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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

 
The "tough" question

by digby

God I wish we could dispense with all this fatuous talk about "toughness" every time a foreign policy question comes up:
New York Times White House Correspondent Peter Baker joined Hugh Hewitt on his radio show Tuesday to take on the latest from Ukraine, and Baker told Hewitt that it doesn’t appear that Russian President Vladimir Putin has holds that much respect for President Obama.

Baker rattled off the differences between the current conflict and what happened six years ago in Georgia, saying that thie time around Putin “knows what the West is going to do, and he’s decided it’s a price he’s willing to pay.” And this time around, he said, the White House has made sanctions “the weapon of choice.”

Hewitt brought up criticism of Obama’s perceived weakness on the world stage in the midst of all this, and asked if “Putin views Obama as significantly softer than Bush.” Baker gave a pretty blunt response.

“I don’t think he has a lot of respect for President Obama. I think that’s fair. And I do think that he has tested, in his mind, President Obama on a number of occasions and did not come away feeling intimidated.”
Right.  President George W. Bush Bush is responsible for the greatest American foreign policy disaster in at least a century, maybe ever, and yet we're supposed to believe that he's respected? For his toughness? What a joke. Bush was also the manly man who saw into "Pooty-poot's" soul and told us all he was just a wonderful guy you'd like your daughter to bring home for Thanksgiving. To the extent that Putin sees the US as an enemy he can only dream of facing another credulous boob like George W. Bush who will piss away 50 years of American moral authority with one outrageous act of "toughness."

I'm sure he finds this sort of thing very amusing:
"It is not often that you have a spit take moment when you're watching the news," the MSNBC host began on her show. She was referring to Secretary of State John Kerry's criticism of Russia's aggression towards Ukraine on Sunday's "Face the Nation." Kerry had said, "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext."

Maddow appeared amused by the comments. "Agreed," she said. "Also, it's really awkward to hear you say that." The "awkwardness," Maddow said, came from the United States being "only a couple years out now from our own near decade of war in Iraq, which was a war that was of course also launched on a trumped up false pretext."

After playing Kerry's comments again, she observed, "Absolutely true and something which the United States has absolutely no leg to stand on after it famously did the same thing on a much bigger scale."
Or this:
TAPPER: Vladimir Putin spoke earlier today, Senator, defending his actions. He said military force would be a last resort. They don't plan to make Crimea part of Russia, he said, even though of course there are thousands of Russian troops there. He did take a dig at U.S. foreign policy. I want to get your reaction to what he said. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): When I say do you think that everything you do is legitimate, and they say yes, so I have to remind them about the actions of the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, where they were acting without any U.N. sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So there you have Putin invoking the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Obviously, this is not a popular position in the United States, but do you think with the world community, we in the United States are perceived as having a double standard?

CORKER: Well, look, we acted -- you know, we had some degree in every case of working with other countries to make this happen.

This was a unilateral effort on their part. Obviously I saw where Eugene Robinson made a similar case in the last 48 hours, one of the our editorialists in our own country.

But, no, I don't think so. I think there are obviously countries that had a lot of concern about us being in Iraq. I don't know there's any question about that. But the comparison to me is apples to oranges, and not even close. And we should not certainly use that -- we shouldn't let someone use that as a reason for him to be where he is. It's totally ludicrous and not something that even should be considered.
Yes I'm sure that Vladimir Putin very much respects George W. Bush for his "toughness." And his remarkable ability to turn the United States into an international joke.

Oh and by the way, the Eugene Robinson column Bob Corker refers to does make the obvious case that US officials making the strident case for sovereign borders being inviolate sound ridiculous, but he also says this:
If the goal is to persuade Russia to give back Crimea — which may or may not be possible — the first necessary step is to try to understand why Putin grabbed it in the first place.

When Ukraine emerged as a sovereign state from the breakup of the Soviet Union, it was agreed that the Russian navy would retain its bases on the Crimean Peninsula. After Viktor Yanu­kovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, was deposed by a “people power” revolution last month, it was perhaps inevitable that Putin would believe the status of those bases was in question, if not under threat.

The new government in Kiev could offer formal reassurances about the naval base in Sevastopol. More broadly, however, Putin may have decided that allowing Ukraine to escape Moscow’s orbit was too much to swallow. Seizing Crimea does more than secure a warm-water port for Russian ships. It implies the threat of further territorial incursions — unless the new government in Kiev becomes more accommodating to its powerful neighbor.

This is not fair to Ukraine. But I don’t believe it helps the Ukrainians to pretend that there is a way to make Putin surrender Crimea if he wants to keep it.

The question is whether there is any way to tip the balance of Putin’s cost-benefit analysis. The Russian leader has nothing to fear from the U.N. Security Council, since Russia can veto any proposed action. Kicking Russia out of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations would be a blow to Moscow’s prestige but probably would not cause Putin to lose much sleep.

Economic sanctions are more easily threatened than applied. The European Union depends on Russia for much of its natural gas — a fact that gives Putin considerable leverage. In a broader sense, there is zero enthusiasm in Europe for a reprise of the Cold War. Putin knows this.

If Putin really has lost touch with reality, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly speculated in a conversation with President Obama, then all bets are off. But if Putin is being smart, he will offer a solution: Russia gets sole or joint possession of Crimea. Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics remember that Moscow is watching, and we all settle down.

Sadly for Ukraine, but realistically, that may be a deal the world decides to accept.
I know that's not as exciting as assuming we can "defeat" the Hitleresque Vladimir Putin and save the world from tyranny if only our president is "tough" enough, but it's just a tad more realistic.

I'd also point out that presidential candidates making "Hitler" analogies is more than a little bit provocative when talking about Russia and Ukraine. They (and the other Soviet states) lost nearly 20 million people in WWII and it doesn't seem that long ago to them.  I'm not a particular sticker for Godwin's law --- I think a war that cost the world 60 million lives and ranks as the bloodiest conflict in human history should not be off limits for public discussion. But this is one situation where they really should zip it with the Hitler stuff.  These Russians and Ukrainians know from Hitler.


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