Putin's Russia poised to overrun Ukraine; thanks, Obama

I told you so in my Tribune column just four days ago: President Barack Obama’s limp foreign policy, his “leading from behind,” and his failure to project American power and influence to areas of our strategic importance has been a virtual invitation to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to intervene in Ukraine’s unstable political situation and extend the former USSR’s dominion over its former client states.

I received a scolding  from a self-appointed expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs excoriating me for my ignorancePutin about things so complicated and beyond the reach of ordinary Americans as foreign affairs. Since he wasn’t specific about what I had said was wrong, I now eagerly await his recommendations for how the Obama administration should respond to Russia’s saber-rattling.

It didn’t take a genius to predict these developments Saturday, as described in the Chicago Tribune:

Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded and won his parliament’s approval on Saturday to invade Ukraine, where his troops have apparently already seized the Crimea peninsula, spurning Western pleas for restraint.

Talk of confrontation or outright war spread rapidly across Ukraine, with pro-Moscow demonstrators raising the Russian flag above government buildings in several cities and anti-Russian politicians calling for mobilisation.

It’s the logical consequence of what I called Obama’s limp-noodle non-support of democratic, freedom seeking peoples. I’ve copied my entire column (“Obama’s brain-dead approach to global bullies”) below:

Let’s face it: The goal of the 2014 Winter Olympics was to stomp Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation, but good.

Didn’t happen. The odious Putin now revels in his victory, having reversed the ignominy of the 2010 Winter Olympics when we trounced Russia in the total medal count, 37 to 15.

Not that the Olympics are a surrogate for chauvinistic conflicts on a much broader scale — i.e. power and war. But, lurking behind the closely followed medal count is more than a craving for bragging rights; what’s riding on the outcome are claims of superiority.

America has its own conceits in this regard, but Putin has raised the challenge to a near hostile level, not so much with his athletes’ admirable achievements, but with his push to reclaim the glories of his old KGB-infested Soviet Union.

Putin has helped turn Eastern Europe and the Middle East into a flaming and deadly battleground. Count it up: His support of the bloody Syrian tyrant, “Chemical” Bashar Assad. Georgia, Chechnya, Ukraine and others can testify to Putin’s lust for former Soviet vassal states.

As the friend of America’s enemies, such as the fanatical Iranian mullahs, Putin has established himself as America’s enemy. By too often siding with Islam’s most violent fanatics, he is the enemy of peace, stability and freedom.

True, the glow of Putin’s Olympic victories has been darkened with the ignominious ouster of his toady, Viktor Yanukovych, as Ukrainian president. But don’t count Putin out just yet. He is too invested in his fight to keep Ukraine from slipping into the Western democratic sphere.

Ukraine’s future looks somewhat brighter no thanks to President Barack Obama. Just as he failed to support nascent democratic reformers in the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election, Obama pretty much left the freedom-seeking Ukrainians in Kiev’s Independence Square on their own.

Undoubtedly, they’ll remember Obama’s limp-noodle support, just like his paper-thin support of Syrian freedom fighters. Now, Obama, in reaction to Ukrainian events, tediously speaks about “resetting” our relationship with Russia, whatever that gobbledygook means. Good luck, Mr. President. As long as you choose not to project American power, Putin will continue to do what Putin does.

Inch by inch, mile by mile, the Obama administration has stood back as America’s influence has diminished throughout the Middle East. What speaks more eloquently of that than Obama’s empty “ultimatum” to Assad to not use chemical weapons? When Assad did, Obama meekly tossed the ball to Putin.

In 2011 when Obama stuck his toe into the Libyan uprising, he said: “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and more profoundly our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.”

That’s an empty suit talking.

America’s proper role in the world (and my own view) has careened between isolationism and interventionism. President Bill Clinton intervened militarily in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which I opposed at the time as well as George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War rescue of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s clutches.

Shocked into reality by the 911 Islamic zealots’ attacks, I supported the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, and now understand the frightful consequences of not chasing the enemy into its own lair.

So, what should Obama be doing? Invading countries, like his predecessors? The question involves too many variables to lend itself to a generalized answer.

But Obama’s policies amount to doing virtually nothing, which in itself is a policy. They essentially amount to a brain-dead version of post-Vietnam isolationism once expounded by a young John Kerry, who now — God help us — is secretary of state. Obama’s vacuous modus operandi reflects the puzzlement of a president who only knows what to say, but not what to do.

His laughable, but dangerous, “leading from behind” approach is an oxymoron, not a policy. It abandons wholesale the requirements of U.S. foreign policy: (1) to serve our vital national interests and (2) to spread democracy and the rule of law where possible. Who can now count on America’s word? Who fears America’s warnings?

Imagine Obama as president instead of John F. Kennedy when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev almost got away with installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. In the face of this bullying, Obama probably would have asked for a “reset” and we’d be living under the threat of nuclear annihilation.


  • In 90-minute conversation, Obama cautions Putin. Hey, Barack, too little, too late. 
  • Former peacenik John Kerry adds his two cents, which is about what it’s worth at this point. 

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  • At this point what difference does it make? Alot, unfortunately. Alot. The Obama chickens have come home to roost.

