Ukraine

The GOP Is All Noise and No Substance on Ukraine

Republican lawmakers should stop demanding the U.S. do something and accept that we can't be the world's policeman.

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Credit: Anton Holoborodko (????? ????????????)/wikimedia

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has provided the GOP with another opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's foreign policy. In the last few weeks legislators such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well as former Republican officials such as John Bolton have attacked President Obama's perceived weakness when it comes to foreign policy. However, the Republican criticisms of Obama's foreign policy that have been on display since the Russians invaded Crimea have a lot in common with other Republican critiques of the president's policies: a lot of vocal opposition, but no realistic proposed solutions.

In a speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Cruz said that since Obama took office "hope has diminished across the world. The people of Ukraine has seen Russian tanks move into their sovereign land as the nation of Israel has been left without its friend and ally, the United States of America."

Also speaking at CPAC, Bolton, former United Nations Ambassador under President George W. Bush, called Obama a Wilsonian and America's "biggest national security crisis," and added that when it comes to Ukraine Obama does not have a strategy. Another former Bush administration official, Dick Cheney, said on CBS's Face the Nation that the Obama administration has projected an image of "weakness."

Unsurprisingly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was quick to slam the president's response to the crisis in Ukraine, saying that while he understood there couldn't be a military response to the Russian invasion of Crimea, Obama's foreign policy was "feckless." McCain has called for the U.S. to impose sanctions on some Russian officials and speed up the process by which Georgia could become a member of NATO.

Although Obama's response to the situation in Ukraine may not be welcomed by many Republicans, they are not proposing much in the way of a realistic solution.

To be fair to Republicans, there has not been any serious suggestion by Republican lawmakers that the U.S. bomb Russian forces or put boots on the ground in Ukraine, although the lack of military options in Ukraine was described as "tragic" by McCain. 

Nor should it be surprising that at an event like CPAC speakers are big on rhetoric and light on details. But what has been proposed by Republicans will hardly result in a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) outlined eight steps he wanted Obama to take in order to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Among these steps are calling an emergency NATO meeting, putting forward a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine, boycotting the upcoming G8 talks, suspending talks with Russia on all issues not related to the crisis, and (like McCain) pushing for Georgian NATO membership.

Putin is not going to stop his latest foreign adventure because some talks are boycotted or if discussions with the U.S. are suspended. Nor will the possibility of appearing hypocritical before the U.N. Security Council likely motivate Putin to remove Russian forces from Crimea. In 2008, when Putin was Russia's prime minister, Russian forces invaded Georgia and showed little concern over international condemnation.

Cheney has suggested reinstating the ballistic-missile defense program that was planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, sending military equipment to Ukraine, and for the U.S. to conduct military drills with Poland. These moves, if implemented, will perhaps serve as a show of strength and unity between the U.S., Ukraine, and their allies, but they would not motivate Putin to order a withdrawal of troops from Crimea or strike fear into the heart of the Kremlin, which commands a military that could easily deal with the combined forces of Poland and Ukraine.

Thankfully, most Americans and many conservatives who have openly criticized Obama's response to the crisis in Ukraine do not think that a military intervention would solve the problem. Recent polling by CNN shows that only 12 percent of Americans support having troops on the ground in Ukraine, and only 17 percent said that they would support air strikes on Russian forces in Ukraine. Recent Pew polling shows that while 68 percent of Americans do not think that the Russian invasion of Crimea is justified, only 8 percent think that the U.S. should "consider military options" in the region.

This is not the first time that Americans have expressed hesitancy towards military intervention in response to a foreign crisis during Obama's presidency. In the aftermath of last summer's chemical attack near Damascus, polls showed that Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to military intervention in Syria. While Americans may shun military intervention, CNN's polling showed that 59 percent of Americans support sanctions on Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine. However, as Reason columnist Steve Chapman has pointed out, Western sanction on Russia have little chance of changing Putin's ambitions relating to Ukraine.

