Friday, March 14, 2014

"[I]n the gilded mirrors of the Kremlin, Putin glimpses his reflection and struggles to avert his eyes: a small man with six-pack abs...."

Roger Cohen in the NYT.

Cohen continues to beat the war drums.  And I wish he'd stop it.  The abs of steel metaphor serves to highlight how far wrong Cohen is on this.  Although Putin may see abs of steel when he looks in the Kremlin mirror...he is, in fact, flabby like a typical 61-year-old ex-jock.  And he sits on a horse like a sack of potatoes.

This much is useful:
The Russian president’s vision of a revived imperium developed around four pillars. The first was military (the liquidation of Grozny, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and now the drive to annex Crimea). The second was political (drawing the countries of the former Soviet Union into an autocratic Eurasian Union). The third was economic (Russian gas as a tool of coercion and oligarchs’ money as suasion from Berlin’s Kurf├╝rstendamm to London’s Knightsbridge). The fourth was cultural (a heady blend of Orthodoxy and autocracy as expressions of Russian purity and strength against the nihilistic decadence of Europe and the United States).
 This bit, not:
The culmination of this process sees Putin the bare-chested muscleman of the Siberian outback pitted against America’s languid leg-crossing law professor and the pastor’s methodical daughter in Berlin. Neither of these leaders of the West (whose feelings for each other are cool) will utter of Crimea those four resonant words: “This will not stand.” 
Putin notices this unuttered sentence. He notes the flaccid body language in the White House, the post-modern man’s teleprompter, the bloodlessness of the liberal realism emanating from the Oval Office. He hears the Kremlin phone ring and mutters, no, not Angela again, with her reasonable pleas. Germany, unified by America but nullified by it too, was far better when there were two of them.
The vision of revived imperium, Putin attempting to salvage what he can from the Soviet Empire, seems right. That Putin has always been thus, also seems right.  Which just means to say it has nothing to do with weakness of the West.  The West will not go to war over Crimea, or the eastern Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, even if George W. Bush and Dick Chaney were still in the White House, and everyone knows it. So I wish Cohen would stop implying that we should.

This is not like Hitler's Anschluss of Austria--which was precursor to an invasion of the Sudetenland, Poland, France, Africa, and Russia in pursuit of mad ideology.

This is more like the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845.  Russia has to fight for its soul, but that fight will not be determined by what happens in Ukraine, and we will not help Russia to liberalize and respect the rule of law by goading our leaders to man up and fight.

Thus far Obama and Merkle are playing this exactly right.

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