Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Crisis in Ukraine: Nothing we can do

Russian troops in Crimea
Crisis in the Ukraine. And here we are, these vaunted United States, fretting and wringing our hands with very little ability to influence events.

It's become a familiar role for us. If the last 15 years have demonstrated anything,  it is the limits of our global influence.
  • Ukraine, this very moment --No matter what may have transpired in eastern Europe since the collapse of the Iron Curtain 23 years ago, Ukraine is still on Russia's front porch. And access to the Black Sea via Sevastopol is a vital Russian interest. As vital for them as is the Panama Canal to us. They will go to war over it. When Russian interests are this pronounced, there is very little we can do. Issue a series of sternly-worded communiques, haggle with western Europe over sanctions and watch Russia do as it will.
  • Afghanistan, 2001-present --After a decade of war, the United States is set to withdraw from this "graveyard of empires" without having accomplished anything. The Taliban, the target of our invasion, lurks in the mountains, waiting us out. The future for the long-suffering Afghani people is not bright, but we've demonstrated that anything we might try to do to help them only makes matters worse.

  • South Ossetia, August, 2008 --When this crisis occurred, people still believed we could impose our will through military projection. The whole thing was instigated when the supremely incompetent Condi Rice gave assurances to Georgia that the United States would stand by them in defying Russia over South Ossetia. When the Georgians attempted to put down a separatist uprising, Russian troops moved in and shattered Georgian aspirations. Georgian President Saakashvili pleaded with the US and western Europe for help. But once the crisis started, Junior had enough sense to know that he'd overreached. After all, Iraq and Afghanistan were already turning sour and Junior had no credibility left to defend. Saakashvili's pleas went nowhere.
  • Syria, August, 2013 --In spite of the "line" that President Obama drew, credible reports indicate that the Assad regime went ahead and used chemical weapons on civilian populations. Reports indicated that casualties surpassed 14,000. For a time, it looked as though Obama would be compelled to launch a military response. After all, if a president issues empty ultimatums, the geopolitical stage is disastrously destabilized. But Secretary of State Kerry (perhaps inadvertently) provided an out that Syria and its sponsor state (Russia) quickly seized upon. Now, a diplomatic shell game is underway and President Obama looks foolish and impotent.

  • North Korea, November, 2010 --In a shocking demonstration of defiance and power, North Korea shelled a South Korean military installation. Another in a series of provocative and audacious actions that have characterized the North Koreans for the last 60 years. New reports of atrocities add to the already despicable record of the North Korean regime. But beyond our trip-wire containment force on the DMZ, we can only stand back and watch.
  • Iraq, 2003-2011 --The granddaddy of all foreign policy debacles, Iraq. Launched with deception and lies, driven by greed and fantastic visions of a reformed Middle East, Iraq at least served to leave no doubt about the limits of our influence. Iraq is still burning.
So, here we are, Year of Our Lord 2014, having spent a staggering $7 trillion on defense since 2001 --more than the combined military budgets of the 13 next biggest spenders. And with a full-blown geopolitical crisis unfolding, we're relegated to watching helplessly as the Russian bear mauls the Ukraine. 
US defense spending compared to the 13 next biggest spenders
Not that I'd advocate a military response, even if one were available. Junior Bush effectively demonstrated the limits of military power so that even the most dim-witted can see it. (Mad Johnny McCain and Lindsay Graham might be the exceptions.)

For a brief historical moment after the Soviet Union collapsed, it seemed the United States would be the world's only superpower. But global events over the past 15 years have dispelled that illusion.

It's not that the days of American global hegemony are over. It's that they never really were.

Can we all see that now?

Here's lookin' at you, kid.

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