Time To Panic?

President Obama’s foreign policy style has been characterized as “leading from behind”.  And with the two messes (Iraq and Afghanistan) he inherited, there seems numerous good reasons for such a style.  Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria offer evidence of its wisdom.  But like all things in life, no one size fits all.

The Ukraine was not on anyones radar.  It is a country far from America’s vital interests.  Although many Ukrainians have settled in the US, and the Ukraine is a pleasant place to visit, there is nothing about their local politics that moves the scale here.

That is not the case for Russia.  In former times, the Ukraine was a solid part (the bread basket) of the Soviet Union.  The Russian language is spoken through out the Ukraine and most business is transacted in the Eastern sections in Russian.  Crimea which is in the southeast of Ukraine is an autonomous state and is highly Russian in character.  Crimea also is home to the Russian Black Sea naval fleet.

So when this past week, Kiev street demonstrations gave reason for the Soviet leaning Ukrainian President to flee the country.  A new Government was elected, and red lights and warning bells must have gone off in Moscow.  Russian troops are now settling into to Crimea, having not waited to be asked.  This part of the Ukraine is of vital interest to Russia.

From an East-West perspective or from a “let’s get even for Russia’s past support of Iran and Syria”, the US has all sorts of reasons to make life difficult for Russia.  Helping keep the Ukrainian Government leaning towards the EU would be a desired outcome.  But is that vital to US interests?

From behind, the US can see that the Ukraine has many economic problems and a history of government leaders only too ready to line their own pockets with money before helping the economy.  The price for Russia will be steep and western Ukraine will never thank the Russians and continually press for reforms which Russia will not want for their own citizens.

Unfortunately, there are many voices in American.  And 2014 is an election year.  Senators like Lindsay Graham who have championed the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay detention, see this situation for what it is… a gift from political heaven, a glorious time to demagogue.

Just as with Iraq, you will not hear these Congress members explain once why the Ukraine is part of the America’s national interest.  They may reference the Sudetenland, and the West reluctance to stop Hitler.  This perspective, however, breaks down when one considers Russia’s actual strength and other steps that could contain Russia’s expansion.

Unfortunately, Europe does not speak with one voice, and individual States are not too wealthy.  So looking for a partner who would share some of the costs will be a lonely task.

It is not too hard to imagine Russia’s next move.  They have a $15 billion loan and discounted natural gas offer on the table.  With nothing to match it, tell me why the US should get in a panic when Russia declares the Crimea a Russian protectorate?

This is a serious situation.  Threats made between super powers sometimes have to be backed up.  President Obama needs to be careful and remember he is playing chess and not battleship.

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