Rubio and McCain were two of the Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to sign a letter to Obama, saying that they supported the use of "targeted sanctions." It read in part:

We are prepared to work with your Administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power. We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal, including targeted sanctions; and asset recovery targeting corruption, to dissuade individuals who would foment unrest to undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity or employ coercive economic measures against the Ukrainian people and the new Ukrainian government.

Only two Republican members of the committee did not sign the letter, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The situation in Ukraine offers the latest example of a reality that many in the Republican Party are unwilling to accept: The U.S. does not have the influence it once did and cannot police the world. Military intervention is out of the question, economic sanctions are unlikely to work, and Russia will not view condemnation from the West as anything more than a whine.

In order for the current crisis to be resolved Russia needs to feel it is not losing influence in the region. Historical ties and Putin's desire not to be viewed as weak make moves such as advancing Georgian or Ukrainian membership of NATO risky. It should be noted that according to former British ambassador to Moscow Rodric Braithwaite, most Ukrainians don't want to join NATO (a military alliance). However, many Ukrainians would like to establish closer ties to the European Union (an economic bloc).

Given the need not to overly antagonize Russia in the current situation, it seems like Rand Paul, who has urged the GOP to resist "tweaking" Russia and to move away from a Cold War mentality, has the right idea. There are few options in Ukraine. The U.S. should condemn the unjustified invasion of a sovereign nation and encourage the conflicted parties to reach a diplomatic solution while accepting that it is not in a position to interfere.

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    1. +7143 Federal Reserve Notes

  1. In Ukraine, solution proposes YOU!

  2. Every parent knows that you can only bluff kids a couple times until they know you’re powerless. “Man’s got to know his limitations.”
    Our civil servant douche bags need to go away.

  3. In the last few weeks legislators such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well as former Republican officials such as John Bolton have attacked President Obama’s perceived weakness when it comes to foreign policy.

    Rand Paul’s critical commentary mysteriously absent in a piece about GOP opposition to Obama’s Ukraine policy.

    Cheney has suggested reinstating the ballistic-missile defense program that was planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, sending military equipment to Ukraine, and for the U.S. to conduct military drills with Poland.

    I see nothing wrong with any of these things, and they are probably good ideas in their own right if we can’t have good relations with Russia (right now that appears to be the case).

    the Kremlin, which commands a military that could easily deal with the combined forces of Poland and Ukraine.

    The Polish military is very well-equipped and well-trained, more so than Russia’s forces. Considering Russia’s poor performance in Georgia, I suspect that a combined Polish-Ukraine force would give Russia pause in its irredentist claims. Combine them with the Czechs and other regional powers, and the cost/benefit is not looking so good for Russia doing whatever it wants in the Ukraine.

    encourage the conflicted parties to reach a diplomatic solution while accepting that it is not in a position to interfere

    Can you spot the contradiction?

    1. “”””Cheney has suggested reinstating the ballistic-missile defense program that was planned for Poland and the Czech Republic,””

      You mean the missile defense system that the US swore up and down was not effective against Russian missiles when Russia objected to it? So is Cheney lying then or lying now or both?

      “”””Considering Russia’s poor performance in Georgia”””

      They kicked Georgia’s ass in a day. Spent the next couple of days picking up the abandoned weapons the Georgian army dropped and then left.

      Though it is true that the Georgian Army was not much, the South Ossetia defense force managed to stop it in its tracks prior to the Russians entering.

      1. You mean the missile defense system that the US swore up and down was not effective against Russian missiles when Russia objected to it? So is Cheney lying then or lying now or both?

        I don’t really care whether Cheney was lying (I assume he was, else there was no point in setting up said system). If we are going to continue to have poor relations with Russia, an Eastern Euro missile defense shield paired with a coalition between the Eastern Euro states (minus Belarus and perhaps the Ukraine) seems like an excellent way to contain Russia’s expansionism at minimal cost to ourselves.

        [Russia] kicked Georgia’s ass

        So what? As you pointed out, the Georgian army sucks. We kicked Grenada’s ass in the 80s, but anyone who was around at the time knows that it showed some very large chinks in the armor that needed fixing.

        1. “I don’t really care whether Cheney was lying (I assume he was, else there was no point in setting up said system). ”

          There was no lying.

