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Overselling the Stakes in Crimea

russian-troops-ukraine

My first piece for The Hill, ”Crimea is not Armageddon,” posted this morning.

[M]uch of the reaction to the crisis has been over-the-top. Normally sage analysts like Zbigniew Brzezinski are drawing comparisons with the Mafia, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin. One such response, alas, was “Russian invasion of Ukraine demands NATO response,” published in this space by my friend and colleague Jorge Benitez, editor of the indispensable NATOSource blog.

Benitez argues that “There is a broad sense in the United States and across the world that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is Obama’s Cuban missile crisis.” Not only is there little evidence that such a consensus exists–even Sen. John McCain (R-Artiz.) opposes U.S. military intervention–the comparison illustrates how little is at stake. The showdown over Soviet missiles in Cuba was as close as we’ve come to nuclear Armageddon.  The Strategic Air Command was ordered to DEFCON 2. By contrast, the biggest threat looming here is tossing Russia out of the G-8 and the WTO to go along with not sending a U.S. presidential delegation to the Sochi Paralympic Games.

Nor is it all obvious why this is “the most dangerous crisis in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” much less “a watershed in European history.” ’After all, the Balkan Wars of the 1990s killed some 130,000 people and displaced nearly 4 million.  Arguably, the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia was a bigger deal. Not only was actual bloodshed involved but Russian troops went well into Georgia proper, not just the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For now, at least, it looks like Putin will stop with the Crimea.

Much more at the link.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    But you don’t understand. This is what the neo-cons and hawks have been waiting for since the fall of the USSR – the reappearance of the Soviet/Russian existential threat that justifies their desire to refight the Cold War. I’m sure half the articles out there were written long ago and had ‘fill in the blanks’ for the threat du jour to justify a return to status quo ante.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  2. al-Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    Benitez argues that “There is a broad sense in the United States and across the world that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is Obama’s Cuban missile crisis.”

    How on Earth did he make that statement with a straight face? I would correct that assertion as follows:

    There is a broad sense in the United States and across the world The Republican Party is asserting that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is Obama’s Cuban missile crisis.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    Russia can have the Crimea. In exchange for Edward Snowden.

    But that´s just me thinking like President Frank Underwood..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. James Joyner says:

    @DC Loser: @Again, Zbieg Brzezinski is saying the same sort of thing. Neither are neocons and neither wants war with Russia. Both, in my estimation, overstate the Russian threat generally as well as the threat from this incident.

    al-Ameda: Jorge says (via email) that he simply means this is Obama’s biggest foreign policy moment, as the CMC was Kennedy’s, not that the two are equivalent. But I”m not even sure that’s right. I’d argue the stupid Afghan Surge and the mishandling of the Arab Spring are more likely to be emphasized by history.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Was the “spring” just a season? And even then without purely positive energy? If so, there might not have been much to be constructively played. As if rape gangs in Egypt could have been redirected to enlightened democracy by smooth talk.

    (On the ludicrous missile crisis comparison, the less on it being “literal” the better.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. michael reynolds says:

    People think in analogies. Therefore this is Hitler in Czechoslovakia or Polk and Mexico, choose your poison. But really all foreign policy in this country is seen in terms of domestic politics. Americans remain ignorant and parochial. People who three weeks ago thought Ukraine was a species of waterfowl now see it as a do or die referendum on the President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  7. Tyrell says:

