Ukraine

Obama and the Appeasement Myth

The stark fact is that Ukraine is not a place over which the U.S. and NATO should be ready to go to war, and nothing short of going to war will change its fate.

|

Hawks in the wild tend to be solitary creatures. But those in Washington, D.C., often appear in noisy flocks. As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his predatory activities in Ukraine, conservatives here are unanimous on how the Obama administration should respond: by emulating the Bush administration.

A favorite demand is reviving the European missile defense that George W. Bush began during his final months in office. "We could go back and reinstate the ballistic missile defense program that was taken out," Dick Cheney said. "Obama took it out to appease Putin." Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., agreed that "we should definitely revisit missile defense." Ditto Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

The suggestion is odd for several reasons. One is that missile defense would be useless against either a ground assault by Russia or a covert effort to foment rebellion against the Kiev government. Another is that the small anti-missile system Bush had in mind was not designed to counter the Russian nuclear arsenal.

"In fact, it's just not even logically possible for it to be aimed at Russia, given how Russia could overwhelm it," noted White House press secretary Dana Perino in 2008. "The purpose of missile defense is to protect our European allies from any rogue threats, such as a missile from Iran."

But the hawks have a problem. They have a pathological need and a political incentive to fault President Barack Obama for timidity on Ukraine. At the same time, they must distract attention from the fact that they don't actually propose to do anything likely to affect Putin's behavior.

Invoking missile defense allows a pretense of toughness, even if it's only a millimeter deep. It also lets them claim that Ukraine would be intact if only Obama had not invited Russian aggression. Their arguments, however, are a masterpiece of irrelevance.

The case rests on fictions, starting with the claim that he abandoned missile defense in Europe in a naive attempt to pacify the Russians. It's true that the Kremlin denounced the Bush plan. But that was not the reason for the change. The reason was that the system didn't look as though it would be adequate for its assigned task of shooting down Iranian ballistic missiles.

Obama actually didn't abandon missile defense in Europe. Instead, he replaced the Bush plan, which relied on equipment that hadn't been tested, with one making use of existing weapons. Unlike the original program, says Ohio Wesleyan University political scientist Sean Kay, Obama's "is based on proven and capable technology."

This choice, however, allegedly betrayed our faithful allies in Warsaw and Prague. But Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense under Bush as well as Obama—and who has been critical of Obama on Ukraine—debunked that notion in 2011.

The deployment Bush envisioned in the Czech Republic, he informed a Senate committee, "was not going to happen, because the Czech government wouldn't approve the radar." Also, he noted, "we still hadn't negotiated the required agreements with the Poles." The Obama version circumvented those obstacles.

In his memoir, "Duty," Gates wrote, "I never understood the fury of the U.S. critics. The new plan would get defenses operational in Europe and for our 80,000 troops there years earlier than the Bush proposal." As for the appeasement charge, he scoffed: "Making the Russians happy wasn't exactly on my to-do list."

Nor was anyone doing end-zone dances in the Kremlin. After Obama announced the new system, the Russians charged that it "undermines global stability and violates the current balance of nuclear forces." What American hawks describe as surrender, Putin depicted as hostile.

There is no reason to think reviving Plan A would alter Putin's strategic calculus, much less freeze him in his tracks. Putting that system together would take years, even if the Poles and Czechs cooperated—on top of the technical challenges of making it work. Making it work, though, would not impede Russia from preying on its neighbors with tanks and infantry, which are strangely impervious to ballistic missile interceptors.

The stark fact is that Ukraine is not a place over which the U.S. and NATO should be ready to go to war, and nothing short of going to war will change its fate. American hawks imagine that Bush's missile defense would have been an impressive symbol of Western resolve. But Putin is not the type to be scared of symbols.

NEXT: Don't Miss Our Debate on Open Borders at Reason's DC HQ on Tuesday, 4/22 at 6 P.M.!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So here, as I see it, is the hawks’ game plan

    1) Fold their arms up to resemble chicken wings

    2) Flap their arms in front of Obama and say “buck-buck-buck-ba-CAW!”

    3) Shame Obama into “doing something” – preferable something provocative and stupid – so he can get the hawks off his back

    4) Declare that whatever Obama did was Not Enough, was Not Serious, and was Too Little Too Late. This applies even if Obama launches a biological weapons attack on Moscow.

    5) When they get bored of the current crisis, move onto another and repeat the above process.

    1. This process is eerily similar to that of the porkulus. Also, ACA.

      Hmm…

      I guess this is how all the sausages are made.

