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After weeks in which they have criticized Barack Obama's supposedly "weak," "ineffectual" and "incompetent" response to Russia's seizing of the Crimean Peninsula, and after not bothering to tell anybody exactly what they would do that would be far tougher yet not result in a full-blown war (especially since some of them have all but specified military action), the Republican Party has some 'splainin' to do. American voters and the world of nations deserve an explanation and probably an apology from the GOP, especially given this:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called President Obama on Friday to discuss a proposal by Mr. Obama for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, and the two leaders agreed that their chief diplomats should meet soon to explore it, the White House and Kremlin said.

In a statement from the White House, officials said that the telephone call from the Russian president followed a proposal presented by Secretary of State John Kerry to Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, during talks at the Hague earlier this week.

While there was no immediate indication that either side was prepared to give ground, Mr. Putin’s telephone call in itself appeared to represent a shift in tone aimed at defusing a serious rupture in relations and Russia’s increasing isolation... .

Obama's approach all along, tailored by the need to lead a more tentative (for legitimate reasons) European community in a coordinated response, was to impose stiff economic penalties and embargos on Russia as punishment for the Crimean takeover and continuing Russian actions that threaten the sovereignty of the entire Ukraine and perhaps beyond.

Obama and other western leaders have mentioned the possibility of more widespread economic embargoes if the situation worsens. The US and the EEC have specified that further Russian intrusions might well trigger those additional, non-military steps. But it's already clear the current economic embargo (under which the financially tender Russians were kicked out of the important G8 and the country's stock market has suffered) clearly has been noticed by the Kremlin.

That outcome became even more obvious with Putin's reported call. Conservatives like to regard Putin as suitably daring and bold, and dream of a similarly confrontational US leader in the mold of Bush the younger or Reagan. But what is really important to the world right now is that Putin turn out to be wise and is not (as some of those same, cognitively dissonant conservatives would have it) insane. It's important that as much as possible he and Obama act like world leaders who do not want to escalate this crisis.

No certainties in all this, but a hopeful sign. Putin's call to Obama suggests he knows this is a serious matter that could escalate without serious attempts at peaceful diplomacy. So he's reaching out. Which is something the GOP has yet to try, either with Russia or Obama himself. Rather, Republicans are more interested in scoring political points than finding the safest path to resolution.

But go ahead, GOP, keep picking at the scabs of past wars your party's presidents started. Keep trying to convince voters who have no stomach for more such action that force is the only alternative and that anything less is cowardly. Your strategy so far could be boiled down to, "Let's Putin and Obama fight!" And it arguably would lead to escalation, which is where overheated rhetoric and domestic political threats usually push these kinds of issues.

After all, yours is just a game, right? And, gee, it isn't like you're playing around with World War III or anything.

Originally posted to Ron Legro on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, (14+ / 0-)

    this is going to ruin the chickenhawks' weekend....

    6% of scientists are republican. Scientists have no explanation why that number is so high.

    by fugwb on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:06:45 PM PDT

    •  Because Putin made a call? (0+ / 0-)

      Anyone who follows this will just laugh.

      Apologies will be in order if Putin withdraws from Crimea.

      Until that happens, the end result is obvious - Putin has managed to expand Russia by invading a neighbor and forcibly annexing part of its territory and the US has been unable or unwilling to respond in any effective way.

      •  Oh, come on now (6+ / 0-)

        FIrst of all, I was having some fun at the GOP's expense. But second of all, even if all the negotiations that might be initiated by the phone call lead nowhere, Obama's economic sanctions -- and Europe's -- will stand, and will likely expand over time, and certainly will if the Russians push even farther into Ukraine. And if you think, like Republicans, that such sanctions are insufficient, then name your alternative. Geez, Republicans can't even come up with an alternative to "Obamacare" that makes any sense. I guess we shouldn't expect them, or their enablers, to do likewise in the case of  international stand-offs. Unless, of course, there really is a more effective way than economic sanctions to stem aggressive Russian impulses that doesn't include war. Because that's highly ill-advised, and a non-starter anyway.