    Let me say from the start that I am not in favor of getting involved in these no exit strategy, no win, brush wars in countries that do not have any plans for democracy, that do not respect the rights of their people. What we are seeing now is Russia returning to the 40’s – 70’s policies of invade, conquer, subject, and brutalize whole populations of countries around the globe, and dare any other country to do something about it. A time when Russia was running around trying to take over everything. Russian and China are increasing their military budgets. The US is reducing theirs. What message does this send ? England has said that it will not even vote on any sort of sanctions. What message could this send except the “Chamberlain” syndrome ? Italy and France have offered basically meaningless actions. Germany has not indicated what it will do.
    The US needs also to be alert to any actions in Central and South American countries that could result in expansion of communist – Marxist governments, directed and supported by Russia. The last thing the free world needs is more communism.
    Putin sees a big opening in Europe, a “vacuum” of will, leadership, and principles. He sees this as his opportunity to restore the Soviet system, to dominate and control affairs in Europe, and to prove some sort of superiority to the US leadership and military. He may be counting on some notion that people have forgotten or don’t care what happened in East Germany, Berlin, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And McCain thinks the Cold War never ended, that this is just the next chapter. Never mind learning from history, I would be happy if some of these idiots learned some history. Sigh… I won’t be holding my breath.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. DC Loser says:

    James,

    Zbig has never stopped living in the Cold War. This is his dream come true. Plus, he will be on The Morning Joe show even more than before with this crap going on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. Robert says:

    In response to Tyrell,

    What a dumb comment.
    You really think this is about communism?
    Check your calender..it is 2014.
    There are only two countries currently trying to increase their influence in the world: China (with $) and the US (with bombs).
    Russia…the loss of a warm water port (the Crimea) is an existential threat to Russia…plain and simple. Even I know that.
    The fact that nobody in the Obama administration saw this is criminal.
    At this point in the history of earth, the Ukraine is cursed by its location…just like Nicaragua was cursed.

    RC

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. Nightrider says:

    Of course Putin’s tactics stink. BUT, Crimea was part of Russia (nut just the USSR) until 1954, its population is majority Russian, and if the people of Crimea vote in a legitimate election that they want to rejoin Russia, haven’t we all seen worse things than for that to be allowed to happen? Though I have no idea what sort of prospects there are for a “legitimate election” there now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. Jr says:

    I have to laugh at the Cuban Missile Crisis comparison. There were damn nukes 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This is……Ukraine, we have literally no interest in that country what so ever. Seriously, we have hard on for the Cold War in this country. Russia is more of an annoyance then a true global political threat to the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    Zbig’s judgement is suspect in this area, he’s an ex-pat Pol. PTSD, but the “S” stands for something else. To many ex-pat’s in every Russian there is a Stalin trying to get out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Lounsbury says:

    @dazedandconfused: Expat not ex-pat. bothers me this provincial illiteracy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. stonetools says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Well, its expat Pole. I agree, Zbig is less interested in the Crimea, much less Ukraine, than in Ukraine’s neighbor. As a Pole, he knows the history. He knows that that most of western and central Ukraine used to be Polish territory, before the Russian Empire began expanding north and west..He knows too that Poland itself has been under Russian and Soviet domination for most of the last 220 years.Not surprisingly, he gets antsy when the Russian military begins to move.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But really all foreign policy in this country is seen in terms of domestic politics.

    Agree here. I dn’t know enough about Russian politics, but I’m betting that Putin wants an easy foreign policy success to distract the Russians from the stagnating economy at home.
    “Great” powers have been doing this from time immemorial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. wr says:

    @Tyrell: “The US needs also to be alert to any actions in Central and South American countries that could result in expansion of communist – Marxist governments, directed and supported by Russia. The last thing the free world needs is more communism.”

    Yes, let’s send the CIA down their to help subvert democratically elected governments and install military dictatorships that will torture, murder and disappear anyone they don’t like, just like in the 79s and 80s. Because our preference in political systems is far more important than anyone else ‘s freedom to choose their own form of government, or to live free from the threat of imprisonment and torture.

    You, sir, are a Great American!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. wr says:

    @Robert: “At this point in the history of earth, the Ukraine is cursed by its location…just like Nicaragua was cursed.”

    Nicaragua was “cursed” by a bunch of criminals in the White House who were so desperate to undo its democratically elected government that they were willing to sell arms to Iran to fund an army of bloodthirsty murderers.

    Or, as Tyrell would say, Freedom!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  19. Robert says:

    @wr:

    Agree 100%.

    RC

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0