Contributor Tiffany Madison: Crimean Crisis Underscores America’s Political Incompetence

Dallas, TX – Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow,  Tuesday, March 18, 2014. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia, describing the move as the restoration of historic injustice and a necessary response to what he called the Western encroachment on Russiaís vital interests. .  (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures after signing a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia, describing the move as the restoration of historic injustice and a necessary response to what he called the Western encroachment on Russiaís vital interests. . (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

voted Sunday to join Russia rather than remain with an embattled Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to exploit Ukraine’s chaotic revolution is troubling, but more worrisome has been the response by America’s bureaucrats, pundits and diplomats. Once more, a distant crisis underscores the sickening hypocrisy and total incompetence of America’s political class to handle 21st century international conflicts.

The situation in Eastern Europe is extraordinarily complex, but for our politicians the situation is simple: Russia violated embattled Ukraine’s constitution and territorial integrity, so dire repercussions must follow. Though Crimean voters opted to leave Ukraine and enthusiastic celebrations were reported, their vote was declared illegitimate because Russian soldiers were present. Unscrupulous election tactics were possibly at play, so the U.S. must lead the consequence-brigade. Sanctions first and if necessary, military action.

Before the West even responded with sanctions, conservatives, oblivious to the conflict’s geopolitical nuances, pounced on the selfish, trivial opportunity to declare Obama’s actions as “weak.” Unable to accept the reality that the American power is not unlimited, the usual actors, supported by mainstream media outlets, squawked for Obama to “get tough” with Russia.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin touted the narrative that Putin was emboldened by President Barack Obama’s ineffectual leadership, as if Obama could have stopped the Crimean annex. Always happy to provoke hostile brinkmanship, career provocateur Bill Kristol complained that military action wasn’t being discussed more enthusiastically. Republican senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), as well as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post echoed these sentiments.

The same know-it-alls who refuse to concede their past positions of horrific militarism were foolish now imply that America should invade Ukraine on behalf of Ukrainians to defend Ukraine. Military action could possibly spark worldwide nuclear war, but according to Washington, Putin must “pay a price” militarily for invading Crimea.

The Democrats equally lack self-awareness. Secretary of State John Kerry, who voted for the Iraq War remarked, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” Aggressive practices should be confined to the 19th century except for when America is the aggressor.

Kerry, and most pundits, conveniently ignore a crucial and embarrassing detail: the U.S. has grossly exacerbated these tensions between Russia over Ukraine. Through decades of misguided and deceptive actions, our government leaders have aggressively meddled in Ukraine’s affairs and more recently, fomented unrest and actively plotted a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.

As Reason’s Sheldon Richmond writes, the U.S. has instigated Russia, “By pushing NATO, the Cold War anti-Soviet alliance, up to Russia’s borders; by talking about putting interceptor missiles in former Soviet-allied nations in central Europe; by dangling NATO membership before former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia; and by cutting deals with other former Soviet republics in central Asia. Yet the fact of Western contributory provocation is probably of little comfort to the innocent people of Ukraine.”

American foreign policy has been a tangled disaster of broken promises, hypocrisy and shameful hubris for centuries. But the era of positing that the U.S. must be feared instead of respected as a rational actor has passed. As we learned, despite neoconservative promises, there are limits to America’s military power. Interventionism breeds distrust and resentment. Putin, and most of Europe, are well aware of this fact. Unfortunately, our arrogant leaders are not.

“From across the pond in America as if they were sitting in a laboratory and running experiments on rats, without any understanding of the consequences,” Putin told reporters. Sadly, he is right, and our busy-body bureaucrats gave Putin that moral leverage over the U.S.

Peace-loving people should condemn both Putin’s actions and America’s failed diplomacy, the latter of which we have some hope of influencing. Russia’s actions are reprehensible and the U.S. should not support the annexation of Crimea until time has passed and the situation in Ukraine settles. But we should also avoid absolute declarations that could later prove embarrassing.

There are no easy solutions, but as Henry Kissinger recently suggested, manipulating this conflict into another Cold War is unwise. Choosing to not act militarily against Russia, a nation we’ve avoided war with for over 60 years, is not “weakness”. Opting to not place our exhausted military in the position of igniting a global conflict over Crimean self-determination does not damage our nation’s “credibility”. It is the elites, bumbling around the world stage, making mockery of justice and diplomacy, who do so, and daily.

As of now, this is political theater; governments need the perception of action, however toothless. Given its position on the world stage, Russia will continue to be a regional and world power unwilling to be bullied by hypocritical demands from a nation with waning influence and credibility. Instead of undermining the Europeans with our trifling agenda, allow NATO to act. If NATO is unwilling to unilaterally respond to Russia’s new posture with cautious patience and strategic solidarity, the American people cannot single-handedly act against Russia.

As the American people resisted cries for Syrian intervention, we must continue to resist political elitists’ appeals for boorish aggression. Putin is not a tin-pot third world dictator with a poorly-trained military. If we fail to push back against the bureaucratic posturing and demand our leaders act wisely, cautiously, the potential for nuclear conflict is not unfathomable, a detail our fearless leaders fail to appreciate.

President Putin cannot begin World War III on his own, but America’s bureaucrats can and given their history of foolish action, without popular resistance, anything is possible.

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