  • I wasn't convinced for intervention in Libya and even less convinced of intervention in Syria, we didn't even know who was who or who did what. That fact is, even when we go in for the right reasons we're never allowed to finish the job because liberal schizophrenia turns treasonous against our collective effort, we must start taking that dynamic into account. The Progressive talking heads supported our efforts after 9-11 until they realized they could score points with the uneducated and pretend they were against it.

    You nail the fact that this administration is lost on it's foreign policy, and these ridiculous 'lines in the sand' weaken this country every time. Obama stays home from the Olympics because of Russia's stance homosexuals while acquiescing to Iran, who puts homosexuals to death? What I fear will happen is that this administration will keep bumbling without a clear policy or intention, then make an unthought out act of aggression only to save face.

  • What are you advocating? If you are critical of Obama's foreign policy, then what specifically should he have done, for example, in Syria? Put boots on the ground? It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback with 20-20 hindsight, but geopolitics is full of contingencies and complicated nuances that brinkmanship would only exacerbate. Better the foreign policy that Obama has pursued of using good judgment and restraint and exhibiting firm and decisive strength instead of rash bravado.

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    Yes, it's all so simple. The planet is a Risk board and the neo-cons want to spend billions and send American kids everywhere to play their games. While cutting taxes and balancing the budget, of course.

    So many points in this tantrum:

    If a goal of American foreign policy is to "spread democracy and the rule of law" shouldn't we be insisting on restoration of the democratically elected president?

    Ukraine has been an unstable democracy, at best, and a complex issue, to say the least.. There are many cards here to play. It's been grabbed at since the 1300s by Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Turks, Cossacks, Tatars.... Yeah, thanks Obama.

    Just another "limp-noodle," like Ike, when the tanks rolled into Budapest., or LBJ when they crushed the Prague Spring. Or W in relation to Georgia and Chechyna (are the Chechen rebels "freedom fighters?" Are you sure about that?).

    Glad that Iraq war worked out for you. After many years, hundreds of billions and hundreds of thousands of deaths, we now have a pro-Iranian government while Chinese state companies pump half the oil and ship it directly back home.

    And thank God Afghanistan is now safe to be the world's largest producer of heroin.

    So much more. The freedom fighters in Syria? You mean Al-Quada? You want to support them?

    "Dipping a toe" in Libya? Seems to me the United States Air Force provided air cover that led to the defeat of the Quaddafi regime and brought you those nice fellows from Benghazi you like to talk about so much. All without a Congressional declaration of war.

    The world's a complicated place, often with no good choices. To pretend otherwise allows for another good anti-Obama rant.. but little else.

    As someone who likes to talk about the Founding Fathers, read up on Washington and "foreign entanglements" and JQ Adams about "seeking dragons to slay."

  • Time allows only a short response. I didn't suggest that we go to war, put "boots on the ground," etc. There were and are plenty of alternatives. Stronger support for Ukraine becoming more aligned with Europe was just one. Economic sanctions, is another. (Right, might not believe in sanctions, but the sure helped do the trick in convincing South Africa to abandon apartheid.) The point is, why wait until it boils over?

    For some insight, you might look at this: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/03/02/voices-stanglin-russia-crimea/5949017/

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    In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    --. Stronger support for Ukraine becoming more aligned with Europe was just one. Economic sanctions, is another.--

    The internal battle in Ukraine for some time has been between those who tilt toward Moscow or the West. There has been encouragement on both sides, obviously.

    The democratically elected president there who favored Moscow (with democracy a loose term) just got tossed. There's been a Russian reaction to that.

    Putin is a kleptocratic gangster and an idiot to boot, and I think we'll see that in coming weeks he's guilty of terrible overreach. Let's hot return to the days where we think the Russians are 10-feet-tall. They have severe economic and social problems.and no real social institutions to address them.

    So he's waving the flag now, drumming up nationalism to revive nostalgia of the Soviets as a world player.

    Sanctions are in order, but I don't see how they would have applied until before the incursion into Crimea.

    But a Western boycott on Russian oil and gas exports would sting. And might be a boon to U.S. producers, who are going like gangbusters.That would require quick action regarding exports.

    You have an irrational vision of seeing the world through the prism of your Obama antipathy. Maybe you do it for cheap political points. But it doesn't make any sense. He's not a great president, but he doesn't control the world, either.

    Presidents go to Harvard, not Hogwarts, and they don't have magic wands. I think executive power is too strong as it is, what with drone strikes anywhere on the planet and legal monitoring of domestic communications.

    There will always be tension between Moscow and Kiev. It doesn't always have to be our problem.

  • In reply to Sven Nelson:

    Obama antipathy? Well genius, Russia just test fired a ballistic missile, but nothing to see here right? We'll just take your cheerleading apologist word for it.

    When I was in grade school the biggest coward always drew a line in the sand, Obama has now drawn two. Looks like the Nobel peace prize winner has restarted the Cold War and gotten us the closest to a Nuclear war than we've been in 25 years.

    Romney was right!

  • If I read you correctly, you don't know what should be done, but you know that whatever this president does is wrong. I quote:

    "So, what should Obama be doing? Invading countries, like his predecessors? The question involves too many variables to lend itself to a generalized answer."

  • It's an acknowledgement that foreign policy is complex. But, yes, it is a statement that whatever the president is doing hasn't been successful.

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