Monday, March 24, 2014

What Is to Be Done?

Obama's responses to Russian belligerence have not only been wrong, but almost the worst possible actions.  He postured, threatened, then leveled meaningless sanctions against Putin's Russia.  Obama's impotence only made his Russian counterpart that much more popular.  Russians historically appreciate dramatic action that builds national strength and international respect.  Adding to the land area of the nation does not hurt either.  Russians see the mano y mano struggle with Obama as being without consequences because under this president, the United States has only rarely shown strength.

Here is what Obama could do to regain some leverage.

Stop everything you are doing now.  No more talking with the Russians.  No kicking them out of international clubs.  And definitely no sanctions.  Stop doing anything that is pointless presidential posturing with nothing behind it.  The Russians know these are public relations moves, not serious diplomacy.

And sanctions do not work against a nation that has pretty much everything.

Concede the Crimea; anticipate the next move.  Crimea belongs to Russia now.  Stop making it the issue because it deflects world attention from what could come next.  It also happens to be the move Russia can sell best to its own people.  No way the West can peacefully get him out.

Go to Canossa.  When the Soviets moved aggressively after World War II, Harry Truman had to do something that he hated worse than anything on Earth . . . talk to Republicans.  Truman wanted to ramp up American support of free nations while Republicans wanted to save money.  He struck a deal with GOP senators that underlay American resistance to Communist aggression for the next four decades.  

Obama needs the House of Representatives in his camp on this issue.  To get the Russians' attention, he must get funding for the A-10 and the armored divisions.  The A-10 kills tanks more effectively than anything on the planet.  American tanks have not lost an armored engagement in most peoples' living memories.  Both are designed to engage Russian forces in northern or eastern Europe. Reinstating these programs shows Putin that the US is serious.

So too will Obama offering up sacrifices to gain Republican confidence and support.

Supporting allies.  The United States needs to reassure Europe that we remain committed to the NATO alliance.  Military forces could perform public, yet peaceful, joint exercises with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland.  Since all are NATO allies, Russia has no cause to publicly complain, but it remains a message sent.  An extra carrier strike group could visit Portsmouth, or some other allied naval base.

Turn on the taps.  Lift export restrictions on natural gas, rescind EPA regulations passed on coal since 2009, and approve oil and gas drilling quickly.  This ensures that energy remains inexpensive in the United States and prices drop around the world.  Russia relies heavily on energy exports to support its prosperity.  American market dominance could cripple the bear.

Messages that the United States will not fail its allies, combined with real measures that will weaken the Russian economy can halt Putin in his tracks.  The United States, with a wise and strong policy, can block Russia's future ambitions

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