A day after a referendum in Crimea on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia passed with 96.77 percent of the vote, encouraged by a rising presence of Russian troops, the Crimean parliament followed suit with its own vote asking to be annexed. Here at home, people will quickly begin asking “Who lost Crimea?,” as though events in Eastern Europe are being determined not by internal Ukrainian politics, longstanding ethnic divisions, Russian opportunism and a dozen other factors, but rather by what we in the United States would like to have happen.
You can bet that today and in the days to come, Republicans will be declaring their outrage, and insisting that this never would have happened had Barack Obama not been so weak. They’ve had a fetish about Obama’s alleged weakness in foreign affairs pretty much from the moment he took office. At first it was the obsession with the idea that Obama was “apologizing for America,” something they repeated endlessly, despite the fact that it was demonstrably untrue (my personal favorite was the Heritage Foundation’s much-linked “Barack Obama’s Top Ten Apologies,” not one of which was an actual apology). And now it’s the idea that if only we were showing more “strength,” whatever that’s supposed to mean, every other country would do exactly what we want.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re a person who pays lots of attention to current events and politics. So, without looking, can you name something these Republicans actually want Obama to do? Probably not, because whenever they’re asked, they come up with things like “make it clear” to Vladimir Putin that further incursions will not be tolerated. “Get tough.” Don’t “show weakness.” In other words, their complaint is that President Obama has not engaged in the proper kind of posturing.
Now maybe that’s because some of his loudest critics are in Congress, and posturing takes up most of those members’ time, particularly when they’ve all but given up trying to pass laws. A group of senators did rush off to Ukraine over the weekend, but somehow their presence did not bring an end to the crisis. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for members of Congress going places; after all, travel broadens the mind, and there are more than a few minds on Capitol Hill that could use some broadening. But the idea that in the midst of a crisis they hightail it to the hotspot as though they might actually accomplish anything is kind of absurd.)
The trouble is that unless we’re willing to start World War III, the number of things we can do to force Putin to do something he would prefer not to do, or prevent Putin from doing something he does want to do, is rather limited. Look, for instance, at the op-ed John McCain wrote over the weekend in the New York Times laying out his plan for getting tough. What did it involve? Working with our allies to support Ukraine, sanctioning Russian officials and boycotting the upcoming G-8 meeting. Okay, so the Obama administration is already doing all those things, or at least is about to. But that’s not all: “We must rearm ourselves morally and intellectually to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity,” wrote McCain. Just you wait, Vladimir. We’re about to undertake a moral and intellectual rearming! In other words, more effective posturing.
In the end, the threat of economic consequences for Russia and some feverish diplomacy may result in an end to this crisis that is more to our liking. But if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t fall prey to the fantasy that things would have been different if only somebody with more enthusiasm for chest-thumping were president. Maybe, just maybe, in the end this really isn’t about us.
* LOUISIANA SUING MOVEON FOR TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT: In a move that has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the liberal group’s billboard and TV ad criticize Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to turn down the expansion of Medicaid, leaving tens of thousands of Louisianans without health insurance, the state says its lawsuit is just about the fact that the ads riff on their “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion” slogan, and that threatens to dilute the state’s brand.
* CIA SUSPENDS CHIEF OF IRAN OPERATIONS: Jonathan Bank, a veteran agent in charge of the agency’s efforts to spy on Iran, has been suspended after an internal investigation concluded he created an abusive and hostile work environment. Seems like a department we might want to have functioning effectively.
* OSCAR PISTORIUS APPARENTLY THOUGHT HE WAS JACK BAUER: At the track star’s trial in the killing of his girlfriend, a firearms expert who knows Pistorius testified about Pistorius’s love of guns, and told of a time when Pistorius returned home, heard a sound and went into “what we call code red and combat mode.” The sound was his washing machine.
* ARRIVAL OF GAY-FRIENDLY ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE GETTING CLOSER: New Yorkers have been arguing about the exclusion of gay groups from the St. Patrick’s Day parade for as long as anyone can remember. But when Guinness itself decides to pull its sponsorship in the name of diversity, a green line has been crossed.