Just days after the end of the Sochi Olympics, Russia is in the news again, but for a totally different reason. We are now almost a week into Russia’s occupation of the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine, and despite widespread international condemnation of Russia’s actions, there is still no resolution to the crisis in sight.
As I was watching CNN on Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice that while both Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agreed that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and advocated similar courses of action, they predictably clashed over Obama’s proposed military budget cuts in light of current events.
I was somewhat shocked, considering the intense partisanship these days, by the (mostly) unified front that Durbin and Graham were presenting on national television. And in this case, that is unsettling. Such bipartisanship is how Bush was able to convince Congress to usurp their constitutional authority to declare war before invading Iraq. Any time there is such broad bipartisan support for a foreign policy action, what results is a stifling of dissent, and a usually bad decision that takes years to rectify.
In particular, I disagree strongly with Graham’s two main assertions: that we need to deter further Russian aggression, and that countries like Iran and China are watching and will react to how America deals with the situation in how they conduct themselves. This is a narrow, ethnocentric viewpoint that fails to acknowledge that other countries do not always care about what America will think when they choose to act.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, is a very smart man. You may not agree with everything that he does, but he’s shrewd and calculating. While Putin may have thought that it was in his interest to occupy Crimea, a region of Ukraine that is majority-Russian speaking and was part of Russia until 1954, he knows his limits and would never invade a country that is a part of NATO, for fear of mutually-assured destruction.
And while Putin is claiming that he intervened under the pretext of protecting human rights and the rights of Russian-speakers, he should have brought the case to the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a member. As of now, Russia is coming off as taking advantage of the chaos in Ukraine to take territory that it sees as its own.
Even so, why should America even consider involving itself in a country that was already in Russia’s sphere of influence? Suppose if Mexico were to collapse and descended into chaos, and America sent troops into Baja California and other border provinces to protect American citizens and assets. Would it be any of Russia’s business to criticize America in this situation? I don’t think it would be.
Additionally, there are neo-Nazi fascist elements within Ukraine that are opposed to Russian intervention. Chechen rebels and Islamic extremists could infiltrate the country as well to fight the Russian occupation. It is not in America’s best interest to give aid to actual and potential enemies, as both the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the current situation in Syria have demonstrated.
As for China and Iran, their dealings with us are far different from what Russia is doing right now. Ukraine was never a national priority, until Russia invaded last week. Iran’s nuclear program and the rise of China have been for quite some time, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. We will not show weakness if we do not take forceful action, rather, it would be a display of restraint, prudence, and tact.
So what’s the best course of action? President Obama has already approved visa restrictions for pro-Russian opponents of the new Ukrainian government, and financial sanctions are likely coming within days. This is an adequate response that deals directly with Russia in a peaceful way instead of getting involved in Ukraine’s internal situation.
Ultimately, Russia violated a sovereign nation and various treaties and international laws when it invaded Ukraine, and therefore should be punished in some fashion. But we should not directly intervene. It is too risky, it is none of our business, and we have far too much to lose with nothing to gain.