That’s not a fair headline, I admit — there’s not really much of a Ukraine to lose. But the crisis, and Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s reaction to it, reveals much. Read the fourth graf to this morning’s NYT update:
The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin? It is no easy task. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.
Who’s in another world? Putin wanted Ukraine for a variety of reasons — ethnic, strategic, geopolitical — and it looks like de facto he’s got it. And he’ll probably keep it, even if the de jure lines on the maps don’t change. Putin wanted to keep Syria his client state, and watched as the American President maneuvered himself into a position to help make that possible. Putin wants an Iran strong enough to weaken the American position in the Middle East, and he’s gotten that, too.
I’d argue that the president getting what he wants, and at a very small cost, is much more of this world than the President with fancy theories about reset buttons and Smart Diplomacy™ who keeps getting his ass handed to him.
Let’s look for a moment at the possible responses being urged upon Wiggleroom:
“Create a democratic noose around Putin’s Russia,” urged Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “Revisit the missile defense shield,” suggested Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “Cancel Sochi,” argued Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who leads the Intelligence Committee, referring to the Group of 8 summit meeting to be hosted by President Vladimir V. Putin. Kick “him out of the G-8” altogether, said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.
But let’s look at this from the Kremlin’s point of view.
• Missile defense? Russia (unlike the US) is modernizing its missile force to counter it.
• Kicked out of G-8? And the G-8 does what, exactly?
• Crimea? Priceless.
Putin’s playing a Great Power game — and winning.