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Poroshenko Goes to Washington
US to Ukraine: Good Luck, and Have a Nice Day

On a visit to Washington, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke before a joint session of Congress, asking the United States to stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression. More specifically, he asked for increased military aid, including weaponry, which the U.S. has not so far provided, and for Ukraine to be granted a special non-NATO ally status, a request that received a standing ovation. The Washington Post reports:

Poroshenko urged lawmakers to provide more political support, as well as “military equipment, both lethal and non-lethal” to Ukrainian soldiers. “Blankets and night-vision goggles are important,” he said. “But one cannot win a war with blankets.”

On Wednesday morning, the White House announced a further $53 million in aid to Ukraine — but no military assistance. Including the latest installment, the United States has provided $219 million in aid to that nation so far this year.

The Ukrainian president, who received several standing ovations, urged Congress “not to let Ukraine stand alone in the face of this aggression” and asked for “special, non-allied partner status” for Ukraine.

Asked on CNN later about Obama’s response to the special non-NATO ally status plea, Poroshenko said that President Obama gave him a flat “no.” The Senate Foreign Relations committee, however, unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Senators Corker and Menendez granting Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia that status. The bill is expected to reach the floor in November.

The Administration still seems to misunderstand the way that Putin thinks and acts. Putin is clearly testing U.S. commitments over time—previously with his war in Georgia, now with the conflict in Ukraine—and he is already stepping up the pressure on the Baltic republics. In an early example of this, Russian forces kidnapped an Estonian official in his home in early September. Estonia is a NATO member, and the kidnapping came two days after an Obama visit meant to demonstrate US resolution and support in the face of Russian pressure. Meanwhile, Poroshenko alleged to the European Commission that Putin privately threatened to invade Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states.

The anemic and apologetic response of western governments to repeated Russian provocations appears to have persuaded Putin that the west lacks the stomach for anything beyond economic sanctions that, it seems, Putin has decided that he can withstand.

Whatever his intentions, President Obama is doing an excellent job of making Putin believe that the American president is all bark and no bite: that he will make speeches and empty gestures but that his ultimate goal is to avoid a U.S.-Russia confrontation at all costs.

Unfortunately, this course of action is more likely to lead to escalating crises and an ultimate confrontation with Russia than a tough stand up front. American public opinion is less patient that the president; at some point the provocations will be so grave or so explosive that public sentiment will flip over into Jacksonian anger and President Obama will be forced to follow a public opinion that he can no longer control.

This has already happened in Iraq; Obama isn’t bombing the country and (despite denials) putting a growing number of American boots back on Iraqi ground because he wants to. He’s doing it because no other course is open to him. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and his growing pressure on the Baltics risk triggering the kind of sudden turn in American public opinion about eastern Europe that we’ve already seen in the Middle East, and Obama’s long months of passivity and temporizing in the face of Russian provocations and insults are steadily undercutting his standing with many people in Washington and beyond.

President Obama is on the verge of losing the confidence of Congress — the Democratic Senate as well as the Republican House. The resolution on Ukraine and its neighbors is one sign of that; the searching criticism his Syria strategy received from both parties is another. Too many senior people in Washington have come to believe that the emperor has no clothes, and Congress is moving to assert itself in his place. The vote of no-confidence that the Foreign Relations bill represents is an ominous sign; Iran’s negotiators, for example, are assessing the White House’s eroding influence on Capitol Hill and drawing conclusions about the President’s ability to steer the kind of agreement they want through the Senate.

The last thing this country needs is a foreign policy of equal parts arrogance, militarism and bluster. President Obama’s instinct that we need a quiet life is right. But the tragedy that threatens to engulf the administration is that too many of the actions he takes in the hope of avoiding conflict are those that both signal weakness abroad and make him weak at home.

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  • Palinurus

    I suspect Putin would say of Obama much the same as Khrushchev did Adenauer, when Comrade K famously remarked: If Adenauer pulls his pants down and you look at him from behind, you can see that Germany is divided. If you look at him from the front, you can see Germany will not stand. Mutatis mutandis, and there you go.

