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The Price of Failed Leadership: Mitt Romney, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 17, 2014— Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options.
Russia’s Brutality With Ukraine is Nothing New: George F. Will, Washington Post, Mar. 17, 2014—While Vladimir Putin, Stalin’s spawn, ponders what to do with what remains of Ukraine, remember: Nine years before the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which the Nazis embarked on industrialized genocide, Stalin deliberately inflicted genocidal starvation on Ukraine.
Obama’s Failed Foreign Policy Just Another Drag on Democrats: John Podhoretz, New York Post, Mar. 18, 2014 —What could Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea possibly have to do with the upcoming midterm elections in the United States? Indirectly, a very great deal. But only indirectly.
How to Stop — or Slow — Putin: Charles Krauthammer, National Post, Mar. 13, 2013—The president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council challenges critics of President Obama’s Ukraine policy by saying, “What are you going to do, send the 101st Airborne into Crimea?” Not exactly subtle. And rather silly, considering that no one has proposed such a thing.
The West’s Obligation to Ukraine: Madeleine Albright & Jim O’Brien, Washington Post, Mar. 21, 2014
Old Foes, New Allies?: Edan Landau, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 23, 2014
Putin's Unhindered Advance Won't Go Unnoticed in China: Edward N. Luttwak, Nekkei Asian Review, Mar. 16, 2014
Defense: Wishing the World Away: Rich Lowry, New York Post, Feb. 28, 2014
Wall Street Journal, Mar. 17, 2014
Why are there no good choices? From Crimea to North Korea, from Syria to Egypt, and from Iraq to Afghanistan, America apparently has no good options. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, Russia owns Crimea and all we can do is sanction and disinvite—and wring our hands. Iran is following North Korea's nuclear path, but it seems that we can only entreat Iran to sign the same kind of agreement North Korea once signed, undoubtedly with the same result. Our tough talk about a red line in Syria prompted Vladimir Putin's sleight of hand, leaving the chemicals and killings much as they were. We say Bashar Assad must go, but aligning with his al Qaeda-backed opposition is an unacceptable option. And how can it be that Iraq and Afghanistan each refused to sign the status-of-forces agreement with us—with the very nation that shed the blood of thousands of our bravest for them?
Why, across the world, are America's hands so tied? A large part of the answer is our leader's terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."
When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion.
Months before the rebellion began in Syria in 2011, a foreign leader I met with predicted that Assad would soon fall from power. Surely the White House saw what this observer saw. As the rebellion erupted, the time was ripe for us to bring together moderate leaders who would have been easy enough for us to identify, to assure the Alawites that they would have a future post-Assad, and to see that the rebels were well armed.
The advent of the Arab Spring may or may not have been foreseen by our intelligence community, but after Tunisia, it was predictable that Egypt might also become engulfed. At that point, pushing our friend Hosni Mubarak to take rapid and bold steps toward reform, as did Jordan's king, might well have saved lives and preserved the U.S.-Egypt alliance. The time for securing the status-of-forces signatures from leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan was before we announced in 2011 our troop-withdrawal timeline, not after it. In negotiations, you get something when the person across the table wants something from you, not after you have already given it away.
Able leaders anticipate events, prepare for them, and act in time to shape them. My career in business and politics has exposed me to scores of people in leadership positions, only a few of whom actually have these qualities. Some simply cannot envision the future and are thus unpleasantly surprised when it arrives. Some simply hope for the best. Others succumb to analysis paralysis, weighing trends and forecasts and choices beyond the time of opportunity. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled the world in pursuit of their promise to reset relations and to build friendships across the globe. Their failure has been painfully evident: It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of their failure, I submit, is due to their failure to act when action was possible, and needed. A chastened president and Secretary of State Kerry, a year into his job, can yet succeed, and for the country's sake, must succeed. Timing is of the essence.
