Ukraine

Barack Obama and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

Obama Sad

It’s not been a good year for Barack Obama.

Of course, the midterm elections during the sixth year of a two-term president’s time in office are historically bad for the president’s party. In 2006, Democrats defeated President George W. Bush’s party and picked up a net of six seats in the Senate and 31 seats in the House. The 1998 elections held steady for Republicans during President Clinton’s sixth year, and they kept majorities in both chambers.

In 1986, during President Reagan’s sixth year, Democrats picked up eight seats in the Senate, giving them control of the Senate, and gained a net five seats in the House, giving them a massive 258-177 majority. To give context, Republicans are expected to start the next Congress in January with 247 members to the Democrats’ 188 — and that’s historically high for Republicans.

But President Obama’s bad year doesn’t start and end with Election Day 2014. According to Gallup, which has been tracking presidential approval ratings for decades, 2014 is the first year where President Obama’s approval rating never eclipsed his disapproval rating, meaning he has not — at any point this year — had a net positive approval. He has been under water since August 2013 and has not recovered.

National Journal’s James Oliphant writes:

Yes, Rand Paul is the future of the GOP

Over at the American Spectator, Reid Smith and Jamie Weinstein (so much for that “I before E” rule, right?), debate whether Rand Paul is the future of the Republican Party.

Smith takes the pro-Paul position in his part, “A New Age of Liberty,” in which he touts the libertarian scion’s innovative tactics and positions and success in just three years in the Senate. Weinstein takes the anti-Paul side, under the head “GOP Less Libertarian Thank You Think,” using more concrete examples, but making less sense doing it.

Weinstein’s main point against Rand Paul is ideological, and no surprise, focuses on the area where he differs most sharply with  party leadership: foreign policy. He argues that while Paul turned heads with his drone filibuster and then helped defeat the authorization of force in Syria resolution, the Syria result was an exception, and the continued support for military action against Iranian nuclear capability is the rule. Paul didn’t tilt the party more isolationist, Weinstein claims, people just didn’t like the options in Syria. While a convincing argument, we have another data point now with which we can test this theory: Ukraine.

Followingly less than a year after the Syria debate, 56% of Americans say we should “not get too involved” in Russia’s annexation of Ukraine either. And while 67% of Republicans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation so far, 50% say it’s important we don’t get involved.

Should we get involved in Ukraine?

Ukraine is a complicated question worldwide. It is a relatively large Eastern European economy – certainly the biggest, after Russia, among the former Soviet Republics. It is also a major natural gas conduit for sales of Russian natural gas from Russia to the European Union.

As such, it’s important to Russia, not just as a transit point for natural gas to its biggest customers in Europe, but also as a large economy that exports a lot of its agricultural products, its workers and its steel to Russia. Having an economy such as this in the Russian-led customs union would lend legitimacy to an organization the Russians have been trying to transform into a European Union-type economic alliance.

In this post I’m going to attempt to lay out some issues, as well as some possible outcomes and solutions.

First, let’s get something straight. There have been rumblings that the U.S. government has somehow been funding the protesters in Ukraine, hoping to topple the corrupt, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. This is a silly idea. Why would the United States work to create a power vacuum? Why would the United States want to facilitate the rise to power of Julia Timoshenko, who by many accounts is just as corrupt as Yanukovych AND has ties to organized crime? It doesn’t make sense.

Crimea in Crisis: Ultimatums to Surrender

Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin took steps to retain influence in Ukraine by gaining military control of the Crimean peninsula. As the pro-Russian government in Kiev gave way to Euromaidan protests, Putin had the following appeal approved by the Russian Parliament:

“In connection with the extraordinary situation that has developed in Ukraine and the threat to citizens of the Russian Federation… I hereby appeal to the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the social and political situation in that country is normalised.”

Making matters more ominous, the Russian military has issued ultimatums to Ukraine: surrender  - even Ukrainian warships in Crimea – or face “a military storm” by 9 PM EST today. How far will he go?

Let me start by saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and neither do any of the supposed experts I may cite herein. The purpose of this writing is to catch the reader up on developments, which are quickly unfolding. (Click here for a live blog of events)

There are no good options in Ukraine

Crimea

First, a timeline:

2/27:

US intelligence does not anticipate a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2/28:

Russian forces arrive “uncontested” in Crimea, barricading roads, commandeering the Sevastopol airport.

Obama warns of “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”.

3/1:

Putin requests permission to deploy the Russian military to Ukraine.

Within an hour, the duma grants, and the full Russian invasion of Ukraine begins.

As we can see, Russia takes American threats very seriously. And why should they? President Obama’s planned strike on Syria was stopped in its tracks (fortunately) by behind-the-scenes dithering, overwhelming popular opposition, and congressional uncertainty. Putin knows America has no stomach for military intervention after almost thirteen years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ukraine Wants Gun Rights

Ukraine

It’s only mentioned in passing under the Gun Report blog at The New York Times, but apparently the Ukraine Gun Owners Association is drawing up plans in an effort to include something like a Second Amendment to their constitution following the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich.

