The Ukrainian Prime Minister is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Wednesday to discuss the escalating situation that, if not plunging us back into a Cold War, has certainly broken the so-called reset button between the U.S. and Russia.
What happens there has big repercussions here: the debilitating situation has ratcheted up the pressure on the President, specifically on his foreign policy which favors diplomacy, particularly talking first to military intervention. Calling him naive, many conservatives are up in arms, knee-jerk reacting with claims of Obama’s and by extension America’s weakness to the world which I touch on in What does the Ukraine and Venezuela Say about Putin and Obama?
In order to prepare for my panel discussion on MSNBC’s Disrupt with Karen Finney, I burned down my remote control channel surfing between the Sunday public affairs shows on network, cable, and Spanish-language TV. The GOP All Stars including Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Ted Cruz, and former Secretary of State James Baker made the rounds promoting a hawkish approach with former Vice President Dick Cheney criticizing the President for taking the military option off the table. The Bush version of the missile defense program partly in Poland and the Czech Republic, which was paused by President Obama as part of the ineffective re-set, was also resuscitated to reign Vladimir Putin in while protecting American interests and asserting its military might (note the program and funding continues but with an eye toward a North Korean missile strike).
I agree with the former Vice President that when engaging in any high stakes negotiation, the more options you have the stronger your hand. That’s how my papis raised us, instilling the fear of the chancla which kept us on the straight and narrow (although it was rarely, if ever used).
President Obama isn’t much for saber-rattling. Pragmatic and cool-headed, he looks at this combustible situation through the lens of the American public, an anemic economic recovery, and a frayed military and their families–each not supporting an intervention such as boots on the ground. The President may also be gun shy to draw a red line, given how Syria’s sinister Bashar al-Assad crossed it by using chemical weapons against civilians, cornering Obama who chose not to retaliate.
Adding fuel to the flame is the political climate in the U.S. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) wrapped while the situation in Ukraine deteriorated. While participants attempted to expose the President’s many weaknesses, what was revealed was the continuing dissonance within the Republican party: on one hand, 2016 Presidential Hopefuls, including CPAC straw poll winner Rand Paul who like younger Republicans favors a foreign policy of non intervention. On the other, the hawkish old guard on the Sunday shows and their chicks such as other 2016 GOP Wannabes Ryan and Cruz.
Jim Baker said it best on Face the Nation when he sounded the alarms of the danger of rhetoric getting “out in front of reality.” The old guard is out. The 2016 Wannabes aren’t in. President Obama sits in the Oval Office and does not exclusively have as an audience primary voters, CPAC goers, or our 24/7 media culture. His audience is the American people and the world. He favors a measured, cautious, gather-evidence approach to swashbuckle diplomacy. Additionally, he likely understands that economic sanctions are among the most effective weapon in his arsenal. Adopting capitalism has been brutal to Russia. Their economy is characterized by weak markets and oligarchs who have gotten richer by taking advantage of a corrupt regime. Squeezing Russia economically will be strengthened in coalition with other nations such as Great Britain, France, and jittery Germany. Don’t forget the vital importance of buy-in from multinationals with billions in investment at stake. There is also the role of our energy consumption, policy, and future which has propped up yet has the power to disarm petro bullies.
To say the President is walking a geopolitical tightrope is an underestimate. Let’s hope he’s burning down the phones as he builds a coalition. Rebuking Russia sends a clear message to other hotspots such as Venezuela that America stands up for its allies, interests, and values not because we say so but because the world demands it and has our back.
I discussed Putin and the Ukraine, as well as the significance of a Democratic move in Congress to push immigration reform forward on MSNBC’s Disrupt with host Karen Finney and Perry Bacon, Jr., political editor of theGrio.com on March 9, 2014. To watch, click below:What is the best way forward in Ukraine and other hotspots?