On Monday of this week the president of the Ukraine got the country’s parliament to approve martial law and put the nation on a war footing with Russia.
This in reaction to Russia’s seizure on Sunday of three small Ukrainian naval vessels and 23 sailors (Ukraine really does not have what one could call a navy per se) which was the first overt armed conflict between the two sides since the beginning days of 2014 when Russian special forces occupied Crimea. And once again Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to test the resolve of the west in limiting his dreams of regional control.
It 2014, then US President Barack Obama declared there were no easy answers nor military solutions to the Crimea crisis, but cast Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a lonely villain shredding the international rulebook to bully a smaller neighbor. Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula did not herald a new cold war, Obama told 2,000 people gathered in Brussels. But it was also clear that the Kremlin’s actions leading up to the seizure of Crimea had triggered a deep shift in western perceptions of Putin that everyone expected would see Russia increasingly isolated internationally and exposed to a spiraling trade war with the west, depending on his next moves.
But it did not happen that way. It was clear Obama had no intention of being drawn into rash action or any kind of dangerous confrontation with Putin over Ukraine. “This is not another cold war that we’re entering into. The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia,” Obama said. “Now is not the time for bluster … There are no easy answers, no military solution.” All that happened was that Russia was removed from the G8 group which then became the G7.
So while the world cannot blame Obama directly for Putin’s seizure of Crimea, US President Trump tried to do so in June of his year when he said it was former President Barack Obama’s fault that Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014. “President Obama lost Crimea just so you understand, this was before I got there,” Trump said while speaking with reporters outside of the White House. “President Obama lost Crimea.” Trump claimed this was because Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t “respect” Obama. “President Obama lost Crimea because president Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country and didn’t respect Ukraine,” Trump said.
Trump made similar comments regarding Obama and Crimea later at the G7 summit in Canada, where he called for Russia to be readmitted to the group. “Whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” the president said at the time. “And in the G7, which used to be the G8 — they threw Russia out — they should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.” Russia was kicked out of the group in 2014 as a result of its annexation of Crimea.
But, of course, Trump will not do anything about Russia’s current flap with Ukraine either even though he believes that Putin respects him. Obama did not get involved because he abhorred military intervention. Trump will not get involved because in his own view of world politics he respects Putin when he acts like a bully because it mirrors Trump’s personality.
But for those of us who plod along every day trying to live normal lives in this abnormal world, the core problem is the same with Trump as it was with Obama. Neither one of them saw/see the need for a policeman in the world nor wanted/wants America to play that role. And that continued inaction on America’s part makes the world a more dangerous place for all of us.
In fact, the world without a policeman is, as Trump said late last week in comments about America’s free pass to the Saudis, a vicious place prone more to chaos than to order. What has kept the world more or less orderly since the end of World War II was the role the United States played as the policeman. When there is no authority figure the despots of the world feel empowered to grab whatever they want by force because they know that there will be no price to pay for their actions.
4th Century Greek statesman Demosthenes said “Close alliances with despots are never safe for free states.” He saw clearly what is at risk when despots are empowered. Sad that our political leadership is not that astute.