    2. 3) Shame Obama into “doing something” – preferable something provocative and stupid – so he can get the hawks off his back

      Here’s the rub. They don’t have to shame him into doing something stupid, he’s already shown that he’s pretty generally a ‘checkers guy’ in the chess game of foreign relations anyway.

      You pretty much could’ve just written Nos. 4 and 5.

    3. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part! And we’re just the guys to do that.

  2. There are hundreds of valid reasons to beat on Obama, and this is not one of them.
    All this does is make that lying bastard look good.

  3. The way Obama has been prodding Putin (e.g. the “just a regional power” snark), I halfway expect him to draw a “red line — nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?!”

  4. What is this appeasement myth Chapman brings up in the headline?

    1. The myth is that there’s a myth?

      1. It’s a metamyth.

    2. In fairness, headlines are usually not drafted or approved by the authors… you can blame the editors for silly headlines.

  5. this reads like a lot of misdirection and nothing else. Hawks are gonna hawk but last I checked, not one of them is commander in chief. So, of course, let’s talk about the people incapable of ordering something, or nothing, and ignore the one person whose decision matters.

    1. His decisions are influenced by politics, including election-year accusations of softness, a traditional Democratic vulnerability. So, yeah, the hawks are relevant.

      1. Obama is not up for election this year, is he? Makes me think that the hawks won’t be goading him into any military action. Take a couple of deep breaths and relax. No big bad war coming.

        1. Didn’t say there was a war coming, just that the war hawks are politically relevant in the context of the *Congressional* elections.

  6. Oh, and this passage boggles the mind:

    Obama actually didn’t abandon missile defense in Europe. Instead, he replaced the Bush plan, which relied on equipment that hadn’t been tested, with one making use of existing weapons. Unlike the original program, says Ohio Wesleyan University political scientist Sean Kay, Obama’s “is based on proven and capable technology.”

    “Proven and capable technology” is what leads to men in soft caps with bolt action rifles marching towards dug in machine guns while horse cavalry wait in the rear to exploit the breakthrough.

    I can’t think of a single piece of proven and capable technology in the field of ballistic missile defense. Good thing you talked to a “political scientist” about this instead of, oh, an aerospace engineer or a military officer.

    1. +1 Gallipoli

      1. Actually, the Allies were advancing fairly well at Gallipoli to the point that the Turks were falling back and ready to go into full retreat mode until Kemal Ataturk took over the command of the army there.

        The major problem in the Gallipoli campaign was a general lack of intelligence and a total lack of secrecy.

        The Turks knew where all the ships were headed before they even left their various Mediterranean ports.

    2. One of my teachers in college described missile defense like this: some guy zooming around on a motorboat shoots a gun and another guy on another motorboat zooming around a mile away attempts to shoot down the first one’s bullet with his gun. This doesn’t take into account dummy missiles or other defenses an actual ballistic missile may have, of course.

      1. Teacher of which subject?

      2. @ bassjoe

        Your “teacher”* (I had *professors*) was at best employing metaphors – and not good ones.

        His metaphors don’t take into account a few things: For instance, the ABM is powered with a control system and some way to see its target (hardly a “bullet”). The target (BM) is closer to a bullet given that it has exhausted its fuel. BM and ABM are both launched from fixed locations – not moving ones.

        It may be that getting close, with the attendant shock wave, may be sufficient to do the trick.

        I’ll speculate (as you have) that “of course” most (any?) missiles don’t have countermeasures like a fighter or a battleship.

        Dummies – that may pose a problem – if only one of cost.

        None of this is to say the problem is easy – but a clear concept to start is necessary.

        *what DO they call instructors in CC/adult ed?

  7. Nothing like a little ethnic battle to bring out the Jew haters.

    Jews required to register with Pro-Russia forces in Ukraine.

    The flyers in Donetsk said all Jews who are 16 years old and above should register at the government building, which separatist protesters are occupying, and pay a registration fee of $50 by May 3.

    1. Lemme guess:
      The JOOOOOOOZE are fomenting a rebellion! At least they didn’t call ’em “cosmopolitans”.

    2. This sounds like a false flag operation to me.

  8. Obama is a hawk. It’s mostly partisan nonsense, like Karl Rove saying that Republicans could do a better job at socialism.

  9. Can’t wait to see tomorrow’s Friday Funny.

    1. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

      Just practicing.

