In the last several days much hot air has been expended discussing the downing of a Malaysian airliner killing all 298 aboard. The atrocity was ostensibly committed by separatist forces using a Russian BUK missile. The question under debate has been how much responsibility lies with Russia and their maximum leader Vladimir Putin. Duh.
Putin has made no secret of his long term aim to reconstitute the old Soviet bloc, by stealth if possible by force if necessary. So far Georgia and Crimea have succumbed to his vile embrace. The West may have said no, no, no but did nothing to stop him. As the old song says, “You lips tell me no, no, but there’s yes, yes in your eyes.
Now his puppets in Ukraine, egged on my Moscow, armed by Putin, and aided and abetted by Russian troops and advisors, are on he way to taking the next chess piece. Are the Russians responsible? Of course. To teach them a lesson we’ve imposed a few sanctions, tougher on our part than that of the Europeans who have stupidly made themselves dependent on Mother Putin’s oil.
But let’s face it, we have no room to boast. For fifty years repulsive Arab oil regimes have had their way with us. As long as the West is unwilling to kick the oil habit or find other pushers, it will have to tolerate any regime that can provide the next fix, no matter how corrupt, sleazy or inhumane.
It’s possible the latest atrocity will galvanize public opinion. The U.S. media have certainly given the event the full O.J. Treatment 24/7, but that’s unlikely to affect policy. The Europeans, who lost most of the victims, are suitably appalled but won’t want to see their economy grind to a halt, the lights go out or be willing to spend a winter without heat.
In a sane world, it might be possible to tell the Russians that we bear them no ill-will as long as hey stay within their borders, that we will continue to mainline all the oil they can pump on one condition. Vladimir and his thugs have got to go.
But oil has been good for Russia’s economy and Putin has given himself the credit. He now sports an 80 percent approval rating. That sure beats President Obama, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and David Cameron. This disparity owes a lot to the fact that most Russians get their news from WKGB-Moscow. We may know Putin lies every time he opens his mouth, but the only fact-checking Russians can do is with with he Secret Police.
Those of us old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis will recall a time when it was possible to influence world opinion. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson presented a masterful indictment of the Soviets for covertly putting offensive missiles in Cuba while consistently denying it. Stevenson came armed with U-2 photos that allowed him to clearly demonstrate the truth and expose the lies on a world stage with an unforgettable bravura performance.
Undoubtedly we have he goods on Putin, given today’s far more sophisticated and ubiquitous spyware — from satellite imaging and drone surveillance to NSA monitoring of internet, phone and radio traffic. But we have never recovered from the squandering of our moral authority in 2003.
Then, Colin Powell was sent to the U.N. to lend his reputation for integrity to the claim that Saddam Hussein had WMD. In an imitation of Stevenson’s star turn 40 years earlier, he came armed with visual aids and righteous indignation. Alas, it turned out that George Tenet, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush had provided him with information as fraudulently as anything Putin is saying now. The Brits swallowed their doubts and followed our lead. They lived to regret it. Most of the Europeans were skeptical and their skepticism was vindicated. It is hard to reclaim your moral authority when people have learned to distrust you.
Everyone knows Putin is conniving to return one straying neighbor after another to the Russian fold, now styled the Eurasian Economic Union. Georgia is gone, Belarus and Kazakstan were sucked further into the Russian orbit in May, Crimea went next, now Ukraine. No one is willing to risk paying a high price in blood, treasure, higher oil prices and lower economic performance to do anything about it.
After Iraq and Afghanistan, few at home have any interest in our taking the lead and few abroad would follow. The next courses on Putin’s menu — the poor Baltics, Romania, perhaps, Poland — have every reason to be very afraid. Several have joined NATO, but has NATO joined them? If the performance of the allies in the Malaysian airliner case is any guide, the cavalry won’t be riding to their rescue.