WASHINGTON, March 3, 2014 — “Talk softly and carry a big stick” has been the motto of the United States since Teddy Roosevelt offered it as a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. Do not make threats; make promises. Do not warn; give fair notice. Carry a stick big enough to keep the wolves at bay.
These principles are what made America the international power that we are. These principles, followed by nearly every president since Roosevelt, have for the most part kept us safe and secure as not just a military superpower, but a diplomatic and cultural superpower as well.
Over the last five years of the Obama Administration, our foreign policy doctrine has changed from “talk softly and carry a big stick” to “peacock and do nothing.”
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Crimea an “autonomous Republic” after sending roughly six thousand land and sea forces to take control of key government positions on the peninsula. He then demanded that by 5 a.m. tomorrow, the Ukrainian forces in Crimea hand over their arms and surrender. If they do not surrender they will be attacked.
Based on Russia’s behavior so far, we can assume that these threats are not idle; they are simple fair notice. Tomorrow, if Ukrainian forces in Crimea do not surrender or pledge allegiance to Russia, they will be attacked and captured or killed.
Russia has adopted “talk softly and carry a big stick” and made it their own. Despite America’s and the EU’s threats and bluster, the have done nothing. Their talk has produced no results.
We find ourselves in this position because of President Obama and his foreign policy. His decisions have put American interests at home and abroad in jeopardy. He set a red line in Syria; it was crossed, and in response he armed al-Qaeda. He fomented rebellion in Libya, took a back seat to France, and now Libya is an unstable bastion of terror cells which have an entire nation to hide in while they fight to take over North Africa. He stoked the fires of revolution in Egypt, then when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, refused to help the opposition.
Obama has been outplayed and outmaneuvered at every turn on the international stage. He has taken decades of foreign policy precedents, or what amounts to a reputation in the international community, and he has destroyed it. President George W. Bush is damned by the media for starting two wars, but he never made a threat he did not carry out. Bill Clinton did not bluster and back down, he carried out his threats. Bush Sr. did the same, and drove Iraq from Kuwait. Ronald Reagan was respected by the Soviets for being a man of his word.
But not Obama.
While he is clearly one of the greatest politicians and players of the American election game that this country may ever see, Obama has proven that he does not know how to be a strong leader on the international stage. On the home front, he outmaneuvers, outplays, outfoxes, and outdoes every opponent that confronts him. On the World stage, he is ignored, mocked, and derided for his inability to follow through on his threats.
Putin has outplayed the rest of the world with his intervention in Crimea. He has ignored every single threat from Obama, John Kerry, the new Ukrainian government, Great Britain, the European Union, Canada, and every other power that has said anything to oppose him.
Russia has genuine interests in Ukraine, and has a legitimate claim on Crimea. Crimea was Russian until the Supreme Soviet gave it to Ukraine in 1954. Sixty percent of Crimea is ethnically Russian, protesters there have been calling for Russian intervention for a week, and ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych enjoys wide support there.
Russia has a direct, vested interest in the fate of Ukraine and Crimea. Russian natural gas pipelines run through the country, a portion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol. The new Ukrainian authorities are not strong enough to contain the violence that seems to be spreading through the country. Many believe the protests and the removal of the old administration to be illegal. The country is under the threat of civil war even without Russian intervention. Russia can rationalize military intervention in Crimea by citing a need for stability on their borders, and fear of the lives and property of ethnic Russians.
But the fact remains that they invaded a sovereign nation.
No one is prepared to do anything about it. China has already expressed support for Russia in this endeavor. Both the EU and NATO stand to be hurt by a successful Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the EU depends on Russia for natural gas and has no treaty obligation to Ukraine. Nor would it be wise to risk plunging Europe into war over Crimea. NATO has no obligation to go to war over Ukraine and isn’t in a strong military position to do so.
Obama told Russia to stay out of Ukraine or there will be consequences, but just last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced major military cutbacks. Threats of serious consequences against a powerful nation like Russia sound hollow after America and its allies shied away from carrying through on threats against the much weaker regime in Syria.
Obama can do nothing to resolve this situation. The former community organizer has been outplayed once again by the former spymaster who has had his number since before he even took office.
Sanction Russia, kick it off the G8, recall our ambassador; it will have no effect on Putin’s government. Europe will still buy gas from Russia because it has to; Russia will remain a major player in the Middle East because the U.S. can no longer command the respect to lead there. Russia can’t be isolated from the world economy or on the diplomatic stage the way the Soviet Union could be.
Putin has asked the Russian Parliament for permission to attack the Ukraine itself. That doesn’t mean he will do it, but no one is in a position to stop him if he decides it’s in Russia’s interest to invade.
Ukraine needs to meet Russia at the peace table. Its backers in the west are nearly impotent, and the Ukrainian government would have to be filled with idiots to rely on the U.S. or the EU at this point. Russia will most likely call for recognition of Crimea’s independence from Ukraine in exchange for withdrawal and returned recognition of the new government in Kiev.
If Ukraine can’t agree to that, there will be war. If Ukraine tries to retake Crimea and engage Russian troops, they will lose.
The Eastern half of Ukraine is ethnically Russian and more likely to support Russia and Russian intervention. A war with Russia will result in the partition of Ukraine. The Western half has strong ties to Western Europe and hates Russia. If Putin decides to invade Western Ukraine, he will get a guerrilla war, bogging him down there for an undetermined amount of time and allowing his enemies to send supplies and aid to the Ukrainians. He will avoid that mistake.
Crimea is gone. There is no power that can return it to Ukraine. Putin has exposed the weakness of the west — a weakness of resolve above all — and has undermined eastern European confidence in NATO. While the rest of the World is busy playing marbles on a playground, Putin is moving his chess pieces around the board, setting up a very long and deadly game.