After violence erupted in Kiev on Feb. 18th, over 70 people died, many shot by government snipers. As both the Times and Breitbart report, the citizens and gun rights groups in Ukraine seem to believe they are held nearly captive to a government that retains 7 million weapons, while the citizenry has only 3 million, many of those illegally (compare that to the US where citizens privately hold 310 million firearms and police and military hold slightly less at 3.85 million).

What’s interesting about this is that in an effort to frame the disparity of gun ownership in Ukraine as somehow negligible, and simultaneously suggest that US gun rights groups are “pouncing” on the Ukraine uprising to push their pet cause, the more liberal pundits are capable only of offering a pretty good defence of increased gun ownership and the Second Amendment in general.

House Leaders snuck Russian sanctions through Congress while most Members flew home for the weekend

Russian Sanctions

One of the great debates that will likely play some role in the coming Presidential election is the relationship between Congress and the White House, especially in matters of war. Conservatives have long lamented President Obama’s over use of the executive mandate (that almighty pen), and libertarians — and even some high-profile Democrats — have been vocal to the point of town crying the need for Congressional authorization as opposed to “unilateral presidential power” when it comes to foreign policy.

So it is interesting to note that the newest legislation imposing sanctions on Russia, while that country continues to sink into a tarpit of recession, passed the House last Thursday while almost no one was there. The Senate gave its thumbs up Saturday.

Pressure had been building around the White House this week to sign the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the panel’s ranking member, during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visit to the United States in September.

It was approved by a voice vote in the Senate on Thursday, but was amended by the House to spread out military aid for Ukraine over three years instead of delivering it in fiscal 2015. The Senate gave the measure its final approval late Saturday.

When America’s interests are threatened, it must act: Non-interventionism is not pacifism, and sometimes you have to hit back

The mainstream media is all atwitter this week about how the new breed of Republican doves is already turning back to their old hawkish ways in the face of new global threats. I’m not sure if this is a not-so-subtle attempt to paint non-interventionism as unsustainable, or if conventional wisdom is just that ignorant about what non-interventionism actually is.

So let’s set the record straight once and for all. Non-interventionism is not pacificism. When American interests are threatened or Americans are killed, non-interventionists are right to demand action, and that doesn’t make them no longer non-interventionists.

Robert Costa and Sebastian Payne at the Washington Post provide good reporting on a faulty premise in their “Rise of Islamic State tests GOP anti-interventionists.” Naturally, Hawk-in-Chief John McCain is using this piece to mock Rand Paul and others via subtweet.

Obama must take a tougher stand against Russia, and he can do that by ending Ex-Im’s deals with Vladimir Putin’s cronies

With tensions boiling over in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin’s regime sends more weapons to separatists, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is calling on President Barack Obama to stop the Export-Import Bank from doing deals with Russian businesses.

Hensarling says that Russia “bears responsibility” for the conflict in Ukraine as well as the “atrocity of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,” in which 298 people lost their lives. The Texas Republican noted that Putin’s regime “is supplying the separatists with advanced weapons and encouraging their attacks on aircraft and on the people of Ukraine.”

“Russia’s actions are in direct conflict with our national interests,” Hensarling wrote in a letter to President Obama. “Yet, still, the Export-Import Bank remains open for business in Russia. In fact, total authorizations for deals between Ex-Im and Russia have increased nine-fold since you took office.”

The House Financial Services Committee recently noted that Ex-Im increased funding for Russian projects by 177 percent in FY 2013, translating to a $580 million commitment, a record level. These loans and subsidies are backed by American taxpayers.

Elizabeth Warren and progressives were shockingly quiet about foreign policy at last weekend’s Netroots Nation conference

Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation

After the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane full of AIDS activists last week, one of the most compelling moments came when conservative talk radio hosts began playing clips of President Ronald Reagan’s response in 1983 to the Russian government shooting down a Korean airliner carrying Americans during the height of the Cold War.

Compelling because the hosts in driving their points home juxtaposed that 20 minute clip with the 40 seconds Obama allotted to the Malaysian crash before launching into a prepared speech on infrastructure in Delaware. And the result was stunning. It became crystal clear in those minutes that the concern, care, and attention to strategy given to foreign policy tends to be heavy on the right, and less weighty from politicians on the left.

Consider the following:

Bill Clinton bombed aspirin factories, pulled out of Somalia leading to the Black Hawk Down incident, and had nuclear guidance technology stolen from labs in California only to turn up later in China. 9/11 can arguably be somewhat applied to eight years of his leadership as well, despite the urge to give the lion’s share of the blame to George W. Bush.

His wife, of course, was instantly infamous for the now and future oft-repeated “What difference does it make?” line from the Benghazi hearings following the death of four Americans at an embassy compound in Libya.

Her boss, our current President, can be saddled with the failed Arab Spring, the current Syrian Civil War, the reemergence of Vladamir Putin and a muscle-flexing Russia, the spontaneous development of an Iranian Navy, Russian spy planes off the coast of California, and the list goes on and on.


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