As Vladimir Putin was taking over Crimea, I noted in this column that his strategy – using Russian special forces masquerading as and mixed with local sympathizers to take over key institutions, threatening full-scale war by asserting the Ukrainian government’s illegitimacy while massing troops on the border – depended for its success on his opponents fearing to confront him. Only after both the Ukrainians and the West put up no resistance did regular troops march in.
The American people’s simplistic, self-contradictory demands are the reason for President Obama’s vacillations on foreign policy. Thus did Gerald Seib explain conventional wisdom.
A poll taken last week by NBC News and Seib’s publication, the Wall Street Journal, found that “respondents by a whopping 47 percent to 19 percent margin said the U.S. should be less active rather than more active in world affairs. At the same time, though, a majority said they want a president who shows a willingness to confront America’s enemies.”
By bold paramilitary action, Vladimir Putin is seizing full power over eastern Ukraine. At the same time his empty threat of outright invasion is leading the Ukrainian government—supported by Barack Obama as a rope supports a hanging man—to agree to a “federative structure” for the country.
Last week, intelligence officials and congressional overseers were telling the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. government had been surprised by Vladimir Putin’s seizure of the Crimea “because they hadn’t intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade.” Meanwhile, debates on intelligence within the government and the policy community were focusing on how to regulate the interception of ordinary Americans’ communications. Establishment Republicans were particularly keen on making sure the practice continued.
Vladimir Putin is playing for the highest geopolitical stakes. Can the U.S. government afford to do less? Regardless of whether Putin’s near term aim is to take a chunk or two out of Ukraine —as he took chunks out of Georgia in 2008 —or just to stake out a bargaining position to make sure Russia can hold on to its Black Sea naval base after its lease expires in 2017, there is no doubt at all about his long term objective
Last week, during one of the back-to-back snowstorms nature has inflicted on New England in much the manner of a chain smoker lighting one cigarette from the end of another, a snow plow backed into my fence, knocked a section of it over and slunk off like a shame-faced thief into the night. Something similar happens when a feckless American foreign policy invites aggression.