Monday, March 3, 2014

A Terrible Choice for Ukraine

People who know me may recall I predicted Egypt would be at war with Israel within five years. I will have to retract that prediction, as I did not expect the Egyptian military to stage a counter-coup and regain control of Egypt. Egypt has now stabilized and things will continue on there as normal. So much for the Egyptian experiment with democracy. Apparently the Egyptians, or at least the Egyptians with guns, hated it as much as I did.

In light of that episode, I will make another prediction with one caveat: The United States will be at war with Russia within ten years unless Putin is dead or out of power.

The events of the last few days have been surprising not because we didn't know Putin had designs on Ukraine. Anyone paying attention to the world should have known that. Generally cutting off gas during a Russian winter to influence another country's elections isn't exactly the neighborly way to behave. The crisis which started the protests in the Maidan was the Russian puppet government trying to nix a trade deal with the EU in favor of one with Russia. Russia, obviously, would like to continue having the power to smack Ukraine around by cutting off oil and gas. Ukrainians, sensibly, would rather trade for energy needs with nations that aren't bullies trying to influence their internal politics. This is why a trade deal that probably wouldn't even be in the news in other countries was a highly contentious political showdown in Ukraine.

But Putin's moves have been far more brazen than I think anyone expected. Putin appears to be trying to bait Ukraine into starting the shooting, an unfortunate situation for Ukraine to be in, especially right now. Absent a strong U.S. response, there is not much they can do. Putin appears to realize that if a shooting war begins, Russia will look like the aggressor nation and hasten a Western response. But Ukraine has the more immediate problem that a shooting war will mean its inevitable conquest. The harder they fight, the more of them will likely die and the more territory and freedom they will lose in the near term. The Nazi invasion of Poland finally convinced the world that Hitler would have to be stopped by force, but nobody wants to play the part of Poland. Putin has made a huge gamble, betting that Ukraine will fold. The decision is not yet made, but Ukraine is in the midst of an internal political crisis and lacks strong leadership, as does the U.S., which certainly figured into Putin's calculations. Putin is playing the man not the cards. It appears Ukraine will fold and Putin will end up with the Crimea for sure, and perhaps up to half of Ukraine when this is all said and done.

These events have reinforced the utility of the foreign policy section of the Paddywhack Platform. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but they are closely allied with the NATO members and for that reason ought to be considered a U.S. ally. The original version of the foreign policy section included under 5.b a provision for opposing with force any territorial aggression by China, Russia, Iran or North Korea. In fact, I included a note that Russia's invasion and occupation of Georgia in 2008 would have triggered a declaration of war by the United States under the policy. Out of all the current conflicts and hotspots in the world, this was the only example I could think of for which the policy would recommend going to war. I removed those sections because I figured it was simpler just to say that the U.S. was committed militarily to defending the territorial borders of nations considered as allies. The Russian invasion of Georgia was already over at that point and there's no sense in ex post facto war. However, that particular conflict was deeply concerning to me because of the aggression and bullying tactics Russia used. I worried that Putin would try it again because we let him get away with it in Georgia. 

Under the Paddywhack Platform, the U.S. would not have intervened in Syria, Libya or Egypt because those were internal conflicts, but would have declared war immediately against Russia for its invasion and hostile takeover of Ukrainian sovereign territory over the past few days and given Putin far more than he bargained for. If that had been our policy, the news headlines today would have been about Putin's embarrassment at being caught with his pants down trying to bully a helpless country. He never would have sent his troops into the Crimea if the price for that was a war with the U.S. that he could never hope to win. Instead we are the ones with our pants down, and Ukraine will pay the price for it. The actions of the United States in the world ever since World War II have been spotty at best. At worst, we have acted half-heartedly in pursuit of murky, ill-defined goals often motivated solely by internal politics. Because of that, when action is actually needed, which is only the case when it comes with significant cost, we are timid and hog-tied. The world does not conform to the political realities of U.S. internal politics, and there is zero connection between a workable platform of engagement with the world at large and a workable domestic political platform. I will say more about this shortly.

Unfortunately, the United States may realize this too late to stop what could have been a major embarrassment for Putin's gangster government if there had been a strong, immediate and decisive U.S. response. If Putin gets away with this as appears likely, it will only embolden him down the road. He wants all, all, of the former Soviet satellite republics under Russian hegemony and control, and he hasn't exactly endeavored to keep his intentions to himself. As I said before, this was a huge gamble for him. Having it pay off again after getting away with it in Georgia will make him even bolder. There is no telling what he might try next, but I consider it likely there will be more aggressions in the future. It is not a matter of if, but when the United States is drawn into war, and how much Putin will achieve before then. 

Now that's whack.