Obama Can’t Force Putin’s Hand On Ukraine Unilaterally And Dick Cheney Knows It

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President Barack Obama leaves the podium after speaking about the situation in Ukraine, Thursday, March 6, 2014, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. The president said a referendum for Ukraine’s Crimea region to separate and become part of Russia would violate international law. At left, press secretary Jay Carney walks forward to continue the briefing. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Dick Cheney‘s cowboy adventurism helped to lead America into an unnecessary war with Iraq back in 2002, but his recent criticism of President Barack Obama‘s diplomatic efforts to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine clearly shows he has yet to learn his lesson.

“No military,” Cheney said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” Sunday morning. “He [President Obama] seems to operate that way most of the time. There are military options that don’t involve putting troops on the ground in Crimea. We could go back and reinstate the missile defense program that was taken out that was originally going to go in Poland, Czech Republic. Obama took it out to appease [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We can do joint training exercises with Poland. We can offer military assistance and equipment to the Ukrainians themselves.”

Russian military forces are currently occupying Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, on the claim that the region’s ethnic Russian population is under threat. This move follows months of protests in Kiev, the capital, and the rest of the country that began, when now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukoyvch refused to sign a pact to integrate Ukraine into the European Union in November. Nearly 100 people died in clashes with state security forces before a new western-leaning government took control. This prompted Putin to react with a false claim that ethnic Russians are under threat. There are reports of Russian forces taking control of key military sites in Crimea as Ukrainian troops are forced to remain calm or face a potential war with Russia. Ukraine is seeking international support to resolve the issue, and Cheney thinks it’s time for Obama to utilize the military.

Rep. Gregory Meeks‘ (D-NY) response Monday morning to the former VP’s comments was on the mark: “Dick Cheney should just keep his mouth shut and stay at home,” he said on MSNBC.

Agreed.

Furthermore, where was Cheney’s bravado when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008? While the U.S. military did train the Georgian military under the “Train and Equip” program, that initiative began in 2002, well before the 2008 war. Moreover, that program was designed to help the Georgian military defend itself against potential local terrorism threats in Pankisi Gorge, a region in Georgia some suspect of being a potential breeding ground for terror activity. That move had nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with helping the country’s military assist with U.S. military efforts in Iraq.

(Georgia sent a higher percentage of troops to Iraq than most of its European counterparts.)

During the eight-day war, the Bush administration observed from a distance and engaged its European counterparts to resolve the conflict diplomatically — just as Obama is doing now.

Outside of condemning Putin for his actions, President George Bush‘s diplomatic bite was hardly felt (or feared) in Moscow, and Russian troops occupy Georgia to this day.

Watch Dick Cheney criticize President Barack Obama on Ukraine here:

Lincoln Mitchell, a political consultant who has written several books on Ukrainian and Georgian politics and has offered consulting services to leaders in the new Ukrainian government, told NewsOne that Obama’s diplomacy has been robust. For one, Mitchell mentioned the marathon phone calls President Obama has made to European capitals to rally support for sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea.

“You can tell yourself whatever story you want and sit at the desk of some think tank and pound your fist on the table and say, ‘We should explore military options,’ but that’s fantasy,” he said. “And as President of the United States, Barack Obama is not charged with carrying out fantasy nor is he charged with keeping alive this neo-conservative  ideology of 10 years ago. So Dick Cheney has as much right to tell Barack Obama that he’s doing a poor job as I do telling Colin Kaepernick that he should have passed better in the NFC Championship.”

Michael Cecire, an associate scholar who specializes in Ukrainian politics at the Foreign Policy Institute in Philadelphia, Pa., told NewsOne that Obama is, in fact, exercising military options in the region that reflect the Administration’s support for Ukraine and other NATO member countries that were former members of the Soviet Union and Communist bloc.

“The White House has already exercised several of those options, such as deploying fighters to the Baltics, AWACS aircraft, fighters, and 300 airmen to Poland, and the guided missile destroyer USS Truxtun under sail in the Black Sea,” Cecire said. “By any estimation, this is a significant military response to the unfolding contingency in Ukraine and certainly more muscular than that of the Bush administration in 2008 (during the Russia-Georgia War).”

Another problem with Cheney’s remarks is his mentioning of the central European missile defense program the Bush administration introduced to the public in 2007 but was tossed by Obama to, according to Cheney, appease Putin. Unless Cheney thinks the American public has a short memory, the Bush administration sold the missile defense system as a national security measure against Iran – not Russia. Putin astutely balked at the plan, arguing that the system, which would have been built in Poland, was a threat to Russia’s national security. Moscow’s fierce resistance and lack of domestic support from Poland forced the Bush administration to recalibrate its commitment to the plan and it essentially stalled.

When the President was sworn into office in 2009, he correctly viewed the system as unpractical for U.S. national security and saw no need to pursue a plan that would antagonize Moscow. Moreover, resurrecting the central European defense system now would make Moscow say, “Aha! You were lying all along about your plans,” thus making Washington’s word at the negotiation table suspect — and rightfully so if you are looking at it from a U.S. diplomacy perspective.

Finally, Cheney must not be following #Ukraine, #Crimea, or #Russia on Twitter because most of the criticism over perceived inaction by the West is actually directed at the the European Union, not Washington.

Maxim Eristavi, a Kiev-based reporter who has covered the Ukraine conflict since its beginnings in November, told NewsOne that most Ukrainians’ ire over the West’s response has been directed at Europe, not Obama and the United States.

“After the European Union failed to act during the crisis, especially after it failed to negotiate the way out of this crisis before the mass massacre in February, the perception of European politicians in Ukraine is worsening day by day. They have no respect from local activists nor from local protesters, and obviously people are looking up only to the United States as the most vocal supporter of the new government. The United States got on board pretty late, but when they got on board, they’ve been pretty harsh on fighting for Ukraine at least diplomatically. The first round of sanctions against Russia are symbolic but are very important for locals who saw it as real help for the first time in months.”

While the E.U. has passed some sanctions, they are far weaker than the ones Washington imposed.

But Cecire says that, even if the United States was able to galvanize U.S. support from the E.U. to enforce highly targeted sanctions against Moscow, it likely would not be enough to force Putin’s hand.

“There may have been a point earlier in the crisis when that may have been effective, but I am not sure there is enough the Euro-Atlantic community, let alone the United States, can do to compel Russia to withdraw without extremely strong sanctions measures,” he said. “But if sanctions were to help resolve the crisis in the immediate term, it would have to be with European support.”

Simply put: there is little Obama can do unilaterally to stop Russia from occupying Ukraine. “Putin did this because he could, not because of something the United States did do or did not do,” Mitchell said.

Translation: Cheney would be wise to heed Rep. Meeks’ advice and put a sock in it.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is an expert on Ukraine, Georgia, and the former Soviet Union. He was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in Ukraine (2009-2010), has written extensively on conflict in Eastern Europe and is a regular guest speaker on the region. He has a Masters degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and a Masters degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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