Vladimir Putin

America's Half-Measures Against Putin

U.S. has no solutions for Russia's actions toward Ukraine, so instead it pursues some useless policies.

|

Credit: theglobalpanorama / photo on flickr

If you're out for a hike and find a deep, wide chasm in your path, you have a few options. You might give up and turn back. You might devise a way to get over it. You might look for a way around it. What you would not do is jump halfway across. 

Half-measures are often worse than none. But when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin, they are exactly the ones most favored by both the Obama administration and its congressional critics. 

The Russian president moved last year to forcibly seize Crimea from its neighbor and former republic, Ukraine. Ever since, the pro-Western government of Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country—forces that apparently include some actual members of the Russian military. 

The United States and its European allies have responded by imposing economic sanctions in an effort to punish Putin and possibly force him to retreat. The sanctions, reports The Wall Street Journal, "dented the ruble's value, fueled capital flight and sent the oil-dependent economy into a tailspin." 

But the retreat has not happened. So the administration has provided Ukraine with "nonlethal defensive security assistance," including medical supplies and night-vision goggles. 

American hawks want more. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says our refusal to ship weapons to Kiev is "one of the most shameful chapters in American history." House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, says if we send arms, "Putin will pay a price for increased casualties—one he is obviously very nervous about paying." 

But one rule of national security is to be careful about getting involved in shooting wars with countries that can destroy you—which Russia, with its hundreds of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, could do to us in, oh, half an hour. 

Another wise policy is to avoid steps that are optically pleasing but practically destructive. Furnishing weapons to Ukraine would expand the bloodshed without altering the outcome. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that Washington can't "provide enough military support to the Ukrainian military that they could overwhelm the military operations that are currently being backed by Russia." 

Whatever we do, Putin can do more—and almost certainly will. Russia has more at stake in Ukraine than we do and is prepared to make greater sacrifices to get what it wants. 

But the administration has its own fondness for ineffectual gestures. This week, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the U.S. will "pre-position" tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and artillery in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—NATO countries that used to be under Moscow's rule and prefer not to be again. 

This step would make it easier to respond to a Russian attack. Carter asserted that it also shows the U.S. and NATO "are absolutely committed to defending the territorial integrity" of the Baltic nations. The New York Times reported that it's meant to serve "as a deterrent the way the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961." 

Oh? That particular U.S. Army unit was an effective deterrent because its presence assured the East Germans and Soviets that if they tried to seize West Berlin, they would be at war with the United States. It was a simple statement: "If you want to take West Berlin, you'll do it over our dead bodies." 

This step allows Putin to suspect that if Russia were to invade, he would not have to fight the U.S. By declining to place actual troops in the Baltics, President Barack Obama gives the Russians a yellow light, not a red one. It's a gesture that conveys a fervent desire to have it both ways: keeping the Russians out without taking any risk. 

In that respect, it fits perfectly with our original inclusion of these countries in NATO. We happily extended our security guarantee to countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia only because we assumed we'd never have to make good on it. 

Now we find ourselves contemplating the implications of that decision. Are Americans prepared to send U.S. troops to die defending these countries from Russia? Maybe so, and maybe not. But it's a discussion Americans have never had. The president's half-measure allows us to put it off again. 

Lacking a solution, he offers an unconvincing facsimile of one. Obama and his opponents disagree on specific policies, but they share an approach to Russia: If you can't do anything useful, do something useless. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Gun Rights Benefited Black Americans During the Civil Rights Movement and Still Do

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. “Half-measures are often worse than none. But when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin, they are exactly the ones most favored by both the Obama administration and its congressional critics.”

    On their own merits as incremental stages of deterrence against a belligerent power, such actions are worthwhile, but their efficacy is mostly dependent on the qualities of the authority ordering their implementation — that is, if Putin and his cohort of fascist miscreants are assured by the craven, cowardly, dysfunctional degeneracy of Obama’s government, proven upon an immeasurable preponderance of occasions, that the United States will make no substantial response to actual aggression, and that Obama’s administration is simply engaging in half-baked stunts for the sake of positive publicity without a genuine intent to counter Russian imperialism, then incremental deterrence will obviously fail.

    The executive branch of the government of the United States, as presently staffed, possesses no backbone, no principle, and no moral imperatives, and would therefore likely do absolutely nothing were Russia to initiate true military aggression. If Putin does not believe we would defend NATO in a total war with his forces, why would he pay any attention to Obama’s jockeying?

    1. If we had a honest open debate Americans would choose not to attack Russia. The political elite already knows that. Half measures are just what the doctor ordered for such a situation.

      You really think this is fucking Obama’s decision? like this is some WWE battle between Obama and Putin?

      “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
      — Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

  2. “The United States and its European allies…”

    Our European allies are worth nothing, especially if their general attitudes are any indication. They expect the United States to shield them froom any adverse potentialities, whether it be Russian invasions across the Eastern European nations, or Muslim terrorism. As sociopolitically ignorant as most of them are, they truly believe obama’s ilk would stand on their behalf in a outright war, which is questionable. They’ve been petulant, ungrateful dependents of the United States since Germany’s surrender in World War II, and they’ve never assumed responsibility for their own defense in any meaningful way.

    “But one rule of national security is to be careful about getting involved in shooting wars with countries that can destroy you?which Russia, with its hundreds of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, could do to us in, oh, half an hour.”

    No. Russia’s incapable of effectively launching its arsenal. Casualties it would surely cause — millions, perhaps — on a huge scale, but not sufficiently to disable us. The consequence of that act would be to watch as, say, 85 to 95 percent of Russia’s territory burns in nuclear fire. If that’s his desire, that’s what he’ll get.

    1. You know Patton was assassinated right? and then the US government participated in the coverup. Had to protect communism.

      1. Cosmotarian Overlord|6.25.15 @ 12:35PM|#
        “You know Patton was assassinated right? and then the US government participated in the coverup. Had to protect communism.”

        You have the tin-foil hat on inside out.

        1. I can never remember. Shiny side in or out?

  3. Russia has developed a new form of warfare. Invade your neighbors gradually while using disinformation and outright lies to deny invading your neighbors. As soon as they take a new region, they seize radio and tv stations and begin saturating the locals with propaganda.

    It probably works much better in a failing nation like the Ukraine, but NATO better be ready to defend against it.

    I don’t think Putin has any delusions that he could win a real war against NATO even in it’s dilapidated condition. The Russian army is small, shitty with the exception of a few units, and much of it is based on the Chinese border. If they moved the bulk of their forces east to fight a European war, the Chinese would gladly take a big swath of Siberia for themselves.

    1. “As soon as they take a new region, they seize radio and tv stations and begin saturating the locals with propaganda.”

      that is sickening…thank god we have a open honest media in the US that is free too investigate whatever they want and doesn’t just have to spew propaganda all the time.

      In Russia they probably don’t even understand how ISIS is funded with untraceable blackmarket oil sales they use to purchase untraceable weapons and trucks….and they probably don’t appreciate how useful US intelligence agencies have been in trying to shut this down. GAAWD russia makes me angry!!! I wish I could draft some useless rednecks to give them the opportunity to go serve me over there.

  4. Send the Special Ops in, then lock him in a room with Vitali Klitschko.

  5. Send the Special Ops in, then lock him in a room with Vitali Klitschko.

  6. I buy almost everything except food and clothing from online auctions most people arenâ????t aware of the almost I unbelievable deals that they can get from online auction sites the site that has the best deals is
    BEST PROFIT DEAL CHECK ??????????? http://www.workweb40.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.