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Obama's Win in the Ukraine

The Ukrainian “crisis” is passing. Putin is not moving beyond the Crimea and Obama has taken the military card off the table. There are a set of symbolic sanctions equivalent to the Carter boycott of the Moscow Olympics after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Whatever economic pressure is being brought to bear by the West will result in some formal signoff whereby Russia keeps the Crimea and the rest of Ukraine tries to create some ties to the EU. Only Neo-cons want to blow up the crisis into a post-post cold war confrontation between NATO and the new Russian Empire. All that is happening is a regularization of borders between Europe and Russia, something that has been going on for half a millennium at least. Madelyn Albright was very prescient in moving the borders of Europe east to include all of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox nations so that there would be no buffer zone between Russia and Europe, a set of second class European citizens who had been Finlandized so as to pose no threat to a much diminished Russia. She got away with it when she could, knowing the opportunity would not last forever.

Now a resurgent Russia, which will remain that way until its economy is so integrated with Europe’s that it will no longer pose a political much less a military threat, or until Russia collapses because it is a one crop economy: oil. Prices for its oil will drop on the world market when North America in the next ten years becomes the world’s largest supplier of oil. Meanwhile, this resurgent Russia is attempting to make some small readjustments in the boundaries of Europe. Crimea belongs to it, as it has since the time that Gibraltar came under the rule of England, and Gibraltar is not going to be returned to Spain any time soon. Eastern and Western Ukraine can remain an autocratic state not too beholden to Russia, with trade links to the West as well as the East, but it certainly cannot become a part of the EU which is based, after all, on all its members having a democratic tradition or at least a short history of trying to establish one, as happened with some Eastern European states which are too small to make much of a difference anyway. Ukraine has 43 million people who are tied into the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches, not to the Greek Orthodox or to the Roman Catholic Church. They can not be assimilated into Europe. So why did we try to do so other than so as  to tweak the Russians who were offering oil for loyalty just as the West was offering loans for loyalty?

I think we overplayed our hand. I wish I knew what Victoria Neufeld, the US undersecretary of state in charge of Eastern European affairs, had said to Catherine Ashton, the EU “foreign minister” before and after her leaked remarks which including saying “Fuck the EU”, presumably because of the unwillingness of the EU to take definitive action. Was it leaked by the Russians, which is the usual story, or was it leaked by us to show how much resolve we had about seeing to it that the Western oriented protesters would win their fight?  I also wish I had been in on the first phone call between Obama and Putin. Hindsight suggests that the call was not a concession speech by Putin acknowledging the Western organized coup in Kiev, and I suppose that Obama’s outline of the punishments he might inflict on Putin made clear that these were for symbolic purposes, not meant to really hurt Russia. What he did not say he was going to do was more informative than outlining the banking measures he eventually did put in place.

We still need the Russians to cooperate over Iran and Syria over the long haul, even though we did pull a fast one on them by turning the humanitarian mission into Libya into a mission to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. That still rankles with the Russians, who have this notion that any state that keeps power is legitimate so long as it goes through rigged elections. This is the notion of stability between nations that was championed by Metternich and the Czar during the time of the Holy Alliance that followed the ravages of the Napoleonic wars. We are still in the lingering aftermath of the Cold War, and what is remarkable is how well that has gone, with the exception of the explosions that occurred when Yugoslavia broke up.

Zbig Brzezinski still remains relevant, thanks to his daughter’s position on Morning Joe. He has been the most articulate in explaining why Ukraine matters. It has to do with whether Putin will get away with creating his new post-Soviet Russian empire by consolidating various contiguous former Soviet republics into a new confederation, and so acknowledging the loss of the Iron Curtain states, but only those. Zbig thinks the protesters not only mean business but in fact are Westernizers and not just another bunch of thugs and are not like the liberal protesters in Egypt who couldn’t consolidate the brief advantage they had so as to put up a candidate to counter Morsi in that fateful election which led, eventually, to the reassertion of power by the Army. (The liberals in Kiev do seem to have gotten that message. The popular ex-heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko gave furthering the solidarity of his bloc  as his reason for pulling out of the race for President of the Ukraine.)

Brzezinski stated a view that I thought comported with his still very anti-Soviet policy and his Polish distrust for anything Russian. Not that I blame him. Many of our high level diplomats bring their personal convictions into their jobs, and so why not a National Security advisor more trusted than was the Secretary of State in the Carter Administration? Madeleine Albright brought her interest in Eastern Europe to bear when she extended the boundaries of NATO and the EU to the eastern boundary of Roman Catholicism. Henry Kissinger and Dennis Ross and a host of other American Jews bring to Middle Eastern diplomacy their knowledge of Jews and Judaism. This is America. No doubt there will soon be Chinese American diplomats who will stand up to the by then emerged China.

