Wall Street Journal on April 18, 2014, wrote that diplomacy is useful when it prevents bad outcomes. The problem with diplomacy as practiced by President Obama is that it too often is a mask to disguise bad outcomes. The latest example is this week’s agreement among Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the U.S. that claims to prevent war but largely advances Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives. Excerpts below:
The government in Kiev is supposed to make political concessions to allow more autonomy in its eastern provinces in return for a military “de-escalation.” But on the very day of the accord, Mr. Putin publicly reserved the right to invade Ukraine and refused to withdraw his troops massed at the border. On April 18 the militants holding police stations and public offices in eastern Ukraine refused to stand down.
Even President Obama curbed his enthusiasm for the deal negotiated by Secretary of State
The Russian President denies that the militants have anything to do with Russia and says he’s helpless to stop them. The accord says nothing about Ukraine’s May 25 election, which Russia opposes and wants to subvert. His troops are still ready to invade if he pleases, and Mr. Putin made promises to the republic of Georgia before he invaded that country in 2008. For the first time on April 17, Mr. Putin referred to Ukraine as part of “New Russia,” a revanchist echo of the czarist era.
NATO Supreme Commander Philip Breedlove cut through the diplomatic haze with a public memo stating that, “What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized” and “is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
The pro-Russian activists show all the earmarks of having had military training, the general wrote. Their weapons and equipment are mainly Russian army issue, which they carry with military discipline. Their use of tear gas and stun grenades in taking buildings showed training inconsistent with a spontaneously generated local militia.
Too bad Mr. Obama showed none of the same candor about these military facts. In his press conference the President never blamed Russia for the unrest in Ukraine or said Russian troops were on the ground. He never mentioned Crimea, which seems to have been banished from U.S. talking points now that Mr. Putin has annexed the peninsula.
All of this continues the pattern of Mr. Obama and Europe underestimating the Russian strongman. They pretend he is amenable to diplomacy or afraid of threats, but neither has deterred Mr. Putin from marching west. Even when Mr. Putin openly declares his goal by declaring eastern Ukraine to be part of historic Russia, Mr. Obama prefers to ignore it.
The larger problem is that Mr. Obama can’t seem to admit that his assumptions about the world are being repudiated by the week. He came to office believing his own campaign rhetoric that the U.S. was unpopular mainly because of President George W. Bush. He would end these misunderstandings through diplomatic engagement, especially with our adversaries, who would respond in kind to our good will and moral example. Nowhere in the world has that happened.
To the contrary, Mr. Obama’s second term has been marked by the advance of revisionist powers seeking to rewrite the post-Cold War global order. Iran is attempting to do this on nuclear weapons, retaining a capability just short of exploding a weapon with a goal of dominating the Middle East. China is pressing its territorial claims in the East and South China seas.
And now Russia is marching west with a goal of reclaiming the influence and perhaps the territory it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Unless he faces forceful opposition, Mr. Putin will not stop at neutralizing or digesting Ukraine. He will set his sights at discrediting NATO, perhaps with a play on the Baltic states.
Nothing that Mr. Obama and Western Europe have done so far comes close to meeting the magnitude of this new threat. Their military gestures have been token deployments of NATO jets, their economic sanctions have been weak, and their diplomacy more pleading than forceful.
Mr. Putin sees Western leaders preoccupied with domestic concerns with no appetite for a great power showdown. He sees European leaders unwilling to pay any economic price to sanction Russia. And he sees that Mr. Obama cares more about securing Russia’s help to strike a nuclear detente with Iran than about keeping Ukraine out of Russia’s clutches. Until that changes, Mr. Putin will march on.