George F. Will Washington Post, Mar. 17, 2014
…While Vladimir Putin, Stalin’s spawn, ponders what to do with what remains of Ukraine, remember: Nine years before the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which the Nazis embarked on industrialized genocide, Stalin deliberately inflicted genocidal starvation on Ukraine.
To fathom the tangled forces, including powerful ones of memory, at work in that singularly tormented place, begin with Timothy Snyder’s stunning book. Secretary of State John Kerry has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a 19th-century act in the 21st century.” Snyder reminds us that “Europeans deliberately starved Europeans in horrific numbers in the middle of the 20th century.” Here is Snyder’s distillation of a Welsh journalist’s description of a Ukrainian city:
“People appeared at 2 o’clock in the morning to queue in front of shops that did not open until 7. On an average day 40,000 people would wait for bread. Those in line were so desperate to keep their places that they would cling to the belts of those immediately in front of them. . . . The waiting lasted all day, and sometimes for two. . . . Somewhere in line a woman would wail, and the moaning would echo up and down the line, so that the whole group of thousands sounded like a single animal with an elemental fear.”
This, which occurred about as close to Paris as Washington is to Denver, was an engineered famine, the intended result of Stalin’s decision that agriculture should be collectivized and the “kulaks” — prosperous farmers — should be “liquidated as a class.” In January 1933, Stalin, writes Snyder, sealed Ukraine’s borders so peasants could not escape and sealed the cities so peasants could not go there to beg. By spring, more than 10,000 Ukrainians were dying each day, more than the 6,000 Jews who perished daily in Auschwitz at the peak of extermination in the spring of 1944.
Soon many Ukrainian children resembled “embryos out of alcohol bottles” (Arthur Koestler’s description) and there were, in Snyder’s words, “roving bands of cannibals”: “In the villages smoke coming from a cottage chimney was a suspicious sign, since it tended to mean that cannibals were eating a kill or that families were roasting one of their members.”
Snyder, a Yale historian, is judicious about estimates of Ukrainian deaths from hunger and related diseases, settling on an educated guess of approximately 3.3 million, in 1932-33. He says that when “the Soviet census of 1937 found 8 million fewer people than projected,” many of the missing being victims of starvation in Ukraine and elsewhere (and the children they did not have), Stalin “had the responsible demographers executed.”
Putin, who was socialized in the Soviet-era KGB apparatus of oppression, aspires to reverse the Soviet Union’s collapse, which he considers “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Herewith a final description from Snyder of the consequences of the Soviet system, the passing of which Putin so regrets:
“One spring morning, amidst the piles of dead peasants at the Kharkiv market, an infant suckled the breast of its mother, whose face was a lifeless gray. Passersby had seen this before . . . that precise scene, the tiny mouth, the last drops of milk, the cold nipple. The Ukrainians had a term for this. They said to themselves, quietly, as they passed: ‘These are the buds of the socialist spring.’ ”
U.S. policymakers, having allowed their wishes to father their thoughts, find Putin incomprehensible. He is a barbarian but not a monster, and hence no Stalin. But he has been coarsened, in ways difficult for civilized people to understand, by certain continuities, institutional and emotional, with an almost unimaginably vicious past. And as Ukraine, a bubbling stew of tensions and hatreds, struggles with its identity and aspirations, Americans should warily remember William Faulkner’s aphorism: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
New York Post, Mar. 18, 2014
What could Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea possibly have to do with the upcoming midterm elections in the United States? Indirectly, a very great deal. But only indirectly. It has become the most conventional of conventional wisdoms that American voters have tired of controversies beyond our shores, like Crimea. They want to focus on problems at home, not to get involved in what a notable figure of the 1930s described in a different context as “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” This opinion is supported by an undeniable sea-change in the nation’s attitude toward military power generally: A bipartisan consensus in Washington has effectively agreed to shrink the US military to its smallest size since the demobilization after World War II, which will make the projection of American power abroad vastly more difficult in the coming decade.
