And. . . the bizarre West Wing parallels continue.  This article does a nice job showing the more obvious ones; the last two seasons of The West Wing are about a Congressman, Matt Santos, as he runs for the Presidency, and the Santos=Obama prescience is really quite amazing. (Not to mention Vinick=McCain).  But now there’s another one.  The last year of the fictional Presidency of Jed Bartlet is marked by a crisis in Kazakhstan, in which the President puts American troops right in between a Russian army and Chinese troops.  Well, we have a Russian army invading a neighbor; not an exact parallel, but once again, there are voices calling for American armed intervention.

Or sort of.  In fact, I don’t know of anyone actually calling for President Obama to send troops to Ukraine.  You kind of have to read between the lines.  Bill Kristol, for example, wrote:

Ukraine can expect no serious assistance in getting Russian troops off Ukraine soil or helping secure Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor is President Obama committed to seeing to it that President Putin pay a real price for his actions.

And his entire column is an angry denunciation of President Obama’s measured, diplomatic response to this particular piece of Russian aggression.

Bill Rogers, R-Michigan, (kind of a favorite go-to guy on the Sunday talk shows, because he’s articulate and usually pretty reasonable), said “Putin is playing chess with us; we’re playing marbles.”  But he also agreed that President Obama doesn’t have a lot of viable choices:

There is not a lot of options on the table and, candidly, I’m a fairly hawkish guy, sending more naval forces to operate in the Black Sea is really not a very good idea, given that we know that that day has long passed,” the Michigan Republican said. “And unless you’re intending to use them, I wouldn’t send them. Now you’ve got only economic options through the EU.”  He continued:

There are not a lot of options on the table and, candidly, I’m a fairly hawkish guy, sending more naval forces to operate in the Black Sea is really not a very good idea, given that we know that that day has long passed, and unless you’re intending to use them, I wouldn’t send them. Now you’ve got only economic options through the EU.”
In other words, me paraphrasing: ‘we probably can’t send troops in, though we could have earlier, and should have. So, darn it, we probably can’t go to war over this yet.’
Good old Lindsay Graham weighed in as well, calling President Obama “weak and indecisive,” and saying that Presidential weakness on this scale “invites aggression.”  He then added melodramatically “President Obama needs to do something!”  Others have attacked President Obama’s supposed timidity and weakness: Dick Cheney among them.  And everyone–by which I mean the mainstream media and Congressional Republicans– agrees that this is the defining crisis of the Obama Presidency.
That’s bonkers.  When President Obama took office, the American economy was in freefall.  Tanking big time.  That was the defining crisis of the Obama administration, and he handled it pretty darn well.  I know our economy has stagnated, but the fact that the Speaker won’t even bring a jobs bill up for a vote in the House has a lot more to do with it than any action the President can realistically take.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a serious matter.  The Ukrainian people suffered greatly under the Soviet Union’s tyranny, and we have a moral obligation to support their Democratic aspirations.  We also have treaty obligations towards Ukraine; specifically, the Budapest accords, to which Russia is also a signatory, and which Putin has violated most egregiously.
But the fact is, we have no national interests at stake in Ukraine. And Putin has not invaded most of the country, nor has he tried to take it over.  He hasn’t, for example, sent troops to Kiev.  He’s in Crimea, putatively to protect the lives of Russians living there–a big majority of the Crimean population.  Worst case (and most likely) scenario; the Crimea votes on which country they want to be part of; Russia, or Ukraine.  We probably could live with that, and so could Ukraine.  We don’t really have a dog in that fight.
I suppose the President could have sent troops to Ukraine two weeks ago, to prevent the Russians invading.  Problem is, you sort of have to be invited to send troops to foreign countries, and no such invitation was (or would ever have been) extended. I suppose the President could have sent ships to the Black Sea or something.  In the middle of the Olympics, precipitating an international crisis.
I think everyone can agree that it’s morally wrong for a country to unilaterally violate another nation’s sovereignty, and especially egregious to do so under some made-up pretext.  But we have no credibility on that issue internationally either.  Because that’s precisely what we did in Iraq.
So why on earth are we listening to Bill Kristol on Ukraine?  Or Lindsay Graham or Dick Cheney?  They were wrong, spectacularly and brutally and violently wrong, on Iraq.  What on earth qualifies those characters as geo-political players, as people whose expertise should be consulted?
What solutions are they offering?  Kick Russia out of the G-8. Not sure it matters, plus Putin doesn’t even care enough about the G-8 to attend the last one, plus we can’t do that unilaterally, and Germany might not agree to do it now.  They need Russian oil.  Sanctions?  A lot of Europe relies on Russian oil.  We can, and should, freeze Russian assets in American banks.  But there’s not a huge economic price Putin’s going to have to pay here.
Diplomacy is the answer, and I get that it can feel like a pretty ineffectual one.  But that’s how civilized nations resolve their differences.  Russia is not, let’s be clear, behaving like a civilized nation right now, and should be condemned for it.  But we didn’t either, in 2003.  Did we?


One thought on “Ukraine

  1. LauraH

    HI Eric, funny you should mention Iraq. I always was uncomfortable with the justification for that, and the FIRST THING that I thought of when I heard the news chatter about how Russia has no business going into Ukraine was…. but we really didn’t have any business going into Iraq…

    I’m not sure how high our moral high ground is.


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