  • Pete

    ” ……he [Putin] may end up doing something that so upsets the American public that the President is suddenly forced to change course, as happened with the U.S. troops in Iraq.”

    Don’t bet on that. The public is sick of foreign entanglements.
    Watch how fast the so-called public support for involvement in
    Syria & Iraq evaporates.

    • Fred

      That may be true, but if it is, it is extremely unfortunate. If we are so weak and spineless that we react like you predict, quite frankly, we deserve whatever ISIS does to us.

      • J Andris

        Reality check: ISIS was armed by the US in the first place to topple Assad..Now it is a convenient boogeyman to sate the appetite of the war party in Washington D.C..

        • Duperray

          Exact, and after Assad’s dismissal, another flurry of islamism will pop up, armed with US weapons. When will US realize that these people betray everything including themselves?

          • Corlyss

            You guys both talk as if how ISIS got the arms operates as some kind of profound delegitimizing rationale for doing nothing. It’s a historical irony, nothing more. Believe me, if you were being beheaded by a fanatic, you really aren’t going to give a da*mn how he got the knife. I’m struggling with the dimensions of your combined naivete – you sound like a couple of high schoolers.

          • Duperray

            The naïve are not those one thinks. They are in White House and indeed THEY try to do nothing, excepts sand bagging for US population (maintained in a forced state of naïveness by media mongering). The bottom line fact that none has the courage to consider face to face is that we cannot live together with muslims in the same society unless Islam, once for ever, decides to remove the obligation for believers to conquer, master and impose Islam by force, lie, betrayal and in last resort beheading men, raping women. We all await this for 1300 years, so not to occur soon. Consequence is that we can no longer wait and shall declare an official state of war with true islam, fund Holy Lands return for all muslims in one way or another and afterwards rise an hermetic border all around this specific world. If not, brace for endless religious civilian wars, starting in Europe first in comparison with a nuclear war would be almost nothing.

          • Corlyss

            “They are in White House ”
            I’ve been saying that since Jan 20, 2009. One had only to look at Doofus’ resume to get a hint of what we were in for. I had a modicum of hope based on his initial group of advisors, but within a short time it became clear that they were nothing more than “beards” or window dressing to conceal the fact that he wouldn’t listen to anybody but Val and ‘Chelle. The man can’t be taught anything, not even by experience.

        • Fred

          So are you asserting that ISIS is no threat? If that’s the case, I don’t think I’m the one who needs a reality check, especially after the foiled beheading plot in Australia (Yes it was foiled and in Australia, but it clearly demonstrates intent and ability to strike outside the Middle East, and the Australians got lucky. . . this time). If ISIS is a threat, it doesn’t matter a whit where they got their weapons (assuming you are even correct about that); they need to be dealt with. If we refuse to deal with them out of misguided isolationism on the right and equally misguided pacifism on the left, we do deserve what we get.

    • adk

      Tepid public support for military involvement in Iraq & Syria is, IMO, in large part due to the lack of seriousness of O. and Co. When people see “arrogance and bluster”, plus total incoherence (“we are at war” — “no, we are not at war”), what exactly are they supposed to support?

  • Anthony

    Earth to Professor Mead. Russia and the Ukraine are not analogous. Russia has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Iraq doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon. Do Americans, Jacksonian or otherwise, want to risk nuclear war over the Ukraine? I doubt it.

    • Corlyss

      Oh please! A little backbone in Doofus wouldn’t risk nuclear war any more than a whole lot of backbone in Reagan did. That’s a canard.

      • Fred

        Absolutely right. To maintain that nuclear war or doing nothing are our only options is a textbook either/or fallacy. Arming the Ukrainians, moving troops into Eastern European NATO allies to draw a clear line, sanctions (to be fair to Obama, though, he’s having a hell of a time getting the Euroweenies to go along with real sanctions) are all viable options short of war, much less nuclear war.

    • adk

      Earth to Anthony: the more we surrender to Putin now, the higher the risk of the really big blowout later. Somehow the US and its allies were not afraid to confront the much stronger Soviet Union during the Cold War.

