March 2, 2014

Restraint or Recklessness?

Like many of you, as I watch the events unfold with the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, I am amazed at the "restraint" being shown by the West. 

But I can't help asking myself why a military invasion by the Great Bear into a sovereign nation that is leaning toward democracy is being met with restraint.

Sitting in Starbucks, I overheard one young women saying to an older gentlemen that she did not understand the reaction of the President in saying there would be "consequences" and that no one took that seriously as there was no specificity, almost as if their where no real consequences to even threaten Russia with. 

So why all the word-mincing, dancing around the subject, and restraint by the West in light of this very dangerous escalation in eastern Europe:

1) Surprise - Was the West completely taken by surprise by Russia's military intervention? Didn't something similar happen with Georgia in 2008--less than 6 years ago? Did we not foresee the possibility of Russia lashing out against Ukraine to protect its interests when Ukraine turned back toward European integration and away from the embrace of Russia that it had made only weeks earlier? After Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and with all our "Big Data," intelligence, and military planning--how did we miss this (again!)? 

2) Duped - Were we duped by the misinformation from Russia saying that the 150,000 troops they called on a "training exercise" was planned months ago and it just happened to coincide with the toppling of Ukraine's President?  Also, were we fooled when the "mysterious" soldiers showed up without national markings and Russia said they weren't their military--uh, where did they come from--did they float down from the heavens?

3) Apathetic - Are we just apathetic to Ukraine's plight? Are they just a poor country of little strategic value to us? Are we so war weary from Iraq and Afghanistan that we just want to place our heads in the sand like ostriches even when democracy and freedom is threatened in a European nation of some 45 million people?

4) Fear - Are we afraid of the military might of the nuclear-armed Russian Federation? Is America, the European Union, NATO, the United Nations all not willing to stand up and hold Russia accountable even if that means a military confrontation? Not that anyone wants World War III, but if we don't stand up and defend against wanton aggression, how can any country or anyone be safe going forward? 

5) Optionless - Are we just out of options? Russia got the upper hand on this one and they are logistically right there on the border and in the country of Ukraine now and what can we do? Despite the U.S. assertion that it can project military power anywhere around the world and a defense budget bigger than the 10 next largest combined--how can we be out of options? Are we out of options because we tacitly understand that one wrong miscalculation and we could end up with WMD on our homeland doorstep? 

6) Butter Over Guns - Have we retrenched from world affairs, downsized our military, and emphasized domestic issues over international ones? Have we forgotten the risk that comes from a world without a superpower that helps to maintain stability and peace? Are we just under so much financial duress with a growing mountain of national debt, a economic recovery still struggling, and the lowest employment participation in over 30 years that we can't even entertain spending more treasure to fight again? 

7) Leadership - Who is managing the crisis? We've seen our President speak, various other government officials from the U.S. and European Union, the Secretary General of the U.N., the Secretary General of NATO, and more?  Who is in charge--setting the tone--deciding the strategy? Who has point so that we and Russia know who to listen to and what is just background noise? 

What is so scary about this whole thing is how quickly things can escalate and seriously get out of control in this world, and this despite all the alliances, planning, and spending--at the end of the day, it looks like we are floundering and are in chaos, while Russia is advancing on multiples fronts in Ukraine and elsewhere with supporting dangerous regimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea and more. 

Whether we should or shouldn't get involved militarily, what is shocking is: 1) the very notion that there wouldn't be any good military options, and 2) that the consequences are not being spelled out with speed and clarity. 

In the streets, at the cafe, on the television, I am seeing and hearing people in shock at what is happening and what we are and are not doing about it. 

Even if we get Russia to stop advancing (yes, based on what happened with Georgia, I doubt they will actually pull back out), the question is what happens the next time there is a conflict based on how we've managed this one? 

I do want to mention one other thing, which is while I feel empathy for the plight of the Ukrainians seeking their freedom from Russia now, I also must remember the events of Babi Yar where, between 1941-1944, 900,000 Jews were murdered in the Soviet Union by Nazi genocide and Ukrainian collaborators. This is history, but not so long ago. 

All opinions my own. 

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Utenriksdept)

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