The Moscow Times, the largest English newspaper in Russia, said recently in an op ed that, “Like a teenager exhibiting aggressive behavior, Russia needs the help of a very patient and high-minded adult.” I agree with that statement with the caveat that a rebellious teenager also needs tough love. Russia needs to be shown real red lines or they will continue to take what they want. President Obama is not equipped to handle this situation. In fact, I think he has no idea how to handle the situation. The Leader of the Free World is not acting in a manner the office requires him to act; in fact, there is no leadership. That is the problem.
Pat Buchanan wrote recently that every American president since FDR has reached out and engaged the Russian leadership as the consequences of not doing so were too dire. American leadership led the world in the fight against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Reagan led Europe to field new classes of nuclear missiles against significant public opinion, to show Moscow that Europe was united in defending itself with America’s help. Reagan held a carrot and a big stick. Obama has been holding neither. He is not taking the public step to overtly engage Putin to find a way to solve this crisis that saves face on both sides because that would take leadership and the willingness to risk political capital. Obama will not do this.
The other problem is that I don’t believe the Obama national security team is educated in Russian politics and relations. I don’t think they understand the historical connections between Russia and Ukraine and how Russians think. Susan Rice has been focused on Africa her whole life. John Kerry has been focused on himself. Obama has no experience in Soviet/Russian issues. There is a vacuum in experience. Obama has shown a severe lack of respect and interest in Russia such as when he talked about Putin’s slouch, or when he called Russia a weak regional power. That was the wrong thing to do to a Russian leader. If there is anything Russians want, it is to be respected. I think this has been a big part of the problem. Russians are saying to themselves, we’ll show you that you need to respect us.
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So at the end of the day we have no leadership, no experience, and no credible deterrence when dealing with Russia. That is not a recipe for success; it is a recipe for failure. We don’t even know yet how that failure will look. We now have the first shooting war between two European nation states since WWII. One of them is armed with nuclear weapons and has something to prove. A poll was released recently that showed Americans wish they had elected Romney instead of Obama. We now have two more years to get through until we will have a new, more capable leader. Two years is long enough to start WWIII.
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