        •  The current sanctions are a pin prick (0+ / 0-)

          Why are Russian Visa and Mastercards still working?  They should have all been cut off within 48 hours.

          What about Microsoft software updates?  Cut them off.  Let the Russians deal with a national software infrastructure that is vulnerable to more and more viruses and attacks.

          Why did the financial sanctions take so long to go into effect?  They should have been implemented within hours - quickly enough to trap some of the billions that Russian oligarchs have in US Treasuries and US banks.

          Do Russian banks transfer funds through the US?  Cut that off, without warning.  That would cause massive trade disruptions until they could figure out ways to reroute outside the US.

          Why are only a few oligarchs subject to visa bans?  Why not extend it to all members of Putin's party?

          The basic rule should be that any day the Russian markets do not fall by at least 5% we increase the pressure.

          •  I see, it seems according to you, what Obama is (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Danali, fugwb, Paragryne, terrybuck

            doing should have been done faster, faster, faster!

            Obama saved the US economy from a second Great Depression that Republicans caused, but according to Republicans it should have been done faster, faster, faster!

            Soon we'll hear them say, "We have no problems with the Affordable Care Act, it's just that it should have been done faster, faster, faster!"

            "Sure, Obama has fixed the country we wrecked, but he should have done it faster, faster, faster!"

          •  Hell (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Bellzeebrasssbsss. Why not just cut through all the niceties and just launch an attack. Maybe that would make you happy.

            6% of scientists are republican. Scientists have no explanation why that number is so high.

            by fugwb on Sat Mar 29, 2014 at 07:10:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  If you "escalate" all at once.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

   can't escalate anymore. And I think "pin prick" is overstatement. These were targeted sanctions. If the Russians keep pushing, or if the current level of US-European sanctions clearly do not bring Putin to his senses, there are indeed more things to do. In foreign relations, patience is a virtue, and this president has more patience in his pinky than any modern Republican I can think of has in his or her entire brain.

            •  So then when do we escalate if Russia does not (0+ / 0-)

              withdraw from Ukraine?

              The current sanctions appear not to be working as desired - Russia is pushing for veto power on Ukraine joining NATO or affiliating with the EU rather than negotiating a withdrawal in return for eliminating sanctions.

              •  Amazing (0+ / 0-)

                You actually think we could assert ourselves physically in the Crimea or the whole of the Ukraine with alacrity and without Russian push-back? Like maybe Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) believes? You know, like Ron said: just drop a few big heav-lift loads of paratroopers onto the scene; the Russians will skedaddle and all will be well in no time. Is that about it, ol' beelz- buddy? Or maybe we should go  right to cruise missiles or even launch our ICBMs? World War III is lovely this time of year.

                •  No... I've already made it clear. We need (0+ / 0-)

                  far stronger sanctions.

                  We need to tip Russia into a recession immediately and then continue to turn the screws.

                  We also need to make life as unpleasant as possible for the people at the top.  For example, an amazing number of wealthy Russians have their kids at business schools, universities, and boarding schools in the US and Western Europe.  We should be going through that list right now.  If their families are involved in supporting Putin then they should lose their visas right now.

                  •  Even assuming that's the right thing to do... (0+ / 0-)

                    How do you know it's not in the cards? Fact is, in crises of this sort, elaborate contingencies are always developed.

                    But that's really beside the point. You have jumped the shark. Over-reaction is just as bad as under-reaction. And to be  clear once again, the call for military solutions is coming from some of the same wingnuts that helped create this mess, by trying to turn the Ukraine into yet another cash cow for their wealth-extraction schemes. Indeed, they pushed a "solution" -- before there was a problem -- that arguably triggered this situation, and that was all based on austerity. Just like the IMF and other banking entities have pushed austerity on Greece and other countries in financial trouble after the investor class sweet-talked them into going there in the first place. How long will it be before most of the crypto-westernized Ukranian people tire of heavy austerity -- pension raids, wage cuts, lay-offs, the works -- and start turning eastward again? Nor does one doesn't have to look far to see the effects of this kind of smash-mouth finance. It's happening right here inside the US.

