The guns of August — a phrase first used to describe the outbreak of World War I — is a real phenomenon. Maybe it’s the heat, but there’s something about the eighth month that seems to inspire armed conflict. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The collapse of the Soviet Union began with a coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991. Reports of North Vietnamese attacks against U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964 gave President Lyndon Johnson the pretext to win broad congressional approval for an expansion of the war. Adolf Hitler readied the invasion of Poland in August 1939 and attacked on Sept. 1.
And now, as Russian President Vladimir Putin masses more than 40,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, we once again hold our breath during the last full month of summer.
Mr. Putin has already annexed Crimea and holds sway over large areas of eastern Ukraine. He has recently ordered stepped-up military and naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. And he has accused Ukrainians of “terrorism,” presumably as a pretext for more aggressive Russian action.
No one should be surprised if Mr. Putin pushes further into Ukraine, perhaps even with a full-blown invasion. Why shouldn’t he? There is nothing and no one to stop him — certainly not the American president or the craven Europeans.
After all, Mr. Putin knows that President Obama and his first secretary of State, who would like to succeed him, are appeasers of the first order.
During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama criticized the Bush administration for damaging relations with the Russians through “provocative” acts such as promising our Eastern European allies a missile defense shield and criticizing Russia for its invasion of democratic Georgia. Mr. Obama promised that he’d work to restore relations with Russia through an incentives offensive. Mr. Bush had used sticks; Mr. Obama would use carrots. How could the Russians not want to give up their national interests for a new partnership with Mr. Obama? Through Mrs. Clinton, he would “reset” the bilateral relationship.
In March 2009, she presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a red plastic button. Stamped on top was the Russian word for “RESET.” Or so she thought. “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” she asked eagerly. Mr. Lavrov took one look at the button and suppressed an eye-roll. “You got it wrong,” he replied. He then told the U.S. secretary of hope and change that the Russian translation of the word on the button wasn’t “RESET,” but “OVERCHARGE.”
Mrs. Clinton laughed nervously and said, “We won’t let you do that to us.”
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton then proceeded to do exactly that, by showering the Russians with unprecedented concessions — from canceling the Bush administration’s plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe to promising no “first use” of nuclear weapons to refusing to expand and modernize our nuclear arsenal to completing the disastrous U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — to show them that we could be partners.
The Russian response? Instead of embracing the Obama administration as farsighted, enlightened anti-Bushes, the Kremlin stepped up its stonewalling on Iranian sanctions, didn’t resume compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement, and threatened to target U.S. missile defense sites in Europe with their offensive missiles unless Mr. Obama dropped all missile defense plans. It also threatened to withdraw from the New START Treaty completely if Mr. Obama didn’t accede to its demands.
Mr. Putin then went further, accusing the United States (and reportedly, specifically Mrs. Clinton) for allegedly stoking protests against his party, United Russia, after a suspect parliamentary election win in late 2011. And a top Russian general warned of a new “arms race.”
Mr. Obama gave the Russians a yard and predictably, they took a mile.
His naive approach ignored several things. First, the Cold War didn’t end when the Soviet Union collapsed. It simply changed form.
Second, Russia has its own national interests, which are diametrically opposed to ours, and that reality will never change.
And third, Mr. Obama’s “I Heart Russia” approach ignored the fact that Russia had become far more authoritarian under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, had killed those who dared to speak about rampant corruption and oppression, was seeking to reassert control within the former Soviet Union, and was intervening in the Middle East on the side of bad guys like Iran and Syria.
Instead of confronting Mr. Putin on these issues, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton waved him through.
Mr. Obama once said, “I don’t think countries around the world are interested in testing our credibility when it comes to these issues.”
Well, testing our credibility is the only thing our enemies are interested in. Enemies poke and prod us, and when we bend, ignore or appease them, they believe we are weak. When we fail that credibility test, they then step up their aggression. Witness: Pearl Harbor, the entire history of the Cold War and Sept. 11.
Mr. Putin knows the Obama-Clinton drill: American power is being drawn down to near unprecedented levels. And he is taking full advantage of it. It’s a tragedy that their deliberate failure of leadership is costing so many others their sovereignty, freedom and lives.
• Monica Crowley is editor of online opinion at The Washington Times.
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