he had substituted “the American political class” or “the American media,” then it would have been true as well as witty.
Meanwhile, those very American people you, like Mencken, hold in such contempt: they are waking up. They do not like what you are doing to this country. Which is why your approval rating is in the 30s. That’s Bush territory. And all signs are that the impending direction is south. It may seem extreme now, in March 2014. But just wait. I reckon it won’t be long before you’re faced with one of those unhappy dilemmas I mentioned at the outset. Abdication or resignation may be one option. The other begins with “i.” But that’s something that no establishment Republican wants to broach. Not yet, anyway. Not yet.