With Putin In The Driver’s Seat, Where Will We End Up?

LFU_SeedsDestruction_Blasts_vFIf there ever were any doubt, developments this week made it clear that Vladimir Putin is driving the international bus in the Ukraine. The United States has few options and those depend on the long-term cooperation of EU countries, something that isn’t likely to happen. Where will the U.S. end up when Putin decides to put the brakes on the current ride?


Our present predicament results from the confluence of several factors. First is Putin’s determination to protect Russian interests as he defines them. Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, does not have world domination goals. But over the last few centuries, that part of the world has been the target of other countries with global domination in mind. France under Napoleon and Germany under Hitler are two examples.


Perhaps too captive to its history, Russia desires a wide hedge of protection around its borders, a role filled by the former Eastern Bloc countries. Putin wants to put as many of those blocks back in place as possible. He also wants to protect Russia’s only military outlet to Europe for the same reason. Not coincidentally, the outlet, the Navy base leased from the Ukraine, lies in the Crimea.


Second is the Obama Administration’s misunderstanding of both Russian intentions and their will to carry them out. Both Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisted that Russia could not possibly succeed in what it was doing. The reason? Invading the Ukraine was out of step with 21st century thinking.


The too-smug duo sounded like academics ensconced in their ivory towers far above the plains where real life happens. Their condescending pronouncements made not one bit of difference except to make them look foolish.


Third is our miscalculation of the interests of those we call allies in the West. Their support of our position is essential to any meaningful action against Russian aggression. While those countries do object to the Ukraine invasion, they also have strong economic ties with Putin’s country. Any significant response is most likely to be restrained and short-termed.


Fourth is the White House’s general inability to function successfully in the international setting. U.S. participation is limited by Obama’s view of what should be rather than what is. Not surprisingly, this restraint has led to failures of various magnitudes over the past five years. While Obama’s wishful thinking may have temporarily spun an illusory existence in the U.S., it cannot impact the harsh reality of global life even fleetingly.


As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted today, our immediate options are limited. They consist mainly of isolating Russia from the succor of the international community. Even if this succeeds, it will be short-lived since European countries have too many economic interdependencies with Russia.


We do have strategic economic options of our own, but they require long-term planning. We’ve never been good at seeing very far down the foreign relations road. Our short sightedness is probably because military power has been our stalk in trade, an option that has been off the table for some time.


Regardless, in Russia’s case, even the usually crystal ball-less Sarah Palin foresaw the Ukraine incursion. It was equally obvious that exporting natural gas to Russia’s closest neighbors, including the Ukraine, was our best option in keeping Putin in check.


But under the Obama Administration, the Energy Department has prevented the exportation of natural gas in any meaningful quantities. The effort has been so slow rolled that the first U.S. company cannot begin the exportation process until the end of 2015.  This doesn’t even rise to the level of too little too late for the current crisis.


How will the Ukraine crisis impact the U.S.? Will it further damage our international standing? Or will it be seen as just another act of Russian overreach that couldn’t be stopped without a military intervention that none countenanced?


The Russians predict that any U.S. action will “boomerang”. It seems that they are right, at least in a manner of speaking. Obama’s international reputation will be further damaged by this latest episode making him even less effective in that arena.


The unfolding of the Ukraine invasion showed the U.S., not the Russians, as out of step with reality in this century. It put the lie to wishful thinking and outsized, empty rhetoric as viable foreign relations strategies. It was more evidence that badly misjudging both opponents and allies gets you less than what you had.


But the biggest problem created by Obama’s incompetence is the encouragement it gives to those with belligerent intentions on a global scale. The U.S. has been the only country that consistently kept international discord from reaching the boiling point. There are plenty of countries and organizations that will take advantage of our retreat.


In weakening its international presence, the U.S. is sowing the seeds of destruction around the planet.