Policy, politics don’t mix

Published 12:01 pm Friday, March 7, 2014

Foreign policy is a complex arena where events are largely unpredictable.

When we left Iraq after the first Iraq War, who would have guessed we would return for a decade of occupation based upon claims that would prove unfounded.

When Yugoslavia, in many ways similar to Ukraine, descended into chaos no foreign policy experts came forward saying “I told you so” and no perfect solutions were available.

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When the evil of 9/11 happened we did not look to blame our president for intelligence not utilized, we stood together to avenge our loss.

These examples remind us that foreign policy is, for the most part, the management of events not able to be shaped by plans or strategies, and not predictable in any sense.

We have witnessed the “Arab Spring” where many people in the Middle East have revolted against their dictatorial leaders and found workable solutions to governing to be elusive when religion undermines consensus-building. There are few guidelines to shape the outcomes of these events.

And last week we saw the exile in Ukraine of the Russian-leaning president by the Western-leaning citizens of Eastern Ukraine, followed by the Russian occupation of Western Ukraine and the Crimea region.

For history students of her Ukraine, its Russian speaking populations and divided loyalties are not new considerations, and the unity of the country is not a result of unified people, but of drawn borders and mixed histories.

Those Ukrainians seeking a shift towards the European Union (EU) are fueled by the success of the market economy developed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. They are also those whose history included starvation and genocide during the 1930’s under Russian domination.

But neither the EU nor Russia are innocent parties to the desire to influence Ukraine’s direction. The EU has encouraged Ukraine to pull away from Russian influence while Russia offered $15 billion of its oil riches to help the struggling Ukraine economy staying connected to their sphere of influence.

This week the EU matched the Russian $15 billion offer of support.

This fight, and the occupation, are reflections not of imperialism and a desire for war, but of market capitalism and economic freedom, struggles defined by geographic and historical factors.

Russia does not believe its troops are disliked where they have been positioned among Russian speaking Ukrainians who comprise 60 percent of the nation; likewise the EU does not think its push of Ukraine towards the West is about freedom as much as about economic virtues of partnership.

But none of these complex issues trouble Republicans who prefer to keep the issues simple: They seemingly admire the Russian President Putin, bear fighter and bare chested bull, versus American president Obama, thoughtful and patient.

For Republicans, criticizing American foreign policy in a crisis is not a bridge too far, nor an attack too silly; it is anything in opposition to this president is a view they welcome and invite.

While there is no thoughtful counter or alternatives posed to the actions of the president or Secretary of State Kerry, there remain the attacks on the president that thoughtful policy is weak foreign policy. Senator McCain openly longs for the day when America was feared.

Those days are not so far in our past. It was only a little more than a decade ago when the “Deciderer” was president and took the nation to a war in Iraq and another in Afghanistan that may cost two trillion dollars, lost America lives, and provide no longer term benefit to America or the peoples of those nations.

Mixing foreign policy and politics is not an art form in any way other than a theatre of the absurd.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.