Friday, March 28, 2014

Mark Meadows Follow-Up

Back on March 2nd, I wrote a post titled "Mark Meadows and the Ukrainian Crisis".  I had received an email-to-the-peasantry from Meadows, my congressman, in which he lambasted President Obama for his handling of Russia and the Ukraine.  Like most of his fellow Republicans, Meadows called for more forceful and imaginative leadership.  I wrote a note back to him, asking him what, exactly, he would do.  Boots on ground?  Air strikes?  Something else?  Frankly, I never expected to get a reply.

Well, I was wrong.  He did reply today, 26 days later.  Or one of his minions did, anyway.  In an email, he laid out the forceful and imaginative leadership that he would provide.  His actions were:
- a House Resolution that "condemned the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity by military forces of the Russian Federation."
- Boycotting the G-8 summit in Sochi.
- Convene a G-7 summit somewhere else and expel Russia from the G-8.

Yes, that's pretty forceful and imaginative.  It also mirrors what Obama has done.  Well, Obama can't pass a House resolution, but he worked with the EU, NATO, and the G-7 partners to boot Russia out of the G-8 and convene an alternative summit.  He's also got the Secretary of State and State Department diplomats worldwide working on isolating Russia, imposing increasing levels of sanctions, and shifting Europe away from Russian sources of oil and gas.  In other words, he's doing far more than Meadows ever thought of doing.  So much for Meadows' diatribes.

The United States is not in a position to take hard military action.  It would be stupid.  Frankly, the Ukraine and Crimea do not rank very high on American strategic interests.  It makes little or no substantive difference to us whether Crimea is ruled by Russia or the Ukraine, and it is not worth one single American soldier's life to try to change it.  We can, and should, bring pressure to bear on Russia to quit behaving like a thug and more like a respectable member of the international community.

Over the long term, however, Putin's actions are only going to hurt Russia.  The Crimean economy is in the toilet and will require significant economic support from Russia.  International sanctions are having an immediate impact now.  Most of it is psychological: the Russian rich are seeing their country losing its economic standing.  The longer-term impact will come from the international community's negative views of the country.  Who wants to deal with a thug?  Those former Soviet-bloc countries who have established ties to the West see a rising Russian threat, so they're going to establish closer ties to the West as protection.  Meanwhile, the primary Russian exports are natural resources: oil and gas.  They're not making much money of their intellectual capacity.  That's a description of a third-world economy, not a world leader.  And Putin is to blame.

In the short term, Russia will beat its chest and roar at the world, but it can't really do too much.  In the long term, the Russian bear is pretty sick, and Dr. Putin isn't providing it the help it needs.

So Meadows and his friends in the House will squawk like hawks.  They really don't have much, if anything, to add to the debate.

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