Putin and Obama Round Two

In my last blog post about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, titled Obama’s Red Wedding, I reviewed the administration’s policy in the Middle East and its power play with Putin’s Russia on the background of the Syria chemical weapons fiasco.

In the aforementioned post I wrote the following lines, which in light of recent events in the Ukraine seem to be as relevant as they were the time they were first written:

“On the short term morals are very difficult to be translated into actions, not to say a coherent policy, and given that we live in an imperfect world where some times the best you can do is try to avoid the worst of two bad situations (see the examples above), people who are idealists may find it very hard to make any decisions that in the long term will be consistent with the morals with which they would like to be associated. It seems as if lately the Obama administration was forced to make several decisions of that kind.”

Obama is again facing difficult decisions, this time in the Ukraine. Some will call it a “lose lose” situation, but all should note that even when it is a “lose lose” there is bad and there is worse.

In 1994 the Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons arsenal in exchange for certain security assurances when it signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances with the US, UK and Russia. In return Russia promised to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and political integrity and US and UK provided the security assurances requested by the Ukraine. As was just evidenced, Russia broke its promises to avoid resorting to aggression against the Ukraine when it invaded the Crimean peninsula this week, despite this act of aggression the UK and US did not deliver their part of the bargain and all assurances were proven to be worthless.

While it is clear that the US is not the sole player here and that much could be written and said about the the rest of the players involved, more is expected of the US which is one of the main players if not the main player here other than Russia. This is how the US positioned itself in the international arena and thus it is reasonable to expect the US to deliver what was promised. When the EU and UK set forth the new standard for US foreign policy all citizens of the free world should be worried. Only recently the US offered similar assurances to Israel in the attempt to convince Israel to evacuate its security forces from the border of Judea and Samaria with Jordan.

It seems as if starting with its reaction to the Egyptian revolution US’s credibility is in a dangerous slippery slope going down and down while Putin gains power, skillfully and ruthlessly filling every void left by Uncle Sam. Russia is aggressive but also rational and as long as the price tag for its aggression remains low Putin will continue to test the red lines. Perhaps we can even trace the erosion in US integrity and credibility back to Russia’s invasion to South Ossetia in Georgia, perhaps if Bush had stepped in then, today Putin would have been thinking twice before invading the Ukraine. However, it should be noted that contrary to the conflict in Ossetia the US provided the Ukraine with “security assurances” thus the damage to US credibility is much greater when it fails to deliver and carry through what it undertook to assure.

Some may argue that Obama is right by avoiding conflict, that he is being cautious given the dire consequences of a clash between the super powers. Unfortunately this fear is relevant to any and all Russian actions. We should ask what are the red lines. the Kremlin is also aware of the potential damage and they don’t want to fight the US, they are rational just as you and me, but as long as the people in the Kremlin continue to see that the people in the Pentagon believe that the Kremlin fears conflict less than they do the Kremlin will continue to be aggressive on the expense of US influence and credibility.

It yet remains to be seen how all of this will play out, but so far Obama’s response was feeble and ineffective. Just as his position towards Iran in the nuclear talks and his withdrawal from the attack in Syria, which has yet failed to surrender its arsenal of chemical weapons contrary to what was promised.  Maybe if Obama would have produced a better response to the revolution in Egypt and the use of chemical weapons in Syria the US had more integrity and credibility today and as a result prevention of this crisis without deploying troops would have been possible, but unfortunately Obama responded poorly to these challenges and now Putin knows that when the US is sounding threats it is just asking nicely and thus it is not enough to stop him.

All that is left to say is that apparently not all have learned the lessons from the events that enabled the Third Reich to occupy Europe. Not only through the actions of Nazi Germany, but also through the inaction of the Allies’ due to fear of conflict. One assertive action when it all started could have prevented WWII. When all players around the table fold the only one with a poker face keeps on wining.

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