Left-liberal ambivalence about military spending is decades old. But these liberals have now found unexpected allies in today’s House Republicans, who believe they’re serving the wants and wishes of their constituents on reducing the federal debt by supporting these severe cuts. Nearly half the GOP members of the House were first elected in 2010 or 2012. This means they are from the post-Bush, post-Iraq era, and don’t share the older conservative zeal for national defense and national security.
The new Republican Party has, to some extent, detached itself from its long-established moorings. With the exception of Ted Cruz, the loudest and most eloquent voices attacking President Obama on foreign-policy matters over the past few days have been John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom the president easily defeated and who therefore define their party’s past rather than its future. And yet, even if Republican politicians don’t take the lead in pressing the argument, there is strong reason to believe Barack Obama will be held accountable for the Crimean disaster by voters — and that Democratic candidates will pay the price in November. He is the president. It’s his watch. Americans may be war-weary, but they still look to the man in the White House to provide an overall sense of stability and safety.
Democrats need Americans to feel positively about the president going into the 2014 elections. All election experts say the party’s showing nationally in November will correlate strongly with how the country feels about the job the president is doing. His poll numbers sank into the low 40s with the botching of the ObamaCare rollout. The incompetence and sense of disorder caused by that domestic-policy catastrophe can only be deepened by the worldwide chaos right now, and will only make the effort to climb out of the hole all the more difficult — and unlikely. At the least, it should feel like the president has his hand on the tiller, keeping things steady or trying to. And it doesn’t feel that way.
Russia has stolen Crimea, and is on the verge of gobbling up Eastern Ukraine. We protest, and our UN ambassador is photographed berating their UN ambassador — while Putin is celebrated in Moscow with a massive parade that gives off a May-Day-in-the-Communist-Soviet-Union vibe. Syria isn’t dismantling its chemical weapons, as it promised Russia and the United States it would do by this week to avoid an American airstrike last September. Why should it? The last rebel stronghold has fallen to the regime, because Syria understood it could act with utter impunity once the September deal had been struck. Syria has effectively won its civil war, at a cost of perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, in part because it used chemical weapons and got away with it. Now it’s going to keep them, too. Oh, and it’s started attacking border towns in Lebanon for good measure.
On another front, we’ve gone back into talks with Iran on its nuclear program again, only a day after a senior State Department official told Reuters that Iran is “very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs” — a clear violation of the agreement that started the talks and of existing UN resolutions. Meanwhile, the president has spent two days meeting with the head of the Palestinian Authority begging the man to accept a simple trade — thousands of square miles for a Palestinian state in exchange for his signature on a piece of paper that says, yes, Israel is a Jewish state. The president won’t get it.
Who knows what hell there will be to pay after these “framework” talks on which our secretary of state has labored relentlessly for seven months break down. Even the haunting confusion over the missing Malaysian aircraft, for which no rational person could hold our president responsible, is surely contributing to a general sense that the world is coming unglued — and that the president is hunting around under his desk for a glue stick he hopes one of his predecessors might have left there for him.
Washington Post, Mar. 13, 2014
The president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council challenges critics of President Obama’s Ukraine policy by saying, “What are you going to do, send the 101st Airborne into Crimea?” Not exactly subtle. And rather silly, considering that no one has proposed such a thing. The alternative to passivity is not war but a serious foreign policy. For the past five years, Obama’s fruitless accommodationism has invited the kind of aggressiveness demonstrated by Iran in Syria, China in the East China Sea and Russia in Ukraine. But what’s done is done. Put that aside. What is to be done now? We have three objectives. In ascending order of difficulty: Reassure NATO. Deter further Russian incursion into Ukraine. Reverse the annexation of Crimea.
Reassure NATO: We’re already sending U.S. aircraft to patrol the airspace of the Baltic states. That’s not enough. Send the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Baltics to arrange joint maneuvers. Same for the four NATO countries bordering Ukraine — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Urgently revive the original missile-defense agreements concluded with Poland and the Czech Republic before Obama canceled them unilaterally to appease Russia. (But first make sure that the respective governments are willing to sign on again after Obama left them hanging five years ago.)
