Episode 70: For the Ukraine, From Russia, With Love
This time, I spent all my time on one topic, but it’s one that spans over 30 years. (But I’ll still be done in 10 minutes or less.)
During the presidential debates between Mitt Romney and President Obama, Obama mocked Romney’s thoughts on what was the biggest geopolitical threat. Romney said “Russia”. Fast forward to today, and it turns out he was right. With a little history as the backdrop, today’s foreign policy looks like it could use a little help from Ronald Reagan.
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- Russia taking over Crimea.
- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia worried about the same thing happening to them.
- Russian forces massing on the border of Ukraine.
No, this is not the opening scene of some pre-World-War-2 movie; it’s history from the past couple of weeks. But during the Cold War, Russia had control of all of these under the umbrella of the Soviet Union.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan set out to defeat – not just contain, as his predecessors has done, but defeat – the Soviet Union. He succeeded. His detractors said, and continue to say, that he got lucky; that the Soviet Union was going to collapse under its own weight anyway, and it just coincidentally happened on his watch. But Reagan was the first President to actively try to bring it down. That it happened right after this attempt is a cause & effect that is extremely rare in geopolitical affairs. And those he liberated – from places already mentioned as well as Poland and other former eastern Bloc nations – certainly give him that credit. And he did it without causing a nuclear World War 3, which those detractors predicted.
A huge foreign policy success in the 1980s liberated millions and kept them free. Understanding the world as it was – not being afraid of the Soviets, but projecting strength to keep them at bay – set the stage for their downfall. And understanding today’s world as it is, is absolutely required in order to deal with the foreign policy challenges of today. But our current President doesn’t recognize what’s going on right in front of him. Here’s an excerpt from one of the debates he had with challenger Mitt Romney
[see Obama/Romney debate excerpt above]
Yes, there are many other dangers in the world today. And one of the things a President needs to do is recognize threats before they’ve manipulated a government to give them cover to take over. Instead, we present a Reset button to them, suggesting that this administration is going to practice “smart diplomacy” in the future. I guess Putin got the message, and is now in control of Crimea. He apparently is using a different button; the one from the Staples office supply chain that says “Easy” on it.
And what are we doing? It’s kind of late right now to project strength. Mitt Romney penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal, noting that, indeed, we have nothing but bad options now, in Ukraine as well as Syria and Egypt. But the time to act, when there were good options, came and went, and was missed.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and to build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of their failure, I submit, is due to their failure to act when action was possible, and needed.
Some will compare this to when Russia was fighting the country of Georgia during George W. Bush’s administration. But that was an actual war that rebels in Georgia were ready to have. In Crimea, a parliament and a referendum were manipulated for the purposes of a cover story that Russia was “invited” in. They don’t even need a pretense for war anymore. They can just walk through the front door, and install new locks.
And our President was mocking Romney for considering Russia a threat. The war in Georgia tipped Putin’s hand, but the move into Crimea is out-and-out defiance. Russia’s deputy prime minister laughed off President Obama’s sanctions against him and other Russian government officials, in a tweet wondering if “some prankster” came up with the list of names.
Did Mikhail Gorbachev call Reagan a “prankster” after Reagan walked out of the Reykjavík nuclear treaty talks? And did World War 3 start because of it? No, and no. Projecting strength is as much about the might you have, both diplomatically and militarily, as it is how you use it (or how much the other guy thinks you might use it). Reagan played hardball, and in a short amount of time, with nary a nuke dropped, there was no more Soviet Union.
President Obama, the 1980s called. They’re willing to lend you their foreign policy, if you have the guts to implement it.
So, comrade, tell me what you think. Are these valid critiques, or is this situation completely different? I understand that no two situations are ever the same, but there are general principles that are nearly universal. Did you know that George Washington said that the best way to ensure peace is to be ready for war? And it’s not just having the manpower and firepower available. If everyone knows you’d never use it, the effect is just like not having it. Obama drew red lines in Syria that they shouldn’t cross, but when they did, not much really happened. Putin, I think, saw that and understood its meaning.