Friday, April 25, 2014

The Western Front Is ‘Going Wobbly’ on Russia

The Daily Telegraph portrays an effort by Obama to ramp up support for potential economic sanctions and retaliation in case Russia continues its roiling threats to open a second front of occupation against Ukraine, this in the eastern region, the Donbas, using essentially the same successful tactics that it used in acquiring Crimea: send in a steady stream of agents provocateurs to agitate the ethnic Russian communities to stir up pro-Russian sentiments, then react with military forces either because the Ukrainian government does or doesn't try to quell the unrest – it doesn't matter either way.

"Now that I'm in my second term, I can be more flexible."

Obama’s effort is off to a slow start.  Speaking by phone from South Korea during a lull in his Asian tour, Obama spoke with Britain's David Cameron, France's François Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Matteo Renzi, among others, to try to forge a "tougher united front against the Kremlin".

Within the article lie some telling limitations that spell out that Obama's effort will likely be as successful as his earlier foreign policy forays, i.e., not very successful at all.

Obama stuck with his major strength: he gives speeches.  "What's important is laying the groundwork so that if and when we see greater escalation, perhaps even military incursion by Russia into Ukraine, we're prepared for the sort of sectoral sanctions [targeting specific parts of the Russian economy] that would have even larger consequences."  In other words, if the Russians use military force – again – we will respond with economic sanctions.  Can anybody volunteer an example of when that has been successful?

Even better, despite Obama's call for shovel-ready sanctions, he's not likely to get that either, certainly not in a unified manner, which is precisely what Putin has been planning on.
The US has singled Germany and Italy as being particularly reluctant to impose [a] new round of sanctions on Russia.  Germany is particularly vulnerable to Russian retaliation as it imports around 50 per cent of its gas supplies from Russia.

Britain likewise has limited enthusiasm for further measures because of the extent of Russian investment in the City of London.  However, Washington has said it would much prefer to act in concert with the EU rather than on its own.

Mr Obama acknowledged that it had been difficult to achieve consensus among EU member states for a new round of sanctions, saying: "There's some variation inside of Europe."
Really?  This has all the earmarks of being as successful as our policy on Syria.

During the spin-up to the First Gulf War, while George H W Bush was putting together an initial response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher was coincidentally in Washington during an official state visit.  As Bush interjected a question into his group of advisors, Thatcher took it as a possible show of equivocation: "Now's not the time to go wobbly, George."

Obama and the EU could use a bit of Thatcherite advice, assuming that it would be considered.  This falls well within the bounds of a 'pay me now, or pay me later' conundrum, as Putin will push right up to the point where we demonstrably say 'no'.  At any rate, the amount of American investment in Russia is far smaller than the major players in Europe, which is likely why Obama can so glibly make a threat.  If Putin can expect to ride out a string of sanctions from Europe, what makes Obama think that our threat would carry any weight? 

We simply can't get to 'no' from where we are right now, no matter how stirring a speech that Obama can spin.  'He's got no game.'

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