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Is President Obama right to go along with the European allies imposing sanctions, more sanctions and further sanctions on Russia? Notwithstanding the fact that economic sanctions on any country punish the people more so than the “ruling faction”, the objective is almost always never achieved, Cuba, Syria, North Korea come to mind. Although the intent (of the sanction) is to arouse the people against the ruling party or the leader, the outcome is however almost always unpredictable. If history is any guide, one could simply look at the situation in North Korea to get a preview how the sanctions on Russia would play out. Contrary to North Korea however, Russia “economic isolation” can only be partial and very limited in nature. In addition, the United States would tread in dangerous territories if the Obama administration (or any administration for that matter) were to pursue the route of freezing up or seizing assets owned by Russian top level officials overseas. In other words, unless the United States (and allies) is prepared to go to war with Russia, the economic sanctions strategy is at best useless. As it stands today, Mr. Putin is widely popular in the way he’s running the country and the Russians have already condemned the “West’s trigger happy” attitude. It is quite possible that the Russians would blame the West for whatever economic ill the country would endure. Up to this point, the West has sparked nationalism in Russia, just the opposite what the sanctions intended.
By any analysis, economic sanctions on any country are meant to achieve one objective, that of forcing (more like coercing) the hands of the country’s leader, to force him to comply with whatever another country perceives as good, better. The public statement of the “Enforcer (country)” usually suggests that the outcome, if the “Enforcee (country)” complies, would benefit the people. What’s peculiar is that the Enforcer would go as far as going to war with the Enforcee in an effort to materialize the “public statement”. The objective can only be achieved however if 1) the country elects its leaders through democratic process 2) the current leader fears s/he would lose a grip on power. Obama (and the European allies) latest’ sanctions on Russia has a very specific goal, to force Mr. Putin to reverse course in regards to Moscow’s plan for Ukraine (whatever the West may think that is); incidentally, the Obama administration has already shown his hands to the world while Mr. Putin has kept everyone guessing.
The biggest question remains, what business is it of the United States to interfere in other countries’ affairs? It seems US has a very short memory span when it comes to lesson in history, from arming the Afghans against the Soviet Union – turned into Al-Qaeda – to arming Iraq against the war with Iran – turned into a brutal dictatorship – to now supporting the Ukrainian government which will undoubtedly fall into Russia’s hands (the best case scenario) – It has already begun with Crimea – We need to pause for a moment to figure out what exactly the United States wants to achieve in a world that’s shrinking, splitting and re-making itself.
For well over a century, US has been involved in wars, most of which were unjustified, some of which were downright based on the whims of presidents and others simply to show off or test U.S. war power. For the past five decades, the U.S. government has ratcheted up the rhetoric which had led to wars that are financially detrimental to the country’s economy and emotionally stressful for servicemen, their families, and the public in general, all for the sake of satisfying the prideful ideology of being the number-one superpower in the world, capable of destroying anyone in its path. We don’t do that, no way; we would never act so nonsensically. We only bomb countries that don’t have democracy (translation: countries that do not embrace America style of democracy) or for kicks and giggles if we simply do not agree with the way the country is run.
Even when there was nothing to fuss about, US would inject itself into other countries’ affairs looking for a reason to take the country to war. When the Obama administration ascended to power however, the world awoke to a leader who vowed to avoid conflicts as much as possible; as such, the Obama administration initiated — behind the scene — a number of preliminary negotiations with Iran, Syria and, yes, even North Korea. As expected, Obama’s strategy paid off; Syria agreed to have the United Nations remove and destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons; Iran had been back at the negotiating table for a nuclear deal agreement; and North Korea, well it’s a very different story but all hope is not lost. So, it is somewhat troubling to grasp the strategy of antagonizing Mr. Putin. If it is a strategy, it is due to fail. It is illogical and shortsighted to embrace the idea that the only route to craft a solution for the impasse with the Ukraine-Russia crisis is through force, coercion, sanctions and threats of sanctions.
Picture a similar approach by Russia when US was preparing to attack Iraq despite the overwhelming worldwide opposition to the attack; imagine what our government reaction would have been. Diplomacy in US seems to refer to a very specific approach, do as I say or else. After the glaring fiasco in Iraq, US’ stand in the world stage was at a historic low. Unfortunate for Mr. Obama, he inherited a situation that needed fixing. Sadly however, the approach to International Relations has not changed much regardless of which party is in the White House. Ironically, the Republicans have accused Mr. Obama of making U.S. look weak in the world stage; it is not however Mr. Obama’s doing. It’s a world reaction that’s been brewing under the surface for well over half-century and has now spilled over; the indiscriminate attacks and bombings of other countries (that do not agree with US policy), the assassinations of other countries’ leaders (who’d embrace a different doctrine), the dangling threats of their removals by a foreign entity and the perpetual fear their disagreement with US’ dictate spell dooms to their political career, and yes even a long list of wrongdoings to allies have put US in the predicament it is in today. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination Obama’s doing. US War arsenals cannot change that. US must learn to be a trusted broker, a patient negotiator and an honest ally if we ought to regain our standing in the world. The use of force or threat to use force today contributes a great deal to undermine the very image a show of force used to warrant in the past. And it’s just a matter of time before serious challenges push US beyond the humiliation line. It’s still time however to be humble today or be humiliated tomorrow. It is still time for US to regain the image it once had. A strong man commends respect not by crushing the weak or threatening the crippled but rather by expressing empathy, understanding and extending help when appropriate.
It is already obvious that the world community has a distaste for bullies and US is at the top of the list in the world stage. Who among us finds it okay to be pushed around by someone, anyone? Even the weakest would make provision to cope with such predicament. Much like UN, US is teetering in the brink of irrelevancy in the world stage, for the abuse of its power is no longer accepted in a world where Heads of States want to be treated as equal. As such, US-Russia dilemma (over Ukraine) is not so much about the situation in Ukraine, it’s rather the beginning of an attitude that systematically rejects doing something because US orders it done. It is without doubt that the more sanctions are imposed on Russia, the less likely any progress will be made, let alone getting Russia’s cooperation. One needs not be a Diplomat, one needs not be an expert in Russian politics to figure out that the approach by the West is at best useless. The hardliners in Russia dreamt of a time when they could become relevant again, and the West has handed them the opportunity in a silver platter.
The question is not even so much what Mr. Putin is thinking, what his next move would be, whether he would come back to the negotiating table. Well, scratch the last option. For the Experts in the country, the Advisors in Washington and the Strategists of the West, diplomacy requires patience, more patience, a lot of patience and some more patience. In addition, if one party feels it is losing, there will be no progress, no deal. If one party feels it’s being pushed to accept, to agree, there will be no deal. If one party feels the other gains more, there will be no deal. Most importantly, if one party goes public with the negotiation outcome – unless it’s finalized and all parties agree to it – the deal is off. Equally important is if one party shows its hands, it’s kind of over. Any casual observer can easily see that the West has already violated most of the “no no” of diplomacy in the Russia dilemma. What may change the equation is if Mr. Putin decides to spread some of his personal love towards the West, from Russia with love.
Follow Mike Ducheine on Twitter: @mducheiney
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