LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP

When I was in college I was a full blown Sunday Morning Talk Show addict. Let's overlook how sad that is and jump to the part about how eventually I couldn't take it anymore: the incessant George Will monologues, the same ten Senators in an endless rotation, and the David Brooksian devotion to the Beltway Consensus politics of Moderation and Reasonable People and all that happy horseshit. It starts as an effort to inform yourself but before long it sounds like exactly what it is: meaningless noise, with the curious spectacle of Raytheon commercials.

It would take something very special to get me to fall off the wagon. The prospect of seeing the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world give sage foreign policy advice about the Russian Bear was it. Well, it was enough to get me through about 15 minutes; then I thought death would be preferable to continued viewing.

There's nothing quite like watching angry, impotent old men who know they will never be calling the shots talking tough about what they would do and trying to convince themselves that with a white Republican president everyone would cower in fear of America once again. The domestic politics of this Crimean crisis are playing out so predictably that we can shut off all of the analytic parts of our brains and treat it as pure cabaret. As always, it doesn't much matter what the President does, the GOP is foaming at the mouth to criticize it. If he does something immediate and decisive, then he's a tyrant and dictator. If he waits, he gets to listen to a South Carolina hillbilly who couldn't find the Crimea on a map if his life depended on it call him "weak and indecisive." More Neville Chamberlain references, tough guys!

The Republican message this weekend was remarkably consistent: clearly Obama needs to Do Something. Exactly what he should do, no one can say. That's inconsequential to Republicans, of course; all that matters is that the Kenyan One is a pussy and so on. In practical terms, though, the fact that no one has the slightest idea how the U.S. could or should respond is rather important. Every Republican hayseed who can get his face in a camera is making demands; boycott the G8. (Ooh, that'll show him!) Send in the aircraft carriers. (Sure, we'll start WWIII!) Impose economic sanctions. (They depend on us economically for what, exactly?) If this is the best they can do, it does nothing but underscore the dearth of realistic options available to the U.S. in a situation halfway around the globe that has absolutely nothing to do with America or its interests.

I'm not an expert on the region, but here are a few relevant facts. The Crimea is part of the Ukraine but is populated mostly by ethnic Russians who strongly support Russian influence in the area. The Russian military (following the Soviet tradition) pays Ukraine to maintain the Black Sea Fleet on the island, much as the U.S. pays Cuba for Guantanamo Bay. The Crimea, which is already essentially autonomous within the Ukraine, is about to hold a vote on independence at the end of March. The recent political upheaval in Kiev has left the entire country unstable and Putin saw an outstanding opportunity to fuck around and indulge his quasi-imperialist "We'll put the old Russian Empire back together again!) fantasies with relative impunity. Given these and all the other facts – You know, part of the Ukraine wants to move toward the EU and NATO while part of it wants to remain within Russia's sphere of influence – what exactly is the United States supposed to do about this?

It is clearly troubling that Putin has a Bush-like disrespect for the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, but this is hardly a surprise. He never passes up a chance to try to extend and solidify Russian influence over former Soviet states and the recent political turmoil practically rolled out the red carpet for shenanigans. If a response is needed, it needs to come from the European Union. Russia supplies more than one-third of all natural gas and nearly one-quarter of the oil used in continental Europe. An embargo would have a real impact there, although it might be as unpleasant for Europe as it would be for Russia. Moscow might easily find other markets for Garzprom while Europe would find itself short on gas in the middle of a frigid winter.

The only response that makes any sense from an American perspective is the ol' freeze-the-assets trick on Russian oligarchs stashing their plundered billions abroad. That would require coordination between the U.S. and Europe – you know, the kind of thing that takes time and doesn't work if the American president flies off half-cocked like Republicans believe a Real Leader would do. That might place enough domestic political pressure on Putin to get him to reverse course. Or perhaps this is all Putin's contribution to the old Khrushchevian buffoonery in international affairs, the joy Russia seems to take in watching the West panic and rush to respond to its every move (Berlin is, unfortunately, no longer the Testicles of the West). Maybe there's a little more to the concept of intervention than rushing in waving around our national dick.

