Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eating Obama's Lunch

I used to work for a large pharmaceutical company. As is the case, I am sure, with all major corporations, this company had an ethnically (and otherwise) diverse workforce. Working in my small department alone were a Ukrainian, a Latvian and a Russian (Jew). On one occasion, the Latvian needed to compose a letter in Russian. He consulted with the Ukrainian who translated the correspondence from English into what he believed to be correct Russian. The Latvian then showed the results to the Russian who burst out laughing when he read the unintentionally funny distorted prose.
I was reminded of this episode by the frequent mention of the currently relevant Hillary Clinton - Sergey Lavrov debacle back in March, 2009. It was then that Clinton presented her Russian counterpart with a Staples style button labeled "Peregruzka". As is now well known, the Russian term translated as "Overcharge", not "Reset" as was intended. That a language expert couldn't be found to correctly translate "Reset" speaks to the incompetence of the Clinton State Department. And the word used wasn't even close. It didn't translate to "reconstruct" or "recompose" or "reconfigure" or some other term resembling "reset".
Bad linguistics wasn't the worst of Clinton's sins of course, those being appeasement and disloyalty to the previous president. Meanwhile, John Kerry's State Department continues the sorry tradition of his predecessor. As he chased Lavrov around Europe in a futile attempt at diplomacy, Russia annexed Crimea. Now they're embarking on the initial stages of its takeover of the Ukraine.

Matthew Kaminski (WSJ - 4/14)

When Russia invaded Crimea and massed 40,000 or more troops in the east, Ukraine turned to an old friend, the United States, and asked for light arms, antitank weapons, intelligence help and nonlethal aid. The Obama administration agreed to deliver 300,000 meals-ready-to-eat. As this newspaper reported Friday, military transport planes were deemed too provocative for Russia, so the food was shipped by commercial trucks. The administration refused Kiev's requests for intelligence-sharing and other supplies, lethal or not.

Bret Stephens (WSJ - 4/8) had some advice for the Russian president last week which he has apparently heeded.

If I were Vladimir Putin I'd invade eastern Ukraine this week. Strike while the iron is hot.

Never again will the taking be so easy. Never again will the government in Kiev be so helpless. Never again will the administration in Washington be so inept, its threats so hollow. Never again will the powers in Europe be so feeble and dependent. Never again will Western monetary policy do so much to prop up energy prices.

...Mr. Obama has a habit of underestimating his foes. He thought al Qaeda was on the run. He thought Bashar Assad would be gone by now. He thinks Iran will abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief. He thinks of Vladimir Putin as the kid with the bored expression, slouching in the back of the classroom.

News for the law professor. That kid is smarter than you are. He's bored because you bore him. He's about to eat your lunch.

Daniel Henninger, in today's WSJ, laments the start of Cold War 2.0.

We are close to the Putin endgame in Ukraine. On Wednesday troop-filled trucks flying Russian flags were seen in eastern Ukraine's cities.

...In Western Europe and the U.S., the Cold War, which lasted from 1947 until 1991, is barely taught in schools. It's just a phrase for most of the young and a dimming memory for others. The West's intellectuals often diminish the significance of the Cold War. They say it didn't matter much, that the Soviet Union unwound on its own. No small number of these thinkers were half-sorry to see this "flawed" experiment in income-equality fail.

...If you tried to leave an Iron Curtain country, you could be imprisoned or shot. It may be that Cold War 1.0 was in large part about the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union, but for the tens of millions who lived in Eastern and Central Europe, it was about 50 years of paranoia, imprisonment, shattered careers, moral compromises and daily obeisance to the Soviet Union, aka Russia. Whenever one hears that we in the West have been unmindful of Mr. Putin's "historic" interests in Ukraine, one wants to suggest for further reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" or Vaclav Havel's "The Power of the Powerless."

The dictators who ran the so-called Eastern Bloc countries for the Soviets had names like Ceausescu, Honecker, Jaruzelski, Hoxha and Kadar. It seemed as if they would rule behind their Iron Curtain forever because the Red Army to the east had their backs. Then in the 1970s, a determined internal opposition developed. They had names like Havel, Walesa and Wojtyla. Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, called "the Polish pope" because he fought there against the unfree society designed by Vladimir Putin's predecessors.

Now the battle for Ukraine is ending without much more than a yawn in Washington, London, Paris and most ironic of all, the Berlin that the Cold War divided in two. In 1947, President Harry Truman, a Democrat, began a year-long allied airlift to supply Soviet-occupied and isolated Berlin. The Berlin airlift broke the blockade. Nobody running the West would do that now.
The WSJ notes that "The crisis is distracting attention from Mr. Obama's short-term economic agenda in a vital election year..." Yes, it throws a kink in his campaign fundraising schedule.

Obama is like the pacifist in "Saving Private Ryan". The guy who walks around with a high powered gun and countless rounds of ammunition on his person but is too afraid and morally conflicted to act even as others are bravely fighting and dying around him. Both scenes are frustrating to watch.

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