Anybody want to go to war over Crimea?
Anyone want to see American soldiers die? Anyone want to see Ukrainian soil soaked with the blood of innocents? Anyone want to see the unspeakable tragedies of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria repeated?
Anyone want to risk a nuclear conflagration?
And for what? To keep Ukrainian ownership of Crimea, a predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula which was part of Russia for centuries and whose ties to Russia go back even further? To keep Crimea part of an oligarch-dominated kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy with a political culture as corrupt as Russia’s?
What is the difference between what is happening in Crimea and what happened in Ossetia and Abkhazia, which we let Russia take from Georgia during the Bush II Administration? Why go to war today when we didn’t go to war back then?
Once we have made the decision not to go to war, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Ted Cruz, Dick Cheney, The Wall Street Journal and others criticizing Obama’s actions in the Ukraine crisis don’t have a leg to stand on. None of these critics have actually used the “w” word, not even in its many euphemisms, which leads me to believe that Republican criticism is all about getting elected and not about meeting a particularly knotty global challenge.
The critics of how Obama is handling the Ukraine crisis make two arguments:
1. Russia would not have acted so aggressively if Obama didn’t have such a wimpy foreign policy, as demonstrated by our backing down on sending a military presence to Syria
2. We should do be doing more right now in the way of economic sanctions of Russia
The critics of the president seem to forget that when he proposed military action in Syria, the nation objected vociferously, so much so that Obama couldn’t summon a majority in Congress to support putting American lives at risk to intervene in a truly monstrous civil war. Thanks in part to Russia and Iran, we did get Bashir Assad to stop using chemical weapons, which was the reason Obama wanted to engage the military. While the American people—fomented by the mainstream and right-wing media—are enraged at Russia and Putin for annexing Crimea, going to war is another story. I could find no survey of how the American people feel about going to war over the Crimea, but I’m guessing that the results of such a survey would not make Putin quake in his boots.
I’m thinking that it was less America’s actions in Syria and more our reaction to what Russia did in Georgia that emboldened Putin to annex Crimea. I’m sure someone in the Kremlin has read the surveys that show that the American people are sick of war and tired of the human and financial costs of military interventions.
Once military action is off the table, the Obama response makes perfect sense. The Administration has decided first to implement sanctions that only hurt the Russians. Only if those sanctions don’t work will he consider sanctions that would also hurt the world, European and American economies. And once the Administration has decided to limit sanctions to what will hurt Russia, it makes perfect sense to show them only a little at first, before ratcheting up the pain. The more steps there are in the response, the more flexibility we have in negotiations.
But what kind of negotiations are we talking about?
What the United States and the West should be doing now is making sure that Russia stops with Crimea. Steps we could take include supporting a truly democratic election process in Ukraine, funneling massive economic support into Ukraine, weaning Ukraine and other western nations from their dependence on Russian oil and gas and even placing or threatening to place NATO troops on the Ukraine-Russian border as peacekeepers, with the approval of Ukraine of course.
Meanwhile, we should engage in negotiations with Russia to recognize the annexation of Crimea in return for economic support of the Ukraine and promises to stay out of Ukraine politics. Let Russia have Crimea, but make them pay for it. They will.