Politics is a continuation of foreign policy by other means. At least, these days it is. Partisan differences used to stop at the water’s edge, but with a crisis in Crimea, overseas conflict is just another excuse to score points. Sarah Palin gets to declare her prescience. Marco Rubio gets to stand tough on Russian tourists. Lindsey Graham gets to say Benghazi, the Republican “Alakazam!” John McCain gets to sputter and spit because we’ve got to kill a bunch of people, right now, or we’re feckless! FECKLESS!
The president’s critics are full of feck. Where was all this feck when the president wanted to blow up Syria? Sure, Graham and McCain were for doing something, because they always are, but Rubio was part of a large movement sure to doom congressional support for war. Don’t get me wrong. Despite the horrible images of people gassed by their own leader, I didn’t think any good would come of bombing Syria. Still, the congressmen who opposed Syrian intervention opposed it just because they could. Now they rage for us to act in Ukraine because we can’t.
Here we are, facing a good old-fashioned invasion in blatant violation of international law. There’s something nostalgic about the crisis in Crimea. After a decade and a half of fighting vaguely defined enemies with no nation-state, we’ve got something with all the old ingredients: Russians, borders, armies, alliteration. Here’s an altercation we can readily grasp, with recognizable repercussions and dangers. Also, we can’t do a damn thing about it.
Everyone wants “strength,” as if sounding angrier will scare Putin. He’s a world away, and has nuclear weapons and oil. We’re not going to fight him, and any coordinated sanctions or symbolic expulsion from the G8 has to factor in Europe’s fuel dependence. We didn’t do anything when Putin took a couple bites out of Georgia in 2008, and we won’t do anything now. He didn’t do this because he thought Obama was weak (or because he thought Bush was a sucker in 2008) but because chaos in his region could easily lead to trouble for his despotic reign.
We need to mostly stand by and watch on this, and hurt and undermine Putin as best we can without getting drawn into the mess. Let it be his mess. Invading Afghanistan wasn’t good for the Soviets, and invading Ukraine won’t be good for Russia. Containment, as unsexy it might seem, remains the answer. Put up, and yes, if you’re patriotic and don’t want to undermine the president you pretend to want strength from, shut up.
Or maybe the tough talkers are right. They want to take imaginary actions against an impossible foe. It’s like passing imaginary budgets and imaginary health care plans, because taking on the actual problems is much less palatable than attacking Obama. I say let’s get real. Let’s nuke Russia.
No? That’s insane? A military response is off the table? Would having more cruise missiles in Poland deter Putin? Not if nuking him is insane and a military response is off the table. Should we do what Reagan did to “win” the cold war? Let’s arm a bunch of terrorists to harass the Russians. Nothing bad could come of that, right? Though it does raise the question, if Reagan “won” the cold war (he didn’t: he was just the biggest and scariest asshole wasting our money while the Soviet system rotted from within), why are we facing another dangerous despot from Russia?