          •  P.S. The "pressure" originally came from here (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Paragryne, whizdom

            ...before Putin grabbed at Crimea. What got him rolling was reckless and open talk among western conservatives about re-aligning Ukraine. From a thoughtful analysis by Robert Parry:

            While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ukraine joining with the EU or staying with Russia (or a combination of the two) – depending on the will of the people and their elected representatives – this latest U.S./EU plan was motivated, at least in part, by hostility toward Russia.

            That attitude was expressed in a Sept. 26, 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post by Carl Gershman, the neoconservative president of the National Endowment for Democracy, which doles out more than $100 million in U.S. funds a year to help organize “activists,” support “journalists” and finance programs that can be used to destabilize targeted governments.

            Gershman, whose job amounts to being a neocon paymaster, expressed antagonism toward Russia in the op-ed and identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” the capture of which could ultimately lead to the ouster of Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

            Capturing a prize! Those were the kinds of ideas openly circulated in western media. What? Did anyone think Putin would be a sissy boy and just let that happen? Indeed not, for some of those same conservatives have since praised Putin's "bold" and "decisive" style. Why, it's almost as if they INVITED a war. Not that they have ever engineered anything like that before, of course. (!)
  •  That sound you hear... (16+ / 0-) the sound of a pulsing blood vessel in McCain's forehead exploding.

  •  Mr Obama seems to play this game very well. (23+ / 0-)

    So glad we're not in year 6 of McCain/Palin!

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:14:40 PM PDT

  •  When Putin learned that the Europe would (9+ / 0-)

    no longer be kissing his feet for heating oil, he knew the jig was up.  

    And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 KJV

    by looking and listening on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:16:51 PM PDT

  •  riegro - why don't we wait until a deal (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, journeyman, AoT, destiny1

    is jointly announced before we light our victory cigar.

    I would not put it past Putin to make a call to President Obama and invade Ukraine while "high level talks" are in progress.

    If I was President Obama I would forward deploy more NATO assets and rush more sophisticated weapons to the Ukrainian defense forces, while sincerely engaging it "high level talks". Kinda like what Putin is doing.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:29:02 PM PDT

    •  I don't understand why some folks are (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      grasping at this phone call as some sort of victory against Putin. That seems to be middle school thinking, at best.

      If knowledge is power and power corrupts, does that mean that knowledge corrupts?

      by AoT on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 06:59:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Success would be great, but this, too is good: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      thomask, sukeyna, begone, Paragryne

      Putin blinked. That call was a big "tell" that he's feeling the pressure. Economic sanctions have worked in many foreign relations impasses. South Africa, for example. War seldom works, except maybe in the short run, and the human losses are almost always horrible. But if there's solution that doesn't involve guns and will work better than sanctions, I'm all ears. 'Splain it to me. And to the Republican Party, which is treading water on this and needs some help, fast. Don't forget George W. Bush's reaction to an earlier, roughly analagous situation in the nation of Georgia.

      •  P.S. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        thomask, sukeyna, Alhambra, Paragryne

        The Putin phoner, as the Times noted, came after Secretary of State Kerry delivered a proposal to the Russian ambassador. Putin could have blown that off, but instead he made the call. People are free to assume he's playing games, and maybe he is, but we'd be foolish to assume that in response. Talk between adversaries is never a bad thing. This is exactly how JFK and Khrushchev walked back from the brink of WWIII in the Cuban Missile Crisis. They both saber-rattled for a little while, but when it became clear the security of the human race finally was at stake and that both countries had fairly rigid positions but also bargaining chips to play, negotiations began and reached a quick, peaceful outcome.

        By way of analogy, people who hate organized labor always seem to overlook that in good-faith bargaining, both sides inevitably are obliged to make concessions. That's the way the process is designed to work. And it's even more vital in international relations. The Cold War finally ended not when wars were fought and one side surrendered, but when George Kennan's idea of containment played out to fruition. Economically!