    • danram

      Oh please … Just stop with the Armageddon talk, OK? It’s absurd.

      The only way the Russians would ever resort to first use of nuclear weapons would be if the very survival of the Russian state itself were being threatened … i.e. if American battle tanks were on the outskirts of Moscow. Kicking Putin’s butt out of a couple of thousand square kilometers of southeastern Ukraine doesn’t even begin to rise to that level.

      In fact, Russian military doctrine specifically foreswears first use of nuclear weapons.

      The US should have provided offensive weapons to the Ukrainian military and then provided strategic air support in the form of B-2 bombers, F-22 fighters and AH-64 attack helicopters. The whole thing would have been over with in two days.

      If the Russians complained, we could have just denied that our troops were there just as they’ve consistently denied that Russian troops are there. After all, how can there be any Russian casualties if there are no Russian troops in Ukraine, right?

      All that was needed was a president with the guts to give the order, which is what we don’t have.

  • Corlyss

    Loved the tag line from the PM’s address to Congress about the blankets. Really made the US look feckless and pitiful.

  • Anthony

    Peggy Noonan has a related piece in WSJ (The Unwisdom of Barack Obama).

  • adk

    “The Administration still seems to misunderstand the way that Putin thinks and acts. ” If this is true after all that happened in Syria, Crimea and E.Ukraine, with the “reset” in general, they are a bunch of village idiots (which is probably a fair description.)

    “President Obama is on the verge of losing the confidence of Congress — the Democratic Senate as well as the Republican House.” Now, this is just hilarious. If there’s still any member of Congress who has trust in O. on anything, I have a really nice bridge at a great price.

    “The last thing this country needs is a foreign policy of equal parts arrogance, militarism and bluster.” Arrogance and bluster, sure, in abundance, but what microscope did you use to see militarism from this administration?

    “President Obama’s instinct that we need a quiet life is right.” What a deep thought.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I have been saying here for some time that Obama’s history setting weakness is encouraging strategic overreach from all the authoritarian regimes around the world. It’s not just Putin, China is trying to expand its borders, Tyrants across the Muslim world from Turkey to North Africa are all testing the limits of Obama’s weakness. And what are they finding? That Obama talks big and carries no stick at all. They are all laughing at this empty suit that the stupid Americans elected as President, not once but twice.

    The fact is they are terrified of the US military, they saw our veterans tested and were shocked at the swift cold precision with which they eliminated their opponents. In Iraq and Afghanistan our troops proved that it didn’t matter if they were always ambushed, with the tactical advantages of surprise and the choice of battlefield going to the other side. The Jihadists all knew kinetic battle with American forces was suicide, with kill ratio’s on the order of 20 to 1. This is why they were reduced to IED’s, and these became their primary tactic. Neither the Russians or Chinese if they’re really being honest with themselves believe that their conscripts, who are armed with similar weapons as the Jihadists, would fare much better than the Jihadists. What’s more they would have to fight set piece battles where American forces are even more dominate than in the asymmetrical fights with the Jihadists.

    So when they see Obama cowering while his hand is on the most powerful military the world has seen since the British Empire, they can’t believe their eyes, as they would be conquering the world with such a force. They will keep testing, because it must all be just a trick of the Americans, but they will never stop pushing until they are taught a lesson.

    Obama’s weakness has bought us wars that could have been avoided with a firm principled President, and many will die because the American people couldn’t recognize leftist stupidity and incompetence when it was staring them in the face.

    • J Andris

      You must be really delusional to believe that the task of the US (bestowed by whom exactly?) is to impose its will upon the rest of the world..

      The US enjoyed the status of an empire for the better part of a century but it was exactly its interventionist-policy-on-steroids and its grand but ill-fated Middle East adventure,coupled with its equally arrogant financial practices,that undermined its pillars and hastened its demise.The same “policy” that you are advocating now would risk WW3..

      As for the comparison between the jihadists and Russian or Chinese conscripts in terms of equipment,well,that is enough to discredit your “arguments”..

