Saturday, 16 August 2014

How much Obama really cares about Ukraine

As Russia's tanks approach the Ukrainian border - and a different group of tanks have apparently already crossed it - in a supposed "aid convoy", I was struck yesterday by this fine piece by Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post, dissecting Obama's foreign policy failures (well, I suppose it's easier than trying to count his successes). The overriding point being the complete absence of strategic thinking. He notes, correctly, that:
To this day, Obama seems not to understand the damage he did to American credibility everywhere by slinking away from his own self-proclaimed red line on Syrian use of chemical weapons.
Quite. It's not just the shabby treatment of the Syrian people: it's the wider impact on the world.

As we have noted here before, the one thing you do not do as leader of the free world is to make a threat and then not carry it out. Because the next time your enemies will push harder, expecting you not to carry out your next threat. It's Geopolitics 101.

But the standout passage from Krauthammer is this one:
Vladimir Putin has 45,000 troops on the Ukraine border. A convoy of 262 unwanted, unrequested, uninspected Russian trucks allegedly with humanitarian aid is headed to Ukraine to relieve the pro-Russian separatists now reduced to the encircled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine threatens to stop it.
Obama’s concern? He blithely tells the New York Times that Putin “could invade” Ukraine at any time. And if he does, says Obama, “trying to find our way back to a cooperative functioning relationship with Russia during the remainder of my term will be much more difficult.”
Is this what Obama worries about? A Russian invasion would be a singular violation of the post-Cold War order, a humiliating demonstration of American helplessness and a shock to the Baltic republics, Poland and other vulnerable U.S. allies. And Obama is concerned about his post-invasion relations with Putin?
It is difficult to fully comprehend the depth of Obama's failure here, to grasp the danger to world order posed by Putin's manoeuvres. Or the fact that, until he gets a reaction from Obama, he will keep on pushing.

I may be wrong but I suspect that Obama is not a great reader of 20th century European history. If he were, he would be aware that his actions more than a little recall Chamberlain, struggling to repair relations with "Herr Hitler" in 1938. While we may reasonably hope that Putin is not as insane as Hitler, it is clear that he has learned something from his and Stalin's totalitarian playbooks. 

Putin, unlike Obama, does not want for strategy.

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