Deter Russia in Ukraine: Extend the Black Sea maneuvers in which the USS Truxtun is currently engaged with Romania and Bulgaria. These were previously scheduled. Order immediate — and continual — follow-ons. Declare that any further Russian military incursion beyond Crimea will lead to a rapid and favorable response from NATO to any request from Kiev for weapons. These would be accompanied by significant numbers of NATO trainers and advisers.
This is no land-war strategy. This is the “tripwire” strategy successful for half a century in Germany and Korea. Any Russian push into western Ukraine would then engage a thin tripwire of NATO trainer/advisers. That is something the most rabid Soviet expansionist never risked. Nor would Putin. It would, therefore, establish a ring of protection at least around the core of western Ukraine.
Reverse the annexation of Crimea: Clearly the most difficult. In the short run, likely impossible. There are no military cards to play, Russia holding all of them. Ukraine’s forces are very weak. The steps must be diplomatic and economic. First, Crimean secession under Russian occupation must lead to Russia’s immediate expulsion from the G-8. To assuage the tremulous Angela Merkel, we could do it by subtraction: All seven democracies withdraw from the G-8, then instantly reconstitute as the original G-7.
As for economic sanctions, they are currently puny. We haven’t done a thing. We haven’t even named names. We’ve just authorized the penalizing of individuals. Name the names, freeze their accounts. But any real effect will require broader sanctions and for that we need European cooperation. The ultimate sanction is to cut off Russian oligarchs, companies and banks from the Western financial system. That’s the economic “nuclear option” that brought Iran to its knees and to the negotiating table. It would have a devastating effect on Putin’s economy. As of now, the Germans, French and British have balked. They have too much economic interest in the Moscow connection. Which means we can do nothing decisive in the short or even medium term. But we can severely squeeze Russia in the long term. How? For serious sanctions to become possible, Europe must first be weaned off Russian gas. Obama should order the Energy Department to expedite authorization for roughly 25 liquified natural gas export facilities. Demand all decisions within six weeks. And express major U.S. support for a southern-route pipeline to export Caspian Sea gas to Europe without traversing Russia or Ukraine.
Second, call for urgent bipartisan consultation with congressional leaders for an emergency increase in defense spending, restoring at least $100 billion annually to the defense budget to keep U.S. armed forces at current strength or greater. Obama won’t do it, but he should. Nothing demonstrates American global retreat more than a budget that reduces the U.S. Army to 1940 levels. Obama is not the first president to conduct a weak foreign policy. Jimmy Carter was similarly inclined — until Russia invaded Afghanistan, at which point the scales fell from Carter’s eyes. He responded boldly: imposing the grain embargo on the Soviets, boycotting the Moscow Olympics, increasing defense spending and ostentatiously sending a machine-gun-toting Zbigniew Brzezinski to the Khyber Pass, symbolizing the massive military aid we began sending the mujahideen, whose insurgency so bled the Russians over the next decade that they not only lost Afghanistan but were fatally weakened as a global imperial power. Invasion woke Carter from his illusions. Will it wake Obama?
The West’s Obligation to Ukraine: Madeleine Albright & Jim O’Brien, Washington Post, Mar. 21, 2014—When President Obama and European allies meet next week, they can begin forming a meaningful response to Vladimir Putin’s adventurism.
Old Foes, New Allies?: Edan Landau, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 23, 2014 —During the past few months, we have witnessed what can only be perceived as a strategic change in US foreign and defense policy.
Putin's Unhindered Advance Won't Go Unnoticed in China: Edward N. Luttwak, Nekkei Asian Review, Mar. 16, 2014 —China is claiming hundreds of islands and reefs, along with millions of square kilometers of ocean, from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Defense: Wishing the World Away: Rich Lowry, New York Post, Feb. 28, 2014—The Obama administration says that we need to end what it calls “the era of austerity” in Washington.
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