  10. I can still consider the Campaigner-in-Chief an incompetent buffoon, in general, can’t I?

    1. Hey, it’s a free country…

  11. You know who else couldn’t be appeased to refrain from military action…

    1. King Victor Emmanuel?

    2. Abe Lincoln?

      1. *Hard Drinkin’ Stinkin’ Abe Lincoln

  12. As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his predatory activities in Ukraine,

    Its a fucking invasion, OK? Say it. Just say the words, Reason writers. Its a short, easy word. Putin is at war with Ukraine, has invaded the Crimea, and there are now Russian forces operating in the rest of Ukraine.

    JUST SAY IT!

    INVASION!

    Thanks. I feel better now.

    1. Its a fucking invasion, OK? Say it. Just say the words, Reason writers. Its a short, easy word. Putin is at war with Ukraine, has invaded the Crimea, and there are now Russian forces operating in the rest of Ukraine.

      Is it? As I understand it, the only killing and shooting is being done by the Ukraine Army. If true, not much of an invasion for the former Red Army.

      Additionally, any truth to the “Defected” Ukraine APCs? NPR and a couple of other anti-hawk and/or administration-friendly sources (that can’t possibly be in Putin’s pocket) have run it.

      1. It’s only an invasion when the USA does it, right?

        1. It’s only an invasion when the USA does it, right?

          Nope. An invasion, to me, implies an oppressive military force. ATM and depending on the region, the Ukraine Army could be considered the largest and most oppressive military force. Aside from that, from a libertarian perspective, I think it’s up to the locals to decide what’s an invasion, what’s an insurrection, and what’s a monster truck show.

          1. Interesting idea. How do the locals decide,take a vote? In this case the pro Russians probably outnumber the Ukrainians, so no invasion.

            Next, Mexican troops in McAllen, Texas with ballot boxes?

      2. Invasion? Naw. More identical to the way we help invent the “just cause” for the carving up Yugoslavia.

  13. “The stark fact is that Ukraine is not a place over which the U.S. and NATO should be ready to go to war, and nothing short of going to war will change its fate.”

    We’ll get to this in a second.

    As far as Ukraine goes – isn’t it just easier to say ‘there’s not a whole lot for us to care about here; the nukes aren’t an issue anymore, Russia still exerts control over the pipelines, there is no compelling economic interest, etc’, and conclude that – while we should maintain a diplomatic view that unilateral violations of agreements a la the Budapest Memo come with costs – there’s no need to escalate the issue by committing any force behind it, or cheerleading others to do so (NATO)?

    Isn’t that far more defensible than saying the above, which is on the face of it, *incredibly stupid*?

    “War is the only option that will change its fate…”

    Its fate? Really? Funny how the perfectly-plausible criticism of the Missile Defense program never bothered to mention what *that* was.

    Is the idea here that, “The proposed plan is stupid” (agreed!) = THEREFORE PLANS ARE STUPID! DOOM!!! MORDOR IS UPON US!! FLEE!! THE END HAS COME AND THERE IS NO STOPPING THE ARMIES OF DARKNESS…

    meanwhile, the Ukrainians are *shooting back*.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04…..rref=world

    More power to them? or no… their FATE IS DECIDED? I don’t get it.

  14. The missile defense criticism seems sound – more atmospheric and “reassuring” than effective in action.

    Ch Krauthammer proposed a few other actions here….

    http://www.jewishworldreview.c…..31414.php3

    to shore up the NATO nations and offer weapons and advisers to Kiev if Russia adventures beyond Crimea.

    He also proposed fast-trcking permits for US LNG export facilities to address long-term Gazprom concerns.

  15. Not sure what Chapman is talking about. Bush had his own Ukraine with Georgia and handled it pretty much the same way Obama has handled Ukraine possibly minus the “threats” of sanctions.

    1. “‘Not sure what Chapman is talking about.””

      Join the club.

      Diplomacy is War! and anything short of War is nothing! So all actions are Intervention! Which is never good! And there are no military options! If there were, they would be War! Which as we mentioned…

      …yeah, it gets a little confusing.

  16. This also matters in that people like the Neocon Lorax (Bolton) are using this as a jumping board to attack Rand Paul and trying to rehabilitate the neocon brand. How they would do this a mere 5 years after the disaster Bush.

  17. The missiles in Poland/Czech would not have changed the tactical situation but they would have complicated Putin’s strategic calculus. The Crimea was probably always a target but would he have advanced on the Ukraine? Maybe? Maybe not?

    Though I don’t think NATO will or should do a damn thing about the current situation, I’m all for fucking with the Russians or Chinese whenever we can. Just sitting behind defensive walls is a sure way to get the crap kicked outta ya. Play any military strategy game with the hunker down and build up defenses strategy…you’ll lose every time.

  18. PLEASE VISIT donationmoneyfreetocharity.weebly.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.