Obama Plays With Fire in Ukraine

by

“The U.S. is sending about 600 ground troops to Eastern Europe … to ‘reassure’ allies there as Washington resumes its campaign of pressure on Russia over the Ukraine standoff.”

POLITICO

How many American parents would proudly send their sons and daughters off to kill or be killed in Slovyansk or Donetsk?  How many young men and women aspire to be the first American to fall in Kramatorsk?

Those towns are in eastern Ukraine. President Obama says the “military option” — war, that is — is not on the table in his effort to oppose Russia in the Ukraine crisis, but can we trust him? As pressure mounts on him from America’s war hawks, what will he do when sanctions fail to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to acquiesce? Will the military option then find its way onto that infamous table?

Obama has dispatched 600 soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The U.S. Navy has ships present in the Black Sea, an understandably sensitive matter for Russia, which long has had a naval base in Crimea. That may not sound like a large force, but it takes only one soldier to be a tripwire for greater U.S. involvement in this volatile region. Americans should be uneasy with this recklessness on Obama’s part.

Those four former members of the defunct Soviet bloc are now members of NATO, the very active alliance established after World War II ostensibly to keep the Red Army out of Western Europe. One might have expected NATO to disappear along with the Soviet Union, but something happened on the way to the post-Cold War world. The so-called defensive alliance not only remained in existence; it moved aggressively eastward toward Russia by inducting former Soviet allies and republics as members.

This expansion broke a promise that President George H.W. Bush made to former Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev, who was willing to live with NATO in Western Europe even with newly unified Germany as a member. But that state of affairs wasn’t good enough for America’s rulers, who, like most American rulers going back to the 18th century, believed the United States is destined to rule the world. There was no chance that an alliance as useful as NATO was going to go away just because its apparent reason for being had ceased to exist.

The New York Times reports that Obama “and his national security team are looking beyond the immediate conflict to forge a new long-term approach to Russia that applies an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment.” This is bad reporting because, as noted, the U.S. leadership never ended the Cold War and never saw containment as an obsolete strategy. It would brook no rival of any kind, however friendly or regional.

Since Ukraine is not (yet) a member of NATO, the U.S. government would not have the same formal obligation to intervene should a shooting war break out between Ukraine and Russia. But what if something happens between Russia and Poland or one of the Baltic states? Under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, an attack on one member is regarded as an attack on all. But it also says,

If such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. [Emphasis added.]

That amounts to wiggle room, but Americans should not be comforted. Could Obama withstand the immense pressure he would face to intervene directly if open hostilities broke out? How would he handle what David Brooks of the New York Times calls Obama’s “manhood problem”? (Apparently, one is manly to the extent one is willing to risk a senseless war.)

The U.S. government’s and news media’s demonization of Putin (who’s no saint) should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that America’s rulers have needlessly provoked the Russians, the coup in Kiev being just the latest example. In 1998, the architect of the postwar containment policy, George Kennan, warned that humiliating Russia by expanding NATO “is a tragic mistake.”

Must we learn this the hard way?

Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman