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Dick Polman: Obama, Ukraine, and Republican amnesia

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Dick Polman
March 4, 2014

Boy oh boy, the president of the United States is such a wimp!

Russian troops have invaded a nearby sovereign nation, yet all he has done is respond with words: “Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century. … The Russian government must reverse the course that it appears to be on. … These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world. And these actions jeopardize Russia’s relations with the United States and Europe.” He wants to punish Russia with sanctions (big deal), and, worse yet, he doesn’t have the stones to take manly military action.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned quotes were actually uttered by George W. Bush.

It was the summer of 2008, and autocratic thug Vladimir Putin had just sent his soldiers into Georgia. Bush’s team decided to forego an aggressive response, while his secretary of state scoffed at the notion of “chest-beating.”

Funny, I don’t seem to remember Bush being tagged as a wimp by the Republican warriors, the keyboard neocons or the lockstep trolls. Nor did they ever seek to remind us of Bush’s peerless analytical powers circa 2001, when he famously said of Putin, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Yet today, naturally, it’s an entirely different story. The right-wing chorale is singing with abandon, demanding that the Obama administration do something big about Putin’s illegal dispatch of troops to the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine. The McCain-Graham tag team is predictably agitated, the Fox News hawks are dissing Obama for merely warning Putin that “there will be costs”—you know, the usual stuff. It’s a good thing that Obama never publicly vouched for Putin by peering into his soul—it would be deemed grounds for impeachment.

But how would the president’s knee-jerk critics police the Ukraine crisis? What are their bright ideas for compelling Putin to retreat?

Marco Rubio, who’s trying to reignite his prospective ’16 White House bid by donning big boy pants, suggested some moves in an article this weekend. For instance: In a show of solidarity with the Ukranians, send Secretary of State John Kerry to embattled Kiev; develop some “security assurance measures” to help the Ukrainians; boycott the G-8 economic summit meeting that’s slated for June in Russia; and suspend “any and all discussions and negotiations with Moscow on any issue unrelated to this crisis, including trade and other matters.”

Well, guess what: Obama is already doing virtually all that stuff—and more. He has sent Kerry to Kiev (offering a $1 billion loan guarantee), called off trade talks with Russia, suspended military business with Russia, halted planning for that G-8 meeting, laid the groundwork for banning visas to prospective Russian visitors, begun plans to freeze the U.S. bank assets of Russian officials, and given the nod to congressionally enacted sanctions, plus economic aid to the tenuous pro-Western government in Ukraine.

Would the Republicans care to top that, perhaps by agitating for a U.S. military intervention? Nope. Even among the Obama-haters, there is nary a soul who pines for the guns of war.

So perhaps we should all take a deep breath and let this crisis play out in the economic and diplomatic spheres. In fact, Putin’s country has already taken a big financial hit. When the international markets opened Monday, Russian stock indexes got hammered, dropping $60 billion in value in just one day, more than what Russia spent on last month’s Olympics. Meanwhile, in just one day, the ruble fell to a record low against the dollar. Even a messianic tyrant such as Putin might eventually recognize the cumulative economic pinch.

Some of what Obama seeks to do won’t be easy, however. He’ll have a tough time pushing for draconian sanctions against Russia—given the American corporate community’s heavy investments in the Russian market (for instance, Pepsi, Boeing, and GM); and given the resistance of our European allies, who do $340 billion in annual business with Russia. So, at minimum, it would be nice if the right-wing Obama haters lowered the volume.

For once. If only for a little while.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com. His columns are distributed exclusively by the Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.



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