There are so many elements to unpack with regard to the very recent, quick changing and still unfolding events in the Ukraine. I think many of us are in agreement that we expected something to go down during the expense-laden bombast fest that was the Sochi Olympics. Could Vladmir Putin risk parading his own controlled version of Russian exceptionalism on the world stage, without asking for some sort of karmic exposure? The terrorist attacks and bombings that preceded the Games seemed to bode ill for security issues in a region that was volatile before Olympic planning ever commenced. Along with most of the rest of the civilized world, I crossed my fingers, turned on the TV and hoped for the best.
As we know now, the Games, for the most part, played out without any large-scale incidents (What’s a little baton beating of protestors? In Russia, Putin calls that “Tuesday”). And though the media and well-informed observers knew a situation was brewing between Russia and Ukraine, its neighbor to the Southwest, I don’t anyone could have anticipated the escalation and series of events that followed.
As of early this week, Russian troops have tightened their grip on the Crimean peninsula, and the region is imminently prepared to vote upon a secession referendum. This even as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, is reportedly seeking elevated diplomatic assistance from the United States and the United Nations to help restore order and beat back this act of Russian aggression.
The world is watching, cautiously, and with much trepidation as President Obama and his team decide America’s next move. Any illusions of Putin as a rational custodian and partner in enforcing international norms have been shattered, probably for good. It’s not just the situation in the Ukraine that we must ponder. For months and years, President Obama has tried to establish Putin’s cooperation with regard to other unstable nations and threats, including but not limited to: Syria, Iran North Korea, China.
President Obama’s cautiousness in deploying U.S. troops is in keeping with the nation’s evolving attitude toward long, expensive, overseas conflicts without directly achievable objectives. In late January of this year, results from a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll indicated that more than 50 percent of respondents (across party lines) believed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waged across most of the 21st Century to date, failed to achieve anything of consequence. At least not anything to warrant the costs, both economic and in human terms.
Moreover, Christopher Gelpi, an Ohio State University political scientist, is quoted in the piece as saying, “What is especially interesting about these responses is that the public has continued to update its views on Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that these wars have received virtually no attention at all from our politicians over the past couple of years…This shows that the public is more attentive to costly wars than we might expect, even when politicians try to ignore the conflicts.”
President Obama may now fully understand that placing his faith in Putin to be a good steward for democracy and the world’s collective interests was a mulligan. But I for one am grateful that the cerebral POTUS hasn’t proposed a reactionary return to the failed Cowboy Diplomacy of George W. Bush (“Bring ’em on!”). There are similarities of course between this situation and international land grabs of the past, but this is 2014, not 1941, and the solutions aren’t as black and white as the attitudes of certain Obama critics might suggest. Case in point: Contributor Michael Peck of Forbes (no one’s idea of a liberal rag) wrote last week, “America is the mightiest military power in the world. And that fact means absolutely nothing for the Ukraine crisis. Regardless of whether Russia continues to occupy the Crimea region of Ukraine, or decides to occupy all of Ukraine, the U.S. is not going to get into a shooting war with Russia. This has nothing to do with whether Obama is strong or weak. Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan would face the same constraints.”
So now we get to the real crux of my column. I am 35 years old. Over the course of a relatively short life, I have watched as the nation came together in times of conflict: Operation Desert Storm of the 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various skirmishes on the continent of Africa, the Balkans, etc. I did not mention the names of Presidents in charge of operations during these battles. You know why? Because it didn’t matter. A sitting President could expect all sorts of partisan bickering and legislative headaches in times of relative calm, but he could also count upon united support when lives and U.S. international interests were at stake.
Republicans have slowly and systematically set about destroying paradigms of the normal order since President Obama first took the oath in January 2009. But once again, they have failed to understand that their short-term goals (undermining every single thing that the President endeavors to achieve) stand in relief against what is best for the country. Their strategies aren’t even healthy for the struggling party’s long-term branding.
Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and others, I am looking at you. Your rhetoric (“feckless,” “dangerous,” “weak”) is actually what makes the country appear limp and disorganized, rather than Obama’s thoughtful cautiousness. Publicly impugning your President in 145 characters and trying to create a pathetic political link between the Ukraine and Benghazi, really Graham?
If there’s something that’s not in the national interest, it is this bizarre Putin hero-worship on the part of much of the Republican establishment, and the method by which these right wing lemmings have succumbed to the Russian President’s divide and conquer strategy.