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Saturday 1 March 2014

Ukraine, Putin And The USA

After the recent unrest in Ukraine, the fear was that Russia would use this as an excuse to intervene militarily, at least in the east of the country, where there is a sizeable Russian-speaking population. There was also the problem of the Crimea, with the Russian Black Sea fleet based there – as it continued to be after Ukraine became independent in 1994.
Today, at the request of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Parliament has approved the deployment of troops in Ukraine: observers are exhuming memories of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 as a result. On top of that, right-wingers in the USA are asserting that a Republican would have fought, and unless Barack Obama goes in and kicks ass, this will demonstrate that he is weak.

Sadly for this view, it is not supported by recent history: a Republican President was in the White House when the then Soviet Union sent in the tanks to put down the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Dwight Eisenhower wanted to be seen as the man of peace (he also leaned on Eden to desist from his adventure in Egypt, an act that told the Israelis who had the real power in the West).

The USA also did nothing to stop the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Here, a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, was in office, but the result was as before. In any case, LBJ had been conned by the military into going into Vietnam in pursuit of a pointless and damaging war which got the USA precisely nowhere. But what about the fall of communism at the end of the 1980s?

This is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, but Ronnie never got into a shooting war with the Eastern Bloc, and had left office when, for instance, the Berlin Wall came down. And what did the West do when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan? Sure, they armed and otherwise encouraged any opposition they could find – including one Osama bin Laden – but they didn’t send the troops in.

Where, exactly, are these precedents for military action against which Obama is being measured? Two campaigns against Saddam Hussein, a tin-pot dictator who the States had done so much to keep in office, even while he was using chemical weapons on his own people, and whose military forces, worn down by conflict and then years of sanctions, were never going to prove a problem?

The second Iraq scrap has ended up destabilising the country, the Afghan adventure may not keep out the Taliban after the USA leaves, and we all know just how effective the Vietnam campaign turned out. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Putin’s Russia intervening in Ukraine, it makes little sense for Obama to tell Moscow “we’ll fight you for it” just to prove how hard he is.

And, whisper it quietly, a Republican President would have done just the same.

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