No more Meet the Press until 2024.

35 thoughts on “LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP”

  • The world should be thankful that Dick Cheney is no longer VP, or worse commander in chief, because the missiles would be already flying.

  • If a Republican were President The Ukraine would not be in the news at all.

    Chicken hawks don't go to war unless they're against pushovers.

  • There is, indeed, nothing to be done in practical terms. In moral terms, we gave up the high ground when we invaded Iraq.

  • I take it no one bothered to bring-up Nixon and Prague Spring or Ike and the Hungarian Revolution, or the even more embarrassing Ronnie Raygun and Lebanon. That the same old gas bags have been dominating the guest lists for these shows for the last 15-20 years should be a sign that the format needs retuning.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    And taking the prize for lacking self-awareness:

    "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," – US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

  • freeportguy says:

    Funny how the very people who keep saying "The US can't be the police of the earth" are always ready to send the US military police the earth!

  • Marinus Ferreira says:

    >The Russian military (following the Soviet tradition) pays Ukraine to maintain the Black Sea Fleet on the island, much as the U.S. pays Cuba for Guantanamo Bay.

    Sorry to be a dick, but the Crimea is a peninsula, not an island. It has a wafer-thin land connection to Ukraine, as opposed to the wafer-thin strait between it and mainland Russia.

  • Russia can't really do much to Europe economically right now. Sure they depend on Gazprom but right now things are pretty shitty here for the ruble. It's been at about 36 to the USD for the past few weeks. By contrast in good times it is between 30-32.

    A particularly funny repercussion would involve banning the children of Russian politicians from getting visas in Europe in the USA. They'll have to finish their studies at home.

  • And what, exactly, is going to happen to make Press the Meat more viewable in 2024? Is that when Luke Russert moves into the moderator's chair?

    Ugh.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    Frigid winter? I know shit sucks in the US but here in Germany it's a balmy 52 and sunny today. Should hit 60 this weekend.

  • My "conservative" friends have responded to the Ukraine situation with: "You know who talked about Russia during the election–MITT ROMNEY"

  • Very little we can do that wouldn't be purely symbolic.

    We're not going to engage the Russians in open conflict.
    We know it and they know it.

  • Small footnote: Actually, it's been an unusually mild winter in Europe.

    Isn't that just like Mother Nature: while most of the world continues to experience undeniable proof of global warming, she tosses a frigid, snowy winter at the one country that 1) could actually do something about it and 2) is filled with yahoos who think an unusually cold winter is evidence against global warming.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Putin may have opened up more than just a Ukrainian can of worms.

    Other ethnic and religious groups, within and sorrounding Russia, may see this as an this opportunity to lash back at 'The Russian Bear,' while that bear is engaged with fighting the Ukrainain bee's for their honey.

    The Chechen's weren't able to commit the terrorist act they wanted at the Sochi Olympics.

    Now that a lot of Russian troops are in Ukraine, look for them, and other ethnic and religious groups, to see an opportunity in "Putin's Folly."

    FYI – I'm 1/8th German, the rest is evenly spit betwee Russian and Ukrainian.

    My Russian is fluent.

    My Ukrainian, is rusty. Sadly, VERY rusty.

    I hate Putin.

    And I hate what he's doing.

    Nothing good, will come of this for either Russia, or Ukriane.

  • @Basilisc; yes, it's currently snowing where I live in the USA, and the local news is proudly featuring a bunch of conservatards bleating about how climate change can't possibly exist (because we've suffered an unprecedented winter filled with lots of record-breaking events!?!).

  • c u n d gulag says:

    OY!
    UkrAIne!!!

