Monday, March 31, 2014

Ukraine et ceteras

Part I
Some 1,500 years ago, the Roman historian Vegetius put pen to codice and wrote the phrase "Igitur qui desiderat pacem, pareparet bellum." If you want peace, prepare for war.

More than a millennium later, George Washington adopted the idea during his first presidential inaugural address when he stated that "to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."

Later still, Will Rogers put a twentieth-century spin on it by observing that "if you want to know when a war might be coming, you just watch the U.S. and see when it starts cutting down on its defenses." On a similar note, Rogers dispensed true hayseed wisdom by remarking that "diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock."

If only our president shared such wisdom. If only he didn't clothe himself in the delusion that history is driven by words rather than actions.

Does anyone really believe that Vladimir Putin would have sent Russia's military to seize the Crimean Peninsula if Barack Obama had not: 1) bowed before him by reneging on our promise to defend Poland and the Czech Republic with a missile shield; 2) mocked Mitt Romney for pointing out that Putin's Russia is an international threat; 3) said, prior to the 2012 election, that he would enjoy greater "flexibility" to kowtow to Putin after the election was over; 4) acted ineptly by "leading from behind" in Libya; 5) dishonored America's "beacon of hope" responsibility by not even saying anything supportive of Iran's dissidents when they tried to revolt; 6) pledged to reduce American military spending to pre-World War II levels; and 7) embraced the "reset" analogy to broadcast his belief that the U.S. has been the bad guy in U.S.-Russia relations?.

Or if, for that matter, Ukraine had not given up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the implicit promise that America would defend it from the Russian bear? Barack Obama has now broken Ukraine's trust in the worst way imaginable by refusing to even give it weapons, much less outright defense.

Putin's desire to restore Russian imperialism to its Soviet heyday is not a secret, so as America unilaterally retreats from its crucial role in world affairs, innocent people in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are no doubt trembling over their future while we nonchalantly blabber about baseball's Opening Day and the upcoming NFL Draft. Which brings me to...

Part II
Also known as The Hitler Parallel. What Putin cites as justification for invading the Crimean Peninsula (and what he has said to calm Western nerves since the invasion) should sound eerily familiar to students of history.

Yes, we all know Russia has a naval port on the peninsula and that Putin has spoken vaguely about Russia needing to "protect its interests" there. However, what he has said without vagueness is that Russian-speaking people on the peninsula were being abused by Ukrainian-speakers and thus Russia was duty-bound to protect them -- never mind that those Russian-speakers were not Russian citizens, and never mind that there were no credible reports that any abuse was even happening.

Flip back to the events that directly precipitated World War II, and you will find Adolf Hitler using virtually identical arguments to justify his seizure of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. His unsupported claim was that German-speakers in the Sudetenland were being abused by the Czech-speaking majority, and that he could not claim to be leader of Germany if he stood idly by while ethnically Germanic people anywhere on the planet were being mistreated.

After Hitler seized the Sudetenland under that pretense, he assured the jittery leaders of the West that he had no intention of seizing anything else. Deferring to his plausible-sounding rationale, and hoping to placate the lion by allowing it to eat its stolen mean, the West opted to let Hitler retain his new territory without any consequences. He then responded by gobbling up the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler went on to unleash the Blitzkrieg that took down Poland, justifying it by claiming that he was reacting to Polish soldiers having crossed into Germany. However, the shot-to-death "Polish soldier" whose body he displayed as evidence of an incursion was, in reality, a German criminal. Hitler had ordered that he be killed and his corpse dressed in a Polish uniform to deceive the world.

History often repeats itself, and just as Western leaders in the 1930's failed to show resolve in the face of Hitler, today's Western leaders are failing to show resolve in the face of Putin. They might be different men, but dictators are dictators, and Putin is a known deceiver who has proven in Chechnya and Georgia that he does not mind slaughter. If he believes he can get away with militaristic power grabs by cooking up rationalizations, he will keep rationalizing and keep grabbing. 

Part III
So do we go to war with Russia over a rhombus-shaped peninsula in the Black Sea? Of course not. But we must respond to Putin's aggression; we must do so with unambiguous strength of will; and we must never announce that the option of eventual war is off the table.

I do not claim to know all the answers, but I do know we should immediately announce that the Pole/Czech missile shield is back on. Importantly, we should also announce that we are expanding the shield's umbrella to cover not only those two nations, but all the nations that were left stranded behind the Iron Curtain from 1945 through 1992.

We should announce that we stand solidly with the Ukrainian movement to bring freedom and representative democracy into its borders -- and we should show we mean it by arming them with all the weapons they request.

Those steps, rooted not in abstraction but in concrete, would give Putin pause and stay his hand from attempting at least some of the things he wants to pull off. Bullies understand the difference between spin and resolve, and they respond accordingly. Remember Part I!

Part IV
Spare me the "can't be the world's policeman" whine. Yes, we definitely shouldn't intervene in border squabbles between Greece and Turkey or fishing disputes between Peru and Ecuador. But when a country that has exported totalitarianism around the globe for centuries starts rattling its sabers and inserting its proboscis into the affairs of sovereign neighbors who are too small to defend themselves, we not only can but should push back.

The Soviet Union collapsed and millions were freed from its yoke not because Reagan and Thatcher fired missiles at Moscow, but because they pushed back against Moscow and did so in credible fashion. Again: Remember Part I!

Part V
This is not only about Europe. It is also about the Pacific. Our willingness to stand strong during the Cold War not only kept Russia in check, but also kept North Korea out of South Korea and China out of both Taiwan and Japan.

People of those latter nations have enjoyed the blessings of freedom because both they and their potential tormentors knew we could be counted on to defend our allies. Today they have probably lost confidence in us thanks to Obama's cold-shouldering and promise-breaking, so he must get to work restoring that confidence. Does he really want to go down in history as the man who squandered the hopes of the less fortunate by allowing the forces of despotism to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Part VI
Does Barack Obama have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Putin and defend the rights of man? Sadly, I doubt it.

I and millions of others are hoping he spends the next three years proving us doubters wrong.

No comments: