Saturday, March 08, 2014

Republicans' Hate For Obama Turns To Love For Putin

If he was running for the Republican nomination for president Vladimir Putin would probably win with room to spare.  They love him, those warmongering old neo-cons, especially when compared with weak, vacillating Barack Obama.  Sarah Palin's in a swoon because Putin "wrestles bears and drills for oil", while former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani admires his decisiveness.  The Republican onslaught on President Obama seems to have admiration for the man they want to war against at its heart.  We have to go to war with Putin, they seem to be saying, but (sigh) what a man to admire nonetheless.

This nonsense tell us everything we need to know about the fatuousness of the Republican foreign policy outlook.  Two Republican presidents failed to come to terms with a post-Soviet world (or in the case of a third, Reagan, a transformational Soviet world) and certainly weren't willing to risk confrontations with Russian leaders if it meant direct action.  The most any of them managed to conjure was when Ronald Reagan - usually happy to speak loudly and carry a pantomime stick - agreed to send aid to the Afghan mujahadeen in their fight against the Soviet invaders.  That went well. The Soviets were duly defeated (like their own economic weakness wouldn't have accomplished that anyway?) and the friendly mujahadeen turned out not to be so friendly, using their American provided know how and weapons against, ahem, the United States.

At least Barack Obama tried to develop a new, 21st century world-view (rather unfortunately termed a 're-set').  That he has so far run into serious difficulties is not exactly his fault, but then the man in the White House is expected to resolve unresolvable problems that comfortable pundits the western world over all have clear, unworkable solutions to.  It comes with the territory of winning those four-yearly November elections.

Republicans - and a good few fellow-travelling hawks in Britain - urge tough, if largely undefined, action on Obama, and claim his weakness in ceding to the Russian plan for Syria has given Putin a further impetus in the current Crimean crisis.  Which is of course nonsense, but sounds good when you haven't got the foggiest idea about what is actually happening (which few of us have, to be fair).  Obama could not have done anything else with regards to Syria, even if he had wanted to, as the US Congress (Republicans heavily in charge in the House don't forget) was not going to authorise the use of force.  In this, they were following the example already set by the British House of Commons (although what on earth David Cameron thought he had to spare on the military hardware front if the vote had gone his way is a mystery to all).  Obama in fact achieved a pretty impressive diplomatic success by then joining with Russia and putting them in the lead in recovering the Syrian chemical stockpile.  A far better result than any Iraq-style solution.

And it is Iraq that still casts its shadow over US foreign policy making - or more precisely, George W Bush's own foreign policy is casting the shadow.  Bush may have fallen in love with Putin (he was the one who could apparently see into his eyes and identify truth, honesty and integrity there) but his gung-ho policy in other lands is what has lead to the catastrophic American retreat now.  Not only has the Bush policy left Iraq in an abysmal, murderous state, but it has infected the polity across the Middle East and finally exposed America as a superpower no longer able to act with any level of conviction.  Bush ruined Iraq, damaged America's international standing probably beyond repair, and exhausted Americans' own desire for any further foreign involvement.  Obama is having to deal with that legacy.  That he would have few strategic options available with regards to Crimea even if he didn't have the toxic Bush legacy hovering over everything is a further reason to acknowledge that tough action - whatever that should be - may be beyond America's ability.  As it was when Putin's predecessor, Leonid Brezhnev, invaded Prague in 1968.

Obama's virtue as a statesman is his understanding of the limits of American power,  but in the supercharged atmosphere of modern American politics he'll get no credit for that, especially not from the Republicans who so admire Vladimir Putin, a man described by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as living in 'another world'.  Come to think of it, that's another thing he holds in common with the Republicans.

Weblinks:

Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast on "Why Neocons Love Obama"
Andrew Sullivan on his Daily Dish considers different opinions on Obama's foreign policy.
Simon Tisdall of the Guardian sees Crimea as an example of western hypocrisy, in a piece for CNN.
Jan Techau of Carnegie Europe lists the major mistakes made by the EU in its Ukraine dealings.



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