Putin is a caricature, but nobody’s laughing

As Russia’s Vladimir Putin continues to consolidate Russian hegemony over the Crimean province of Ukraine, and rattle sabers about the rest of the country, there is no shortage of suggestions for how to deal with he growling Russian bear.

They include economic sanctions, a boost in our energy exports, more financial aid to those clinging to power in Ukraine, and a greater show of military force in the region.

Count us among those who think sanctions against Russia and financial aid to Ukraine are the best options right now.

Putin’s actions — using military force to change the outcome of a citizen uprising in the Ukraine that he disliked, employing Orwellian doublespeak to claim that he is protecting democracy and the rights of Russian-speaking residents of the Ukraine, and clamping down on all who criticize him in his own country— are the antithesis of what Americans believe in.

However, that doesn’t mean we can come charging into the Ukraine like some latter-day Light Brigade. Nor should we buy into the mythic image of Putin that the media, both here and abroad, have helped him create.

We’ve all seen photos of the bare-chested Russian president riding a horse or posing by the carcass of a tiger he supposedly tracked and killed. These cartoonish attempts at myth-making appear to have actually taken root in the minds of some American political commentators. In advocating a military response, they characterize Putin — almost with a glint of admiration — as “bold, aggressive … decisive.” In contrast, President Barack Obama’s measured diplomatic response has been roundly mocked as “weak, soft, unintimidating.”

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart couldn’t resist weighing in: “Someone who makes quick decisions and reacts? That’s not what you call a leader. That’s what you call a toddler.”

Putin’s grip on reality became the subject of speculation after The New York Times, in its lead story on Monday, quoted an Obama aide who was reportedly briefed on a conversation between the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The aide said Merkel described Putin as “in another world.”

Mark Seibel, who works the Washington bureau of the McClatchy newspaper chain, examined the issue more thoroughly in a column, “Did Angela Merkel really say Putin was unhinged?” His conclusion: There’s no way to know. But planting the seed is a classic ploy. “Because in the world of propaganda, successfully portraying your adversary as being crazy, without any rational backing to his actions, makes it unnecessary to try to understand the complexities or sensitivities of the issues.”

Whether Putin is a “semi-delusional autocrat who has confused his own geopolitical propaganda for reality,” as Stewart observes, doesn’t change the stakes. Ukraine is in a crossfire between East and West. Putin lied about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea, calling them “local self-defense units.” He dominates the media and his country’s parliament. With no system of checks and balances, he is free to make unilateral decisions with a well-equipped army at his disposal. Ukraine shook off Putin’s puppet regime and stands as the biggest threat to Putin’s vision of a reconstituted Soviet empire.

One world figure who knows only too well how Putin operates is Mikheil Saakashvili, who was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. Russians invaded his country in 2008 and still occupy a portion of it.

“There is a logic to (Putin’s) perception of ideological threats: If Ukraine ceased to be a corrupt oligarchy and became a real European democracy, Putin’s opponents would see the contrast — and potential benefit to fighting their own reality,” Saakashvili wrote in the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal is advocating unleashing North American oil and gas on the world as a means of reducing Putin’s influence. “He feeds his kleptocracy and client states with petro dollars. U.S. exports would reduce the threat of energy blackmail, and if they reduced global oil prices, they’d reduce his influence,” it opined in its Thursday edition.

Such a move would have impacts here and every gas-producing region in the U.S., but it’s a long-term strategy that won’t solve the crisis in Ukraine immediately.

Saakashvili says sanctions are a good start. We agree.


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Charles Krauthammer’s latest insipid polemic (“The Wages of Weakness”) epitomizes the lengths to which partisan propagandists will go to distort the facts to disingenuously and cynically criticize President Obama’s approach to foreign policy.

When Mitt Romney opined that Russia was “our number one geopolitical foe”, he and   other “neo-con” Republicans (including Senator John McCain and pundit Krauthammer), refused to confront the logical budgetary and fiscal policy implications of that premise.

American power to influence world events (whether in Georgia, Syria, and/or Ukraine) derives – not from any self-proclaimed “exceptionalism” – but from a vibrant economic engine that generates sufficient revenues to sustain both a broadly attainable “American Dream” and military capabilities sufficient to deter aggression, but whose judicious use demonstrates moral leadership and allegiance to long-established international norms.

Saber-rattling critics like Krauthammer still advocate the same economic policies that tripled our National Debt under the hapless Republican President Reagan, and doubled it again under clueless George Bush – who squandered a budget surplus and trillions more by concurrently initiating two unfunded wars while (over McCain’s objections) enacting massive tax cuts, and who irreparably damaged our international reputation by endorsing policies of “preemptive” invasion and “torture”.  Since then, Republicans have imposed mindless cuts on the defense budget, and are still obstructing economic recovery and reneging on their commitments to veterans. 
Thus, it is “puzzling” that—while Krauthammer asserts that “[t]here is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse.  Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military” – “Teapublicans” (including Scott Tipton) insist that the ongoing “financial emergency” (the debt) demands more austerity rather than more revenue, while conveniently ignoring the fact that President Obama’s budget increases military spending above Republican-imposed “sequestration” levels.

Therefore, Republicans are indisputably to blame for Putin’s perception of American “weakness” – and accountable for its consequences.

The Daily Sentinel’s timely editorial – “Putin is a caricature, but nobody’s laughing” – understates the threat posed to a substantially disarmed Europe and our own national security by Russia’s resort to armed subterfuge in the Crimea.

A Pew poll released last week found that 67% of Americans approve of Hillary Clinton’s job performance as Secretary of State – and that 59% of those polled (regardless of party affiliation) expressed at least “some chance” of voting for her for President in 2016.

Thus, despite the scandalously disingenuous Republican demagoguery that scurrilously seeks to sully her with Bill’s peccadilloes and dishonestly blame her for the tragedy of Benghazi, Hillary remains Republicans’ “worst nightmare” and Democrats’ “best hope”.

Moreover, recent events in Ukraine reinforce the significance of her bona fide foreign policy credentials – in contrast to the flag-waving, saber-rattling clowns already seeking the Republican nomination in 2016.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to President Barack Obama because he had early-on and consistently opposed the invasion of Iraq, while Hillary (and Senator – now Secretary of State—John Kerry) voted for the resolution that enabled Republican President George Bush (and/or VP Dick Cheney) to initiate the War to Liberate Iraqi Oil.

Last week, Clinton described Putin’s recent behavior as reminiscent of the 1930s – when Hitler fabricated tales of oppressed German minorities in Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) and Poland to justify territorial expansion – and former chess champion Gary Kasparov opined that an “irrational” Putin will not be satisfied with just the Crimea.

Anti-tax “Teapublicans”, Libertarian isolationists (like Senator Rand Paul), and ardently anti-war Liberals alike should heed those warnings, and not naively discount the lessons of history (even if they seem less plausible today) – and be prepared to resist aggression.

Republican President Reagan was willing to spend “whatever it took” to precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Democrats should demand that America’s “1%” and tax-evading corporations pay “whatever it takes” to both revitalize our economy and adequately equip the young men/women of the “47%” who volunteer to defend them.

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