The Russian seizure of Crimea—and let’s face it: it’s a done deal—is not a good thing for world peace and stable international relations. By this weekend, when the provocative referendum takes place (under Russian military occupation, of course, and contrary to Ukraine’s constitution), Vladimir Putin will have a fig leaf of democratic support for his Crimea operation. But it will lead to howls of outrage from neoconservatives, hawks and pro-NATO advocates inside the United States. As a result, it will be exceedingly difficult for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to engage in creative diplomacy with Russia on issues including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
But does that mean that the United States should call for a revolution in Russia? Bring Ukraine into NATO? Step up military exercises all across Eastern Europe? Take steps to permanently isolate Russia’s economy? No, of course not. But that’s what the hawks are calling for.
Inside the White House, Obama may be thinking: Okay, let Putin have his gosh-darned Crimea, and let’s get on with it. But he can’t, and won’t, ever say anything like that. As time goes on, Obama will be buffeted by his ever-present right-wing critics over Ukraine, and those critics will use every opportunity to propose and defend a long list of aggressive steps that the United States can take in response—steps that, while they’ll do nothing to reverse Putin’s indefensible Ukraine policy, are laundry-list items that they want anyway. And given Obama’s all-too-frequent willingness to meet his critics halfway, they just might get them.
Among Republicans, the libertarians and so-called “realists” have cut Obama some slack. Robert Gates, the discredited former CIA chieftain who was picked as secretary of defense by George W. Bush and then inexplicably retained by Obama, told a shocked Fox News host, Chris Wallace, that Crimea is “gone”:
“You think Crimea’s gone?” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked.
“I do,” Gates replied. “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.”
He’s no doubt right about that. Henry Kissinger, the über-realist (and butcher of Vietnam) suggested in an even-toned op-ed in The Washington Post that rather than fight over Ukraine, the United States and Russia ought to see the country “as a bridge between them,” and he said that Obama and Putin shouldn’t “compete in posturing.”
And the Pauls, father and son (Ron and Rand) have pretty much written off Ukraine and told their fellow Republicans—provided that the GOP still considers the Pauls to be members in good standing with the GOP—to lay off Ukraine. According to Daddy Paul, who no doubt would rather go about the business of getting rid of the income tax and abolishing Medicare and Social Security, Americans are “sick and tired of the U.S. government getting involved in every crisis that arises.” (His column was entitled: “Leave Ukraine alone!”) For good measure, appearing on the propagandistic Russian outlet RT, Paul said that it was “global bankers” who want the United States to get involved in Ukraine. And Paul fils, the senator from Kentucky, commented intelligently, in an interview with The Washington Post: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”