Dealing with charges of “weakness” from conservatives on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama continues his steady hand to restrain the U.S. military from playing world policeman at a time of economic uncertainty. Former President George W. Bush once said while running for president in 2000 the purpose of the military is to “fight-and-win wars,” not “nation-building,” a slight on past Democratic administrations seeking to promote Democracy around the globe. When Bush decided to topple Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Taliban in 2001 and the same with Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003, he did so with the intent of remaking the Middle East. Bush’s stated mission was to promote democracies where dictatorships once ruled. When the U.S. economy went broke in 2007, it was Nobel-winning New York University Stern School economist Joseph Stiglitz who told the truth.
Stiglitz argued that the financial strain of fighting two trillion dollar wars did in the U.S. economy. Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanapoulos, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded to Republican charges that the country under Obama had become weak. Hagel admitted that with Putin invading Crimea March 1 and threatening to do the same in Eastern Ukraine, U.S. clout in Europe, the Mideast and Asia looks diminished. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has accused the Obama administration of weakness for not intervening militarily in Syria. Obama resisted calls from Congressional hawks to bomb Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad in response to his use of chemical weapons and massacre of civilians. “I do think that there is a sense out there . . . by some, that somehow U.S. power is eroding, or that we’re not going to use our power, or we’re too timid about our power,” Hagel told Stephanopoulos.
Conservatives have howled about Obama’s lack of response of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 1 invasion of Crimea. Even McCain admitted there wasn’t a military solution in Ukraine, despite criticizing Obama for a “feckless” foreign policy. Bush’s preemptive war foreign policy cost the U.S. nearly $2 trillion tax dollars and more than 6,800 lives between 2001 and today. Obama’s approach to using the U.S. military takes a more cautious approach to committing U.S. troops in various conflicts around the globe. “I don’t believe that. I think we have been wise in how we use our power,” said Hagel on “This Week.” Hagel answers Obama’s critics constantly accusing the White House of weakness when the facts speak for themselves about the downside of using U.S. power more loosely. Despite bluster on Capitol Hill, no one really thinks the U.S. should get into a shooting war with Russia.
When anti-Russian forces backed by the U.S. and European Union toppled the Russian-backed elected government of Viktor Yanukovich Feb. 22, it opened up a can of worms in Eastern Ukraine, indeed over many of the former Soviet satellites. Today’s referendums in Eastern Ukraine, while condemned by the U.S., underscore the sheer desperation of displaced populations after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. U.S. officials like to make a big deal about Putin’s desire to reinstate at least some part of the former Communist regime. When you consider the collapse of the Ukrainian economy and lack of Kiev’s attention to the Eastern provinces, it’s no wonder that they’re begging Mother Russia to pay their bills. Many former Soviet citizens lost their pensions entirely, something the Ukrainian government was not able to make up because of economic hardship.
Painting Putin as hell-bent on restoring the old Soviet Union overlooks the financial disaster in many former Soviet satellites. Accused of re-visiting the Cold War, Putin’s faced with real limitations in taking on the financial burden in Crimea and other former Soviet republics. When Putin told pro-Russian separatists May 7 to hold off on secession votes, he wasn’t only concerned about more U.S. and EU economic sanctions. He’s also sobering up about taking on the economic burden of annexing any more former Soviet satellites. With Russian ruble and economic growth sliding, Putin can ill-afford taking on more economic burdens. Annexing more territory comes with a heavy price, providing the health care, pension and housing benefits to former Soviet satellites. Instead of the U.S. or EU threatened by Putin’s recent moves, they should understand the real economic burden on Russia.
When Putin laments the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, he’s not referring to the loss of global influence or power. Under his authoritarian leadership, Russia’s become one of the planet’s richest petroleum and natural gas exporting countries. Despite current economic problems, they have more petrodollars than ever, giving Russia more global clout than before 1991. Putin’s taking a pause in Eastern Ukraine realizing the economic hardship on Russia taking on former Soviet satellites. “The key to understanding Putin is the past,” said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on CBS’s “Face the Nation, reported in Reuters. “Vladimir Putin is still all about lost empire, lost glory, lost power . . . ” Gates told Bob Schieffer. Gate’s old view doesn’t take into account how adopting old Soviet satellites burdens an already strained Russian economy and weakens the Russian Federation’s global influence.