          The Missile Defense System protects the region from rogue regimes (Iran, Syria) launching missiles into western europe or elsewhere as their technology increases.

          The various states want this technology because it protects them from said regimes, and also gives Western Europe and the US a vested interest in their safety vs Russia. Russia doesn’t like the missile defense because they are selling the technology to those rogue regimes and because they don’t want western europe or the US to be on friendlier terms with states they feel ought to be their vassal states.

          The reason why Cheney is suggesting this now is that Russia has (predictably) demonstrated that they are going to be belligerent towards their neighbors regardless of whether or not the US heeds their wishes. So if the choice is “Belligerent Russia with no missile shield and Belligerent Russia with a missile shield” you might as well have the latter.

          1. That makes sense, thanks for the explanation.

          2. But a missile shield in Europe does nothing to protect the US.

            I have no problem with Europe paying for a European missile shield, I see no reason why the US should pay for it.

            1. when Europe is protected that mean fewer battles for us to fight for them.

            2. Why would we pay for it? It’s military spending. TIT is not, I presume, calling for us to actually pay for it.

              1. That is what the previous plans said, the US would pay for it and the European countries would allow it in their countries

    2. Harry Brown’s biggest foreign policy suggestion for the Libertarian Party back in the 90s was for the US to design and deploy a missile defense shield.

      As a libertarian, if there is one thing I can get behind, it’s the idea of a missile defense shield. I guess I’m not sure why Feeney has a problem with that.

      1. “””US to design and deploy a missile defense shield”””

        But where do you deploy them? If in Europe it provides little or no protection for the US. If in the US it will at least protect the US but you will need a big system to protect against the number of missiles Russia has and if too good the Russians just drop out of the treaty limits on missile numbers.

        1. Some defense systems provide protection by being able to address launches during the boost phase.

          The purpose of the missile defense in those areas was to deal with rogue regimes that may launch on US allies, bases, or naval assets. The US abandoned those plans based on promises from Russia that it would make them nicer.

          (Why does Russia want us to stop creating defenses against rogue regimes in the area? Well, for one thing they are selling the missile tech to those regimes, and a good defense shield makes the tech a lot less compelling a sale.)

          Cheney isn’t saying to build the missile defenses as a Russian protection. He is saying to build it because we withdrew based on promises of a nicer Russia, and that hasn’t panned out. So we should re-evaluate the price we paid for such non-delivery.

        2. Let’s never develop defensive technologies, because they are never 100% effective and may eventually be made obsolete. Oy.

          BTW, US and Russia have both been decreasing the number of armaments they maintain because they are a PITA to support, maintain, and pay for — not because some treaty told them they should. We have all seen the value of treaty obligations in both Russia’s violation of the Budapest Memorandium, and the US/Europe’s determination to do nothing about that.

          1. Also, what Overt said: missile defense tech at its current state may be of only limited use against Russia and China, but such would essentially eliminate the conventional threat posed by potentially insane regimes like Iran and the Norks.

          2. “””We have all seen the value of treaty obligations in both Russia’s violation of the Budapest Memorandium””

            The Budapest Memorandum was not a treaty. It has no legal force in the US. It was just Clinton signing his name. And the only thing the Memorandum required was for the issue to be taken to the UN.

            It had no more force then the promise the US made that NATO would not be expanded into the former Warsaw Pack area

  4. Here is the problem. In 1994 we signed, along with the UK & Russia,the Budapest accords guaranteeing the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine if they gave up their nukes. I did not want us to send US troops to Libya, Syria, Georgia, Iraq, ….etc. I think there is entirely too much US adventurism abroad. However, we must use the military now. We have guaranteed Ukraine their freedom when they agreed to give up their nuclear weapons, now we must keep our word. I understand the American people are against the Military option (88% against in most recent poll) however it is Obama’s job to stand in front of the American people, explain the situation, then do the right thing regardless of poll numbers. As for McCain, he knows there is a military option if there is the will, he and the other politicians are supposed to lead at this moment, and save 45 million Ukrainians from generations of oppression and darkness like we swore to do in 1994. we spend more on our military than the next 8 nations combined, our weapons technology is far superior to the Russians, and frankly Putin knows it. I would be surprised if ,after our military deployment, Russia does not pull back immediately. After Georgia in ’08, this is now a trend. Every 4 years after the winter Olympics, Russia invades one of the former soviet republics. We might as well stop them now, as the next one we will not have a treaty with, and we will have no legitimate reason to respond.