Do we want to go further than the western border of Ukraine?  Jeffrey Sachs, also on Morning Joe, thought not. We have no interest in Ukraine other than the humanitarian, and look how far that gets us elsewhere. But maybe even very Eastern Europe is more liberal than nations in the Arab World and so it can be profitable to wean them away from the Russian orbit, though it hardly seems worth much of a risk or investment. Foreign policy always requires such assessments, though there does seem to be a real politick principle that applies in all circumstances. We back people we like, like the Israelis and the modernizing Ukrainians; we make deals with those we can deal with, like the Chinese and the Russians; we threaten those who are totally obstinate, like the Syrians and the Iranians, and sometimes those threats work and sometimes they don’t. But we keep our powder dry and wait for circumstances to turn in our direction. Most of the time, these days, the best thing to do is nothing.

I just wish that Obama got more credit for keeping us out of war. You remember Ted Koppel announcing every night the number of days the American hostages had been detained in Tehran? I wish the networks would announce every additional day that Obama has kept us out of another war in the Middle East, whether in Egypt or Syria or Iran or the Crimea or any number of other places. Why is that not a major foreign policy accomplishment? Most commentators will not give him a break, not until he wins the Midterms, and then they will fall over one another with praise for his willingness to stick to his guns in foreign policy and with regard to Obamacare. I look forward to the MSNBC pundits eating crow.

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Issue No. 77
December 22, 2013

"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel- Part I
"The Moonstone" as an Aesopian Novel-Part II
Earlier Issues

List Articles by Topic

The Political Ticker
The Hillary Coalition
  - November 19, 2014
Obama's Win in the Ukraine
  - April 5, 2014
"House of Cards" Politics
  - February 14, 2014
Birenbaum: The Day the President Struck Out
  - January 29, 2014
The Debate Over Inequality
  - January 27, 2014
Temporary Issues: "Stop and Frisk", Climate Change, Inequality
  - January 21, 2014

Previous Political Tickers

The Administrative President
  -January 12, 2014
Three Chronic Problems
  -December 19, 2013
Obama the Transformational President
  -December 13, 2013
"Homeland", "Alpha House" and the Tea Party
  -November 27, 2013
Off Year Election Post-mortem
  -November 7, 2013
Kathleen Sibelius and the Iliad
  -October 31, 2013
Political Impasses: 2013 and 1936
  -October 7, 2013
Birenbaum on The Tea Party
  -October 6, 2013
Fifty Years Later: The Anniversary of the March on Washington
  -September 18, 2013
The Principled Obama
  -September 10, 2013
Obama Thinks About Syria Freshly
  -September 5, 2013
Syria and the Falklands
  -August 30, 2013
Public Opinion on Syria
  -August 24, 2013
Upward Mobility Through Educational Innovation
  -August 12, 2013
The Anthony Wiener Bubble
  -July 30, 2013
Racial Issues in 2013
  -June 29, 2013
The David Brinkley Era of Journalism
  -June 5, 2013
Republican Scandal Mongering
  -May 23, 2013
Benghazi and Two Other "Scandals"
  -May 14, 2013
Lackluster Politics
  -May 7, 2013

The Cultural Ticker
A Dour Cultural Week
  - February 4, 2014
Colonial Virginia
  - January 15, 2014
Birenbaum: The Joy of Middle European Posters
  - January 6, 2014
A Jewish Nipple
  - November 28, 2013
Birenbaum: My Oral Comprehensive Examination and the JFK Assassination
  - November 27, 2013
"12 Years a Slave"
  - November 12, 2013

Previous Cultural Tickers

Pinter and Shakespeare
  -November 8, 2013
Birenbaum on "I Am Divine"
  -November 3, 2013
The Hearing Impaired Student
  -August 17, 2013
Ideas and People
  -August 10, 2013
The Weekly Roundup of Morning Joe and Chris Matthews
  -August 8, 2013
The Zen of Dishwashers
  -August 5, 2013
The Profundity of the Second World War
  -August 2, 2013
The Trayvon Martin Bubble
  -July 20, 2013
Eliot Spitzer
  -July 9, 2013
The Study of Everyday Life
  -July 5, 2013
The Zimmerman Trial
  -July 3, 2013
Le Carre's "A Delicate Truth"
  -July 1, 2013
Zucker: A Madeleine (A Memoir)
  -June 23, 2013
Von Trotta's "Hannah Arendt"
  -June 7, 2013
The Armchair View of War and Disability
  -May 30, 2013
Birenbaum's Summers
  -May 24, 2013
Old Neighborhoods
  -May 21, 2013
Jackie Robinson
  -May 20, 2013
Barbara Spun's Catskill Vacations
  -May 16, 2013
An Old Friend in Her Eighties
  -May 11, 2013


A new issue of “w. end ave.: an e-journal of culture and politics” is published once every three weeks or so. It is edited, owned, and where not indicated as otherwise, written by Martin Wenglinsky. The rights to all materials published here are copyright © 2008 by Martin Wenglinsky