COMMENTARY | What’s going on in the Ukraine is of great interest to my students. That has me pleased, as I am part-Ukrainian myself (1/8). And what is happening over there will have consequences for the United States unless we act.
While I am pleased that Sarah Palin predicted this would happen back in 2008, I’m more interested in what will happen. And frankly, I’m a little disappointed that this is turning into a political football.
Over and over again, the Republicans have claimed this is happening because of the “fecklessness” of Barack Obama. Actually, it is more about Vladimir Putin seizing an opportunity in a crisis…an opportunity known as the Crimea.
And for a political party who had a President, George W. Bush, who told us how he could see into Putin’s soul, and then stood helplessly by while Russia pounded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, they should be pretty reluctant to throw rocks, given that their house was made of glass.
But Barack Obama will also have a pretty poor legacy in this region unless he acts, and forcibly so, in this crisis.
Senator John McCain is correct that this shouldn’t involve a military attack. In fact, we should get away from the notion that every option is “military or nothing.” Plenty of liberal columns, reposted in a collection by the Washington Post, implied that there was nothing we could do but throw our hands up in the air.
NPR even did a story where scholars implied that there weren’t any Ukrainians, and that they were all pretty much Russians. You could tell the programmers of that piece wanted to excuse the West from its obligations by pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
As the post-Crimean events have shown, Russia’s economy is far more fragile than anyone would have expected. Leading companies, as well as their stock market, plunged by double-digits. And that was even before sanctions were on the table!
In the West, we’ve been fed a story about how great Russia’s economy is, but it seems to be more of a Potemkin Village, those artificial facades put up to impress Catherine the Great years ago. Those double-digit growth numbers are going, and it’s uncertain they ever did exist. Sochi was meant to showcase Russia’s rebirth, but observers with an ounce of curiosity discovered the big lie for themselves, in a place that’s supposed to be one of the bright spots of the country. Moreover, putting on those Olympics threaten to bankrupt the fledgling economy.
Sanctions would badly weaken Vladimir Putin. If he doesn’t know it, he’s in denial. He thinks that Europe can’t stomach the loss of natural gas, but we can and should help make up the difference (Israel and others could help too), the way sanctions produced meaningful political change in Iran, instead of an oil price spike that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted. But this requires bipartisan cooperation. Republicans could give Obama real backing, instead of their knee jerk criticism of everything. And Obama could accept some GOP proposals on natural gas that have been around awhile. If history is any indicator, unchecked tyrants only get hungrier, and stronger, as they pick up territory.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, GA