Sunday, March 16, 2014

Noonan on the Ukraine crisis

Peggy Noonan is not one of my go-to commenters on public affairs, though she is technically a good writer.

Her recent WSJ  column on the Ukraine crisis, though, is well worth the reading. I clip:
Exactly 100 years ago, in August 1914, the facts that would shape the 20th century gathered and emerged in the Great War. History doesn't repeat itself; you can't, as they say, step into the same stream twice. But it does have an unseen circularity.

Sept. 11 started the century and brought forward the face of terrorism. It is still there and will continue to cause grave disruptions. Since then we have seen we are living in a time of uprisings, from the Mideast to Africa to the streets of Kiev. We are learning that history isn't over in Europe, that East-West tensions can simmer and boil over, that the 20th century didn't resolve as much as many had hoped. 

A Mideast dictator last year used poison gas on his own population and strengthened his position. He's winning. What does that tell the other dictators? What does it suggest about our future?. . . 
She then turns to Putin:
Mr. Putin doesn't move because of American presidents, he moves for his own reasons. But he does move when American presidents are weak. He moved on Georgia in August 2008 when George W. Bush was reeling from unwon wars, terrible polls and a looming economic catastrophe that all but children knew was coming. (It came the next month.) Mr. Bush was no longer formidable as a leader of the free world. 

Mr. Putin moved on Ukraine when Barack Obama was no longer a charismatic character but a known quantity with low polls, failing support, a weak economy. He'd taken Mr. Obama's measure during the Syria crisis and surely judged him not a shrewd international chess player but a secretly anxious professor who makes himself feel safe with the sound of his voice.

Mr. Putin didn't go into Ukraine because of Mr. Obama. He just factored him in.

A great question for the future: Will Mr. Putin ever respect an American president again? He knows our political situation, knows we're a 50-50 nation, would assume we're blocked from consensus barring unusual circumstances such as a direct attack. He's not impressed by our culture or our economy.
 She notes on tactics:
Three points on his overall tactics, all of which suggest what we'll be seeing more of in the future.
First, we tend to think the Big Lie in foreign policy as antique, pre-Internet, as dead as Goebbels. It is not [-->I'd say not, it has just got subtler, and is driven by dominance of major sources so countering voices can be marginalised and dismissed, much as Churchill was dismissed across the 1930's.] . . . . 
Second, after the invasion Mr. Putin murked up the situation and again bought some time—and some tentativeness among his foes—by contributing to the idea that he was perhaps crazy—"in another world," as Angela Merkel is reported to have told Mr. Obama . . . . 
Third, there is the matter of the unmarked Russian troops. Reporters in the Crimea had to shout, "Where are you from?" to be certain who they were . . . . But we have entered a time of war by at least temporary stealth . . . 
  She then speculates that Obama's foreign policy is absent or missing, suggesting:
Not being George W. Bush is not a foreign policy. Not invading countries is not a foreign policy. Wishing to demonstrate your sophistication by announcing you are unencumbered by the false historical narratives of the past is not a foreign policy. Assuming the world will be nice if we're not militarist is not a foreign policy.
What is our foreign policy? Disliking global warming?
I disagree here. 

Obama sees the US as a major reactionary force to be hemmed in, hampered and reduced at every turn. 

He instinctively dislikes American allies and what they stand for. He has appointed as foreign secretary a man many have grave concerns over. He has pushed through a health care mandate that will handicap the US economically and will be immensely polarising to try to fix or remove. He has pushed through a watershed wedge issue of trying to make a counterfeit pass for legitimate marriage, driving a wedge deep into law and policy that is going to cause a deep rift, and frankly will bring down judgement on the USA. 

All of this, he and his advisors must know, will have serious consequences.

Just, Putin jumped the gun and precipitated a 1930's style crisis; exposing the hollowness of the thought behind the pattern we are seeing.

Grim reading, and grimmer yet food for thought. 

Especially as disturbances spread beyond Crimea and Russia holds a second set of military exercises near Ukraine. END