I know it’s folly to even engage in discussion with Republicans on this topic, but seriously, can some Republican please tell me what exactly we can do about the Russian takeover of Crimea? I keep hearing these Republican politicians yammering about Obama being weak—because they’ve been playing the “Democrats are weak” card for 70 years and they still haven’t figured out anything any more original than that—but seriously, if we had elected Mitt Romney president in 2012, what, exactly, could he have done that would have prevented or reversed what has happened over there? Here’s a hint: the honest answer is “not a damn thing,” short of starting a war, and if you really think that going to war with Russia is an intelligent thing to do, I suggest consulting a couple of fellows named Bonaparte and Hitler and asking how that worked out for them. It’s also worth noting that when Napoleon and the Nazis, respectively, froze their asses off in Russia 130 years apart, the Russians did not yet have a stockpile of nuclear weapons—or you can bet your bottom dollar that Paris and Berlin would have glowed in the dark for decades.
Of course, Obama is blamed for “being weak on Syria” and, thereby, emboldening Russia to invade a country it has no business invading, but I would suggest that our idiotic invasion of Iraq might have set more of an example—and may well have also robbed us of any moral authority or credibility we have to criticize the Russians for their actions. In fact, I could point out that Russia has a much stronger case for its actions in Crimea than we had for our actions in Iraq. The Russians at least can claim, with real justification, that Crimea is historically and ethnically Russian and may well prefer to be part of Russia. We claimed that Iraq was linked to 9-11 and was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, and when those factually challenged claims proved inconvenient, we changed our story to removing a dictator and striking a blow for democracy. I don’t suspect the Russians would have very much respect for any lectures we might want to give them about the appropriateness of armed incursions into other nations.
Now, I know that the Republicans would tell us about that glorious day when Saint Ronnie stood before the Berlin Wall and exclaimed “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” And then he circled the gates, blew his horn three times, and the wall fell. Of course, that’s not exactly the way it happened. What actually happened is that 40-plus years of U.S. containment policy, started by Harry Truman and continued by eight more presidents after him, isolated the Russians and wrecked their economy, and they had to pull back from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to save themselves from collapse. But the Gipper was on the mound when the winning run scored, so naturally, the Republicans give him all the credit, and they like to contrast his “strength” with Obama’s “weakness.” It’s a very simple and satisfying trope, but it’s also complete horse hockey, as Colonel Potter was fond of saying in M*A*S*H.
The bottom line is this: the next time a Republican yammers about Obama being “weak,” ask your Republican friend what another president might do differently. You’ll get an answer, of course, and it will be either 1) vague or 2) unrealistic. Because vague and unrealistic are what they do. But the facts on the ground are pretty simple here: if we want the Russians out of Ukraine, there won’t be a quick or satisfying solution; it will take years of isolation and economic pressure, just as it took to destroy the Soviet empire.