Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A Plethora of Bad Excuses

The ability of some people to provide excuses for Putin's aggression is simply astounding.

Which is why I don't really follow The National Interest and have so little respect for the CATO Institute when it comes to foreign policy. Bandow excuses Russian aggression there.


--NATO officials are "happy" to have a foreign threat to justify their existence. That's nice. The people we trust to organize the defense of Europe are suspect because they recognize a threat to Europe.

--We should support Putin because he's relatively restrained in his aggression contra Russian public and elite opinion at home. Oh yeah, I'm feeling grateful. Question: What if Putin's "restraint" is caused by insufficient (right now) military means? What if his restraint evaporates with military rearmament?

--Russia doesn't threaten America or "old Europe" and is just trying to revive the Russian Empire to protect its borders rather than revive the Soviet Union with a global ideological threat.

First, let's overlook Russia's massive nuclear weapons stockpile, I guess.

But why is threatening "new Europe" okay and understandable? Why isn't the strength that Russia would gain with conquests there not threatening to "old Europe" and therefore America? Why is it okay for Russia to protect their borders by expanding them westward? Just where do we draw the line and make a stand? The Oder River? The Rhine River? Hadrian's Wall?

And will the Russians recognize when they try to cross a line between territory that doesn't threaten us and territory that does threaten us? Even Bandow makes that distinction.

Are we really to believe that the weakened NATO that overall spends little with even less to show for it in military capability is actually a military threat to Russia as Putin alleges?

--And let me quote this at length for all its wondrous glory of excuse-making:

Mikhail Saakashvili’s Georgia was actively anti-Russian, pursued close ties with America and sought membership in NATO—all certain to antagonize Moscow. Abkhazia and South Ossetia had resisted Georgian control in the past, giving Russia an easy means to weaken Tbilisi and pay back NATO over the latter’s dismemberment of Serbia, with historic ties to Moscow. (Russia’s defense of Belgrade helped turn an assassination into World War I.)

Seriously? Can you blame Georgia for being anti-Russian? Why doesn't Georgia have a right to be anti-Russian? Why isn't Russia's government supposed to wring their hands about "why do they (Georgians) hate us?" and figure out ways that is Russia's fault? Why doesn't Georgia have the right to associate with America and NATO?

And hilariously enough, according to Bandow, unlike Georgia's dislike of Russia, the dislike of Georgia by the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia actually justified Russia's absorption of those territories!

And seriously? Russia is justified in holding a grudge over NATO's defense of Kosovo against Serbian killing campaigns in 1999 because--wait for it!--an Austro-Hungarian member of the royal family was assassinated by Serbian nationalists in 1914 and Russia's defense of Serbia in that pre-World War I crisis justifies anger over anything done regarding Serbia nearly a century later? Are you effing kidding me? The Brezhnev Doctrine had nothing on the Bandow Wayback Doctrine that finds any interest anywhere no matter how far back in time you have to go as justification for military action now! So what part of the former Soviet Union's empire is outside the bounds of the Wayback Rule if Serbia falls under it?

--Bandow excuses Russian aggression against Ukraine by saying that Ukraine matters more than Georgia (so logically, if it's okey dokey to rampage over Georgia ...) based on historical and cultural reasons as well as interest in the Sevastopol bases that Ukraine leased to Russia. And really, he says, Russia was restrained in its aggression by taking "only" Crimea and parts of the Donbas region. And Putin only attacked after Ukraine tried to reject Russia and turn to the West. Putin's aggression, Bandow says, is "on par" with our military campaigns!

Say, who breaks it to Cuba that our base at Guantanamo Bay justifies taking parts of Cuba? (But don't worry, just parts of it--not all--so it is okay.)

With so much importance attached to Ukraine, where is the logical stopping point for taking Ukrainian territory? The Dnepr River? The border of Poland and Romania? As for the "on par" slur, just what military campaigns have we gone on in the last century that annexed anything at all? And the notion that Russia accepted Ukrainian independence until Ukraine exercised that independence to turn to the West is mind boggling. Yes, Ukraine was free to follow any foreign policy it liked--as long as Russia approves. Who says all conservatives lack nuance!

--And then, to get to the point of his article that the Baltic States have nothing to fear from Russia, he argues that Putin has no interest in controlling anybody who resists Russian control, Bandow says that the Baltic states would resist and that the ethnic Russians in those states have no interest in being controlled by Russia. So no worries. So no reason for NATO to worry. 

Indeed, if Russia did take the Baltics, a somewhat magical chain of events would follow that would wreck Russia without us doing anything at all.

Really, that latter thing is what he says.

As for resistance deterring modern Russia from wanting to control territory. Ask the Chechens. Ask the Ukrainians in the Donbas who continue to resist. That the Soviet Union and Russia before that once held these Baltic State territories despite the hostility of the residents is dismissed.

Really, when protection of Russia's borders is so important to Russia, as Bando explains, why would the prospect of resistance by the tiny Baltic states deter Russia? Ask Finland about how Russia treated their resistance to Russian control when the Soviets wanted a buffer zone to protect then-Leningrad in 1939. (With a bonus that Russia wanted all of Finland but settled for border regions when that mission exceeded their military's powers to achieve.)

And who says that ethnic Russian opinions actually matter to what Russia claims is their opinion? How many ethnic Russians in Crimea really wanted to be annexed to Russia? What of those who disagreed? How many ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine really want Russia to battle over them and ultimately control them? Russia cares not one bit about ethnic Russians except as an excuse to speak for them to expand Russia's borders.

Mind you, Bandow has a point that the Baltic states at the edge of Russia's aggressive posture should spend more on defense. But Russia is our renewed foe whether anybody else helps out or not. And the Baltics can't hold off Russia whatever they spend.

But if Russia advances through "new Europe," that will put Russian troops back to positions where they threaten "old Europe." And then, as I'm sure CATO will advise, we can retreat back across the Atlantic as they note that "old Europe" doesn't spend enough on defense. They didn't spend enough during the Cold War. Why would we expect more now?

Or, in a real demonstration of nuance, they'll argue that increased NATO defense spending will only justify Russian worries.

And besides, a chain of events resulting in the destruction of the new Russian empire will be triggered by their advance to the English Channel!

I hate using a technical term, but this entire exercise in excusing Russian aggression is "stupid."

UPDATE: This position that absolves Putin of any guilt from the isolationist, excuse-making right fits nicely with the left that (as this PBS video shows)--even after all that Putin's Russia has done and said--if NATO reacts by arming up, a new Cold War would be NATO's fault.

The video has both sides of the question speaking, but the notion PBS sets out that it is understandable that Russia would seek to dominate former Soviet republics is troubling. Once Russian, always Russian?

That's bad enough. But then the notion put forth that Russia wouldn't touch the Baltic states because they were independent states before World War II ignores that they only became independent after World War I and had in fact been part of Russia for a long time. Why would Russia see these states as something separate?

The viewer is left with the impression that Russia has understandable ambitions that we should not stop, that Russia would not go beyond those understandable ambitions, and that NATO reamament would just provoke the Russians.