    Oh, and we should be thankful that we have a reasonable and thoughtful President and VP, and NOT, "Dumb, and Dumber – AND F*CKING CRAZY AND EVIL!!!!' – or else, in response to Putin's actions in Ukraine, they might have attacked Uruguay or Uganda.

    Actually, they might have invaded Yuma, AZ, they were so f*cking stupid, ignorant, and incompetent.

    Be thankful for President Obama, you folks who live in Uruguay, Uganda, and Yuma!!!

  • "The only response that makes any sense from an American perspective is the ol' freeze-the-assets trick on Russian oligarchs stashing their plundered billions abroad. "

    This would also require that a lot of governments lean on their banks to come clean on who has how much money from where deposited where.

    The global elites don't like that.

  • No One of Consequence says:

    Here's an idea: If the Feds know who are the rich Russians here on visas… pull 'em all. Revoke them, do a hunt to find them all, and deport them very publicly.

    See if we can pressure Putin via his cronies and such. We sure as hell aren't going to engage in a violence exchange with them.

    Soft power pummeling is the call, imho. Then again I'm not the man in the big chair, nor a flying monkey Senator or an orating festering sore of a Congressman with a host of deep-seated personal issues and a Press the Meat mic…

    – NOoC

  • Like it or not, and there's not much to like, this awful event has a danger, for the GOP anyway, of falling into the Fox News Benghazi hole of 2012…if things don't explode of course.

    By this, I mean to say the average non-echo chamber voter didn't give a shit about Benghazi. As sad as it was, they wondered WTF we were there for in the first place.

    If Ukraine doesn't hit us harder, it may wind up being the same when Fox makes the mistake of thinking of it as a way to "get" Hillary.

    Anything over there can happen but so far I fail to see, other than rants, what the U. S. can do about Ukraine.

  • We're not even out of Afghanistan, graveyard of empires, yet. And some people want another land war in Asia? Oh, that has good idea written all over it. I bet Rmoney is sweating and trembling with gratitude he doesn't have to deal with this bituminous infant.

  • Juche Songun says:

    @John Danley: A three sided Ukrainian-Chechen-Russian war with the EU covertly funding the Chechens and the US funding the Ukrainians would be bretty cool.

  • The American Empire is a funny thing–we spend a lot of money maintaining it, but it doesn't seem to bring us much imperialistic wealth. It's kind of a money losing proposition. Actually, it's welfare for the defense industry–but that's another subject.

    We have the projectable military power to knock off most tin-pot dictators wherever they rule to be sure–but this projectability does not apply to top and midlevel military powers.

    It seems what we get is obligation without reward, vulnerability without security. And of course, we get the kabuki theater of the "war party' continually stumping to use our projectable military power everywhere–even when they know full well the limits of that power.

  • "The citizens of Ukraine should outsource their concerns to Dokka Umarov. If Putin wants to play dirty, say hello to Allah's little friend."

    Actually the Ukrainian neo-Nazi leader Dmitri Yarosh tried to do just that. Unfortunately for him, he's not hiding in the mountains like Mr. Umarov. That means his ass is done. Russia has put him on the same list as Umarov. If one good thing comes out of this, it will be a dead Yarosh, hopefully surrounded by the charred corpses of a few dozen of his football hooligan, wolf's-hook wearing friends.

    Seriously though, you have to be a pretty depraved person to wish random acts of terrorism on innocent people. I remind you that just last year a bomb killed several people in Volgograd.

  • @Arslan. Apologies for my facetious commentary. Ultimately, I wish for random acts of irreverence to dismantle Putin's ego. There, but by the grace of Boris Nemtsov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, go I.

  • Doug Rushton says:

    No argument with your comments or analysis. Pretty much right on, I'd say. Just a nitpick: it's Ukraine, not "the" Ukraine. Just like it's France, not "the" France. People say the United States of America because they are (well, sort of), and the Soviet Union because it was one (until it wasn't). They don't call it "the" Russia now.
    Okay, back to serious stuff now!

  • "Just a nitpick: it's Ukraine, not "the" Ukraine. Just like it's France, not "the" France. People say the United States of America because they are (well, sort of), and the Soviet Union because it was one (until it wasn't). They don't call it "the" Russia now."

    Could we please stop with this nitpick? Yes it is "Ukraine," but Ukrainian doesn't have articles. Many regions such as Siberia, or Anatolia, do not have definite articles in English, though they are regions and not countries. The Czech Republic is always referred to by that name instead of Czechia. Official country names usually always have "the" before them, e.g. The Russian Federation.

  • I'm not blaming you, Doug. I know it's really because of tons of pundits who throw out this canard to make it seem like they are savvy about Ukrainian history. I bet if you ask them something about the Hetmanate they would just stare at you blankly.

  • Since VP Sarah Palin is taking a victory lap claiming she called this, I'd like MSNBC, Democracy Now, Thom Hartmann and Racist Limpbaugh to invite her on to explain in detail how a VP Palin would have stopped this.

    I can only envision a scenario in which Sarah would claim Vlad Putin wouldn't dare try this if she was in charge.

  • What would Mr. Putin do if…

    There is a large English speaking cohort in Canada (pretend both Ontario. and Quebec) For discussion, reverse our relative climates (USA-Canada). Suppose there is political unrest in Canada such that they have a coup of sorts. We have a long term agreement with Canada to base part of our Navy in the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and use the Saint Lawrence Seaway as 12 month per year access to the Atlantic because the USA has no warm water ports below the Saint Lawrence. The shtf as mentioned. We move our troops North to secure our vital commercial and military interests.

    Is this a reasonable thing for the USA to do? What strategic interest would Putin have in this affair?

    //bb

  • It would be acceptable for Putin to send some extra troops just to secure the base that they legally lease, but what they did instead was deliver an ultimatum to all Ukrainian military installations in the Crimea and demanded their surrender. They have gone far beyond securing their base there.

    I'm not saying there isn't a shit ton of hypocrisy coming from America's leaders and a whole host of ignorant pundits, but what the Russian government is doing is wrong, and it actually helps the nationalist regime in Kyiv. A lot of the Russian-speaking community is actually inadvertently helping them as well, by waving Russian tricolors. What was needed was a Ukrainian- Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Tatar, but ultimately Ukrainian resistance against oligarchs and the new regime(which incidentally has made peace with Yanukovich's oligarch friends). To be sure, such a movement does exist, but it is unfortunately very small and drowned out by the cacophony of the other sides.

  • I love the argument that if Obama was a more credible threatener-in-Chief, then Russia wouldn't have invaded Crimea. I'm sure the fact that Russia invaded another ex-Soviet republic when George W. Bush was president is completely irrelevant to that claim.

    The US should respond, but we should be acutely aware of just how much we do, and don't have on the line because its pretty clear that the Russians are heavily invested: http://bit.ly/1hJ3S0Z.

    Also, that John Kerry quote was priceless. Of course, its true and an entirely appropriate thing for the American Secretary of State to emphasize…but holy hell will it take a long time to get past the Bush presidency.

  • As Ed says, I think the Rs that are blowing big right now would not do any better. or different than our President.

    But I think part of the schadenfreude that some on the right are rolling in right now is sourced in the absolute mockery and scorn heaped on Tina Fey…er Gov. Palin in 2008 when she opined on the subject and the hubris demonstrated by our President ('bayonets and horses' comment) in the 2012 campaign against Gov Romney when he nailed Russia as our greatest geo-political threat.

    GW Bush was equally 'weak' in the Georgia affair of 2008, but the Rs were much quieter than. The Left regularly interprets these differences in terms of melanin content, which I think is an attempt to implement Alinsky rules #5 and #12 to shut down debate and criticism.

    Plain ol' political party hypocrisy is the most direct explanation.

    //bb

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