      • Corlyss

        “the task of the US (bestowed by whom exactly?) is to impose its will upon the rest of the world..”

        That statement alone shows you have no grasp of history.

        “The US enjoyed the status of an empire for the better part of a century.”

        I’m tempted to say, “So? What’s your point?” “Empire” is a dirty word only among those suffering from either severe historical ignorance or ideological obsessions. It’s such a trite “insight” it really doesn’t merit serious consideration. Instead, I’ll just recommend you read Thomas Madden’s Empires of Trust.

        • J Andris

          USA is an empire in denial,but an empire nonetheless..It is only the unwillingness of the “average” American to admit it..This unwillingness is the result of the naive set of beliefs that can be summarized by the notions of exceptionalism that constitute the core beliefs of the American psyche vis-a-vis the world..

          This leads to the very dangerous assumption,an assumption that is pretty much an axiom of the US diplomatic corps,and those that define US foreign policy in general,that what is good for the US of A is good for the world..

          You rightly find the word “empire” dirty,for it is associated with imperialism,arrogance,a policy state at home and military adventurism abroad,a complete disregard for the desires of weaker peoples and nations,the drive to fabricate enemies and wage war,so that the elites that directly benefit materially by running the empire can profit-in a nutshell,US policy for the past 50 years at least..

          Unfortunately most Americans have a very distorted view of how their country is perceived abroad if they even care and lack any sense of historical perspective..

          Let me in turn suggest Niall Ferguson’s “Colossus”,even though I am no fan of the author..For a more in-depth look into history’s workings,Spengler’s “Decline of the West”,is a real classic..

          • Duperray

            Right, I can also recommend to read Joe Costello’s book “Pacific War” printed about 35 years ago after first declassified data set was made available. It depicts the process by which US unwillingly created this war 20 years before, unlashing unknown dirty forces…! I don’t want to criticize US for 1920 doings, everybody make errors. But to replicate the same thing 95 years later with much more propaganda and hysterical political analysis is to blame.
            As long as WW3 is not triggered, no harm from present hysteria, shall US want to show its muscle (5,000 western Europe troops…?) like a kid wanting to impress another one.
            But this little game has profound economic consequences: No-one realizes the massive russian U-turn towards East, the sudden coalescence of many large States gathering almost 50% of Mankind, much more of world resources up to a new Warsaw Treaty, a possible new reserve money and so on. Even if a bit of this fails, it is nevertheless the seed of a massive economic no-return change with unavoidable strategic military modifications.
            And we are not sure how big our own economic damage could be: All this for what?

          • Corlyss

            See my reply to Jay above.

          • Corlyss

            “You rightly find the word “empire” dirty,”
            Not me, dude. I think empire is a neutral word, and I quite love it pushed up against “America.” You guys go pedal your anti-Americanism to someone else.
            It’s funny how Dim ideologues would never think in moral terms unless they are engaged in measuring America’s performance against America’s ideals and find America bad because it is not perfect.

            “Unfortunately most Americans have a very distorted view of how their country is perceived abroad”
            Unfortunately, most non-Americans don’t grasp that 99% of American’s don’t give a d*am*n how the rest of the world perceives us. I’m one of the 99%

          • Duperray

            “99% of American’s don’t give a d*am*n how the rest of the world perceives us. I’m one of the 99%”. I would add more, from part of my family living in US: “99% of people don’t even know the name of the US state they share a border with…”:
            Excellent: This explains why US foreign policy is so much countercyclical and can be summarized as a blind man shooting his guns at random. We could forgive one error but that one who deliberately maintains his eyes closed is deeply guilty. Such a policy brang devastation to US reputation, specially from 2003.
            As long as big money is poured in and no external real challenger exists it’s almost fine. But a massive one is emerging and even it cannot yet challenge US, it’s presently powerful and rich enough to easily take advantage of US rotten foreign policy: China.
            The many foreign middle size states understand this and are currently smoothly re-orientating their foreign policy.

          • J Andris

            Exactly..Arrogance is the path that led to demise every former empire..