        But even beyond that, I'm amazed that anyone still thinks that in this era, the US can have its way simply by moving a carrier group nearer the Russian coast or launching military exercises near Russia's still-dwindling sphere of influence. Such posturing will feel good back home but won't work any better than, and possibly will be worse than, sanctions. You can project strength, but you can't risk simple provocation without risking escalation. Given how much trouble we have had using military means in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on, it's very hard to see how similar tactics would work with a more formidable Russia. It may be an economic wreck (which is why sanctions are meaningful), but it's still powerful militarily. A wise tactician won't engage that power directly if there are other historically effective means.

        Nor, despite Bush's failed unilateralism, does a wise US president act without the advice and consent of our allies, in this case the NATO countries. And the very last thing Europe wants is a military showdown. Nor would if we tried it the American people at this point stand for such a hugely risky commitment. That said, I will bet anyone a doughnut and coffee that the US and our allies have made clear to the Russians that there is a future point past which all bets are off. And that's why I think the phone call made sense, and thus is of mutual value.

  •  apology (6+ / 0-)

    I will eat my hat if any of those knuckleheads EVER apologize. But I am happy thinking about how hard they will have to work to spin it. You know they're pissed. Even though this is just a step, I'm loving it.

    you get what you give

    by chicagobleu on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:35:20 PM PDT

  •  "Thanks for Being so Cool About Everything" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buffie, AoT

    Op-ed for the Onion, by Vladimir Putin

    Best Scientist Ever Predicts Bacon Will Be Element 119 On The Periodic Table

    by dov12348 on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 04:36:52 PM PDT

    •  Actually, that piece just about sizes things up (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Someone once said that when the world economy became totally interdependent, wars would become a thing of the past. I doubt that will ever be entirely true, but maybe it will be true that the threat of very large wars will dimiish. Because everyone (in this case including Putin and his cronies) has too much skin in the game. Which is another way of saying economic sanctions mean more these days when Russia actually has assets it doesn't want to lose. Will it exchange them for the Ukraine, or even just the Crimean Peninsula? We shall see.

  •  "Confrontational president in the mold of Reagan"? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Love, buffie, Paragryne

    If the Rs ever retake the White House, duck and cover, Grenada

  •  Putin may have called to discuss (0+ / 0-)

    What Russia's response to US sanctions would be. My sense is that a tit-for-tat war of sanctions would be very harmful to the world's economy, not only to Russia's.

    •  I think your analysis is mostly correct (0+ / 0-)

      But next to a tit-for-tat war of sanctions, an actual, tit-for-tat war would be worse. It's hard to imagine a NATO-Russian war staying tit-for-tat very long. Anyway, I think we have more chips to play when it comes to economic sanctions.

  •  Thank for posting and for your optimistic opinion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but negotiate what? Putin has not and will concede anything.

    •  We can't know that. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      begone, Paragryne

      He may well try to hang onto the Crimean Peninsula. That seems in keeping with his psyche. Then again, the old Soviet Politburo thought its Post-WWII acquisition of Eastern European satellites "permanent," and look how that turned out. Putin won't be in power forever, nor will his style of leadership. In the longer term, I look at his move as a last-gasp twitch of the former Soviet body-politic. Unpleasant and distasteful now, but also nonsustainable.

    •  We don't know that until we try (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      More to the point, underlying my little rant against the GOP here is that, while they may think Obama isn't trying hard enough, fast enough, it is the House of Representatives that so far hasn't been trying, delaying for weeks Obama's proposal to provide greater aid to the Ukraine (which would serve to complement the sanctions) while they yak about all the delays he's causing.

      Here's the headline they should concern themselves with:


      Countries around the world have pledged billions of dollars in aid packages to support Ukraine as Russian aggression destabilizes the region. However, a world superpower remains stuck on the sidelines, paralyzed by domestic tensions on Capitol HIll.

      It’s one thing when Congress squabbles over the U.S. deficit and domestic budget, but congressional partisanship is far less becoming when the eyes of the world are watching so closely, experts say.

      “It’s a shameful spectacle of dysfunctionality in what is the world’s greatest democracy,” says Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution. “It is a paradox, and it makes it harder for our country to advance our interests abroad and around the world.”

  •  love the title ! ! ! (3+ / 0-)

    I first saw this news on facebook about an hour ago !

    Obama takes on Putin with one hand tied behind his back !

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