Letter: U.S. credibility under scrutiny


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We all know that Ukrainians have risen up against the authoritarian and corrupt government that ruled their country. They have flushed out and drove away President Yanukovych the architect of that thoroughly bad regime.

As the United States and its democratic, European allies weighs the possible options to counteract Russia’s military moves in Ukraine and Crimea, let’s talk about how we got to where we are.

We all know that Ukrainians have risen up against the authoritarian and corrupt government that has ruled their country. They have flushed out President Yanukovych, the architect of the regime, and driven him from the country. We also are seeing the Russians and Russian speaking Ukrainians, mostly in the east of Ukraine, strike back. Russian President Vladimir Putin is now pushing to crush the infant democratic spring that is trying to take root in Ukraine. 

Unfortunately, this is an old Russian and Soviet habit. They have always been very protective of their borders and of the ethnic Russians who have migrated to nearby countries, the so-called “near abroad.”

The United States and the Europeans have twice been faced with foreign policy challenges of this scale in eastern Europe.

In 1956, the Hungarian people started a revolution against the Soviet established government. As the revolution turned in favor of free and democratic rule, and against the Communist government that had been imposed by the Soviets, Moscow invaded Hungary and crushed the democratic government. The West and US stood by and did nothing, except lament about how brutal the Soviets are. Strike one against the credibility of NATO and the Americans’ resolve to back Eastern European democracies and push back against the Soviets.

A second democratic revolution erupted in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. As the forces of freedom gained footing and Prague became a free city, the Soviets once again rolled out tanks and crushed the young and frail democracy. Strike two. Once again the West protested and the US grumbled, but there was no price to the Soviets.

Now the Ukrainians have risen up and are trying to move towards a more Western-European oriented nation. They are a country that would discard the Russian domination that has shacked them for so long. 

The Russian challenge to democracy in Ukraine is the third major challenge of self-determination and freedom in Central Europe. It would be wise to remember that international power is best exercised from a position of strength and credibility. Many critics have argued in the past few days that there is some doubt given the Obama administration’s failures in Libya, Syria, Iran, Egypt and Afghanistan about both the strength and credibility of American foreign policy. In all of these, the West, democracy and freedom have failed and the US has stood by as things went south. Afghanistan will, I’m afraid, soon fall apart and parts of the country will collapse back into the hands of the Taliban and extremists. 

The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his great book on war, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

We only hope that President Obama knows himself and also his Russian adversary.  I’m afraid that this could be three strikes and the West is out in terms of credibility. That will make the world a much more dangerous place.