            It is not as simplistic as your answer unfortunately implies..By seeking to maintain an empire,the elites that define its policies,are often blinded to the fact that they engage in unnecessary undertakings,mostly wars in far-off lands,that ultimately degrade the national interests they seek to protect and uphold
            The whole middle-east campaign,and its latest ISIS episode is a typical example of such a war,characteristic of the latter stages of an empire..

            Hopefully the next president,god forbid not Hillary-no sarcasm intended-will understand the need to promote a non-friction policy with countries like China and Russia better than Obozo does..

  • MikeB

    I love America dearly, but dispair of its disfunctional stupidities. Ukraine is as traditionally and organically part of the immediate Russian sphere of influence, as Canada is of the United States. It is also an irredeemably failed state with no prospects whatsoever of ever becoming anything else. Therefore I find the spectacle of Americans arguing for intervention in the Ukraine as incomprehensibly bizarre and dumb. Almost as bizarre and dumb as having systematically screwed up of the relationship with the Russian Federation from its outset, or the granting of NATO membership to former members of the Soviet empire. Talk about handing out blank cheques without any credit cover! And no, I am neither Russian nor American, just an ordinary Joe from the antipodes with a capacity to think straight.

    • Pete

      You’re straight thinking leads straight to the truth of the matter.

    • Anthony

      Insightful point of view thanks for sharing.

    • donqpublic

      A concise, cogent, and accurate assessment of reality, and I’m an American. Give the Americans a new toy (Taser, lap top, drones, mortgage backed securities, a volunteer mercenary army) and they will use and abuse those toys in the hopes of doing whatever it is on the cheap for short term benefits but without giving much thought to the long term consequences.

  • BobSykes

    This is exactly backwards. The very aggressive, expansionist policy that the US/EU/NATO has been pursuing against Russia would have inevitably led to nuclear war. Now, with the West backing down and Poroshenko negotiating, we have a chance for peace. And it will be a fair, honest peace.

    Take a look around: Domincan Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Granada, Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq (twice now thrice), Afghanistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and now Ukraine. The US/EU/NATO is the evil empire. They are the principal source of war and terror in the modern world, its only rival Islam. Death and destruction follow them around like a starving puppy.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    I suspect that in the end Obama’s startling incompetence will lead to nuclear war, but it won’t be us versus the Russians. As these various crisis unfold countries that are in zones of tension, such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or around the South China Sea are realizing that they are on their own if trouble comes. My guess is that middle sized countries such as Poland, Saudi Arabia, or Vietnam are going to be shopping for some tactical nukes soon, if they aren’t already. And then, one day, a miscalculation…

  • danram

    Obama is utterly pathetic. His picture should be in the dictionary next to the word “weakness”. He is the worst president in my lifetime. He makes Jimmy Carter look like George Patton.

    His lack of an effective pushback against Putin in Ukraine make a future conflict more likely, not less likely. Putin will press his luck elsewhere at some point in the future. Guaranteed.

    What do you think countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and others who depend on the US for their security are thinking right about now after watching how the Obama administration has blatantly ignored our obligation to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity under the 1994 Budapest memorandum? (And please don’t spout any crap to me about it not being a “legally binding document”. The whole world knows that the Ukrainians would have never given up their nukes if they hadn’t believed that the US would guarantee their borders.)

    I’ll tell you what they’re thinking. They’re thinking “Wow, the Ukrainians shouldn’t have given up their nukes. We should probably get some of our own, seeing as how a US security guarantee isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on these days.”

    Starting to see why the world is going to become a more dangerous place as a result of all of this?

    Every American who voted for this utterly unqualified, spineless empty suit should be ashamed of themselves.

  • IrateScientist

    ” Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and his growing pressure on the Baltics risk triggering the kind of sudden turn in American public opinion about eastern Europe that we’ve already seen in the Middle East…”

    If Putin starts sawing Americans’ heads off on video, you might see Americans getting riled up at him. Otherwise, likely no. At least Putin is not in a big hurry to hand Russia over to the Muslims. Maybe Europe would be better off under his control.

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