    1. “”””In 1994 we signed, along with the UK & Russia,the Budapest accords guaranteeing the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine if they gave up their nukes”””

      No, we did not sign it, Clinton signed it and since Clinton is no longer President his signature means nothing. Only if he had put it before Congress and got a vote would it have any legal effect, and he did not. No past President can bind the country to anything without at least getting Congress to make it a law or treaty

      Also the only action that the memorandum calls for is for in this situation is to go before the UN, it does not authorize force by anyone.

      “”””‘After Georgia in ’08, this is now a trend””

      Georgia attacked Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia that Georgia had agreed to as part of a cease fire when the South Ossetians won their defacto independence from Georgia in 1992. The 2008 war only put the situation back to the 1992 agreement

  5. I think a lot of Americans don’t really understand the situation. The Russians are occupying the Crimea, not Ukraine, most Americans believe that the Crimea is a part of the Ukraine like Rhode Island is a part of the US. A more accurate analogy would be as the Phillipenes were to the US at the turn of the 20th Century, in that a group of people are subjected to the rule of another group of people without their consent.

    However Crimea is actually the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea” and its association with Ukraine is mostly arbitrary and relatively recent. If the people of Crimea (who are mostly Russian) choose to leave the Ukraine that is their decision and it is between them and Ukraine not them and the US. Conversely if the Crimean people feel they are being invaded by Russia it is up to them to resist, if they don’t think their liberty is worth fighting for why the hell should the US fight for it?

  6. “we can’t be the world’s policeman.”

    but.. then what will all these fine young murderers… erms.. soldiers do if they arent fighting for Israel…. erms, our freedom?

    -FFM

      1. Sounds like you buy in to the whole U.S. Foreign policy == “Freedom”, Nooge.
        It’s that warmongering, ignorant nationalistic shit that reminds me as to why I hate the Republican party as much as Democrats.

  7. It’s easy for us to say “do nothing”, because admittedly this crisis doesn’t really involve us. You don’t want to pick fights with people who can actually fight back.

    But if you think about it, Ukraine is losing their land to a foreign country. From the pictures that I see, Crimeria actually looks like a vital spot for retail, oil business, etc. I could be wrong.

    If we found out that Mexico is even thinking about taking back their former territories, we would bomb them back to the stone ages. OK, maybe not that far, but we’ll respond.

    Land disputes are actually volatile issues in many parts of the world. And despite what Ron Paul thinks, people will hate America first and search reasons to justify it later. If we do absolutely nothing, they’ll blast us for lack of foreign aid or leadership, or something.

  8. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has provided the GOP with another opportunity to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

    Wow, this must be the latest in “Really Bad Things That Can Happen In Life”.

    In the last few weeks leading Republicans have attacked President Obama’s perceived weakness when it comes to foreign policy.

    “Perceived”? Please don’t make me question your powers of perception, on top of everything else.

    When it comes to Ukraine, the Republicans are making lots of noise but proposing no realistic solutions.

    Well hump. The Democrats have never-ever-ever done anything like this themselves. Let’s beat the shit out of those big bad mean Republicans, because they deserve it more than anybody else (especially the Democrats, of whom Obama was one the last I knew).

    Seriously, more than anything else this sounds like you’re just out to defend Obama. That is not an impression that I for one would ever have allowed to go to press.

  9. Russians can legitimately wonder why Khrushchov’s 1954 “gift” stunt, intended to be meaningless, is the one Soviet boundary change that the USA considers sacrosanct.

    The Crimean cossacks writing a letter to American imperialists:
    http://www.cyberussr.com/rus/repin-cos.html

    I agree with McCain more often than the editors of Reason do, but on this particular issue, I wish his mind were open to the possibility that some foreigners might also feel patriotism.

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