From Crimea with Love: How the Right Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Putin

From Crimea with Love: How the Right Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Putin


On Friday, March 21, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the job

he started on February 28 when he signed orders to formally annex Crimea. Just today,

news agencies are reporting that Russian troops have begun storming Ukrainian military

bases on the peninsula, further consolidating Russian power in the region. This brand of

leadership has been hailed around the world as direct, bold, and decisive. The US

response—the Obama response, that is—by contrast, has been weak, feckless, and





In what has been one of the stranger sides to the conflict between Russia and

Ukraine—at least from our own domestic perspective—is the narrative the Right has

attempted to craft about President Obama’s weakness. Charles Krauthammer, in a

column for the National Review, described President Obama’s foreign policy as

“feckless.” Rudy Giuliani, during an interview with Neil Cavuto, all but swooned over

how quickly Putin took over Crimea saying, “[t]hat is what you call a leader.” South

Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham condemned the President as weak and indecisive—

laying the blame for Putin’s non-invasion invasion squarely at the hand-wringing

doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I even had a friend of mine make the comment—

and I’m paraphrasing here—“How can President Obama expect to stop Putin from doing

whatever he wants when Obama can’t even get a website to work.” Just like with

everything else in this country—it’s Obamacare’s fault. Gosh—if only one of those fifty-
four repeal votes had worked, Putin would have seen our resolve and NOT plucked

Crimea like a plump, ripe strawberry.


Look—I’m not here to defend the President. I certainly have my gripes with his

foreign policy (see: drone strikes, stepped up deportations), but I find the Conservative

attack here tone deaf and completely inconsistent with the United States’ approach to

Russia since at least 2000. Remember, George Bush looked into Putin’s soul and saw

someone he thought he could do business with. Then, in 2008, Putin ordered the

invasion into Georgia. Whereas Crimea was a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine with

strong ethnic ties to Russia, Georgia was a completely independent, sovereign nation

(albeit with strong ethnic ties to Russia as well). President Bush’s response was to do

exactly nothing. No troops, no sanctions, no enforcement of the cease-fire agreement

that required Russia to pull all of its troops from Georgia (there are still Russian troops in

South Ossetia and Abkhazia today. We pledged some financial aid for the rebuild, but

President Bush did not go so far as to pull a single Russian bank account.


On the other hand, President Obama has issued executive orders giving the US

authority to sanction the crap out of President Putin’s closest friends. “Cronies”, I

believe the White House is calling them. Angela Merkel has all but booted Russia from

the G8 herself, saying the G8 “no longer exists.” So far, every reactive move from the

EU and other NATO countries has been designed to isolate Russia and impose pretty

severe costs for Putin’s big footing around the Black Sea. The Russian stock market has

reportedly already lost over $70 billion in value; credit rating agencies are talking

downgrade. While these moves aren’t as sexy as boots on the ground or no fly zones,

and even though Vladimir Putin’s public response has been to crack deadpan jokes, he

may sing a different tune if the US decides to prevent Exxon on Rosneft from joining

hands in the oil exploration game.


My point is that the Obama administration has options here other than getting

drawn into another land war on the European continent and is using them. Russia is far

more integrated into the global economy than the Soviet Union was. Russian banks, like

banks all over the world, need access to the foreign exchange markets to operate

effectively. Russian oil and gas, long believed to be the Sword of Damocles hanging

over the heads of the EU, could possibly sit on tankers with no buyers. Things were

going ok for Russia in 2012 and Putin’s election was still pretty hotly protested. Imagine

how 2018 could look if the Russian economy has completely collapsed. For all his

vaunted leadership acumen, Vladimir Putin could very well have led the Russian people

into an economic bear trap—and all for a spit of land most people only remember from a

Tennyson poem.


And yet, Obama is weak, indecisive, and not at all the leader the United States

needs at a time like this. Syria’s a disaster. Healthcare doesn’t work. Have you heard of

this place called Benghazi? What’s funny about these objections (and others from the

Right) as they are applied to the current Russia/Crimea/Ukraine quagmire is that Putin

himself didn’t use any of them to justify his actions. In fact, it was Afghanistan, Iraq,

and Libya he criticized the most at his marathon press conference on March 4 (and not

the post terrorism fueled murder of four Americans Libya, but the dictator toppling

without a single US casualty Libya that Conservatives tried to turn into Iraq or

Afghanistan). It would appear that Putin is not so concerned with the ostensible

weakness of an American as he is concerned with American hypocrisy. Perhaps it wasn’t

the lack of spine Putin saw in the current American president—it was the diminution of

moral authority caused by previous American president.


But, for all that, the Right will continue to insist that this President is a mom-jeans

wearing, arugula eating, teleprompter reading panty waist that couldn’t punch his way

through a moist towelette. Never mind that the killing of Bin Laden, the rescue of

Captain Phillips from Somali pirates by sniper fire, and the ramped up drone program in

Pakistan can be laid at Nobel Peace laureate Barack Obama. On the Russia issue

specifically, Obama is weak because the Right finally sees a chance for the hot war with

Russia they never got from the Gipper. And Obama won’t give it to them.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it has been kind of tough to be a chest

thumping, Rocky IV watching, Miracle on Ice loving conservative. For all intents and

purposes, we won the Cold War. Fifty years is a long time to almost fight somebody and

we were able to prevail without ever firing a shot. What no one told the folks who would

put Ronald Reagan up on the Berlin Wall along side David Hasselhoff, however, is just

how much of a let down not firing that shot was going to be. For decades, Russians were

the perfect villain in every movie, the antithesis to our very way of life (and my god—

those accents are positively diabolical, right?). But post-1991, they were to be our

partners in business and geopolitics and maybe, just maybe, our eventual allies. Worked

for Germany and Japan, right?


But how do you take a rivalry that saw us put a man on the moon out of spite and

turn it into a mature global relationship? For many conservatives, the answer is you

don’t. Vladimir Putin’s latest example of international bullying is the example

conservatives point to and say, “See—they were never really our friends. Let’s all go

back to a simpler time when Alf was still on TV and no one who wrote in Cyrillic could

be trusted.” But this time, rather than take the high road of mutually assured (though

patently unsatisfying) destruction, let’s finally bomb the place. You can’t imagine how

good that will finally feel.


I say all this not because I think all conservatives are war mongers. I say this

because, when I routinely ask critics of President Obama what they think he should do

differently with respect to this crisis, I never get an answer. They think sanctions are

weak and ineffective, but stop short of calling for all out war. But, if we can’t use the

leverage of sanctions, war is really the only other alternative.


So, the President is weak, Vladimir Putin is a leader, and the only I can see for

President Obama to turn that perception around in the minds of conservatives is to follow

in the oh so successful foot steps of Napoleon and Hitler and start a land war in Russia

(note: those two gentlemen were not successful at all—Leo Tolstoy wrote a whole book

about the first guy and the second guy—well, we remember what happened to him).

Lucky for us, in this, the President seems to be guilty of the charge Republican

lawmakers have been lobbing at him since he first took office—he doesn’t give a damn

what they think.


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—Lefty (Blake Lubinus)