Things Get Worse in Ukraine and the Crimea

Russian troops are in the Crimean Peninsula, and are busy “taking control of military and civilian installations.” Ukraine is getting ready to respond, but let’s not pretend that Ukrainian forces are any real match for the Russians in Crimea (although it would appear that if Russian forces seek to further expand their reach, Ukrainian forces might be better equipped to fight back). So, in sum, things are not good.

Making things worse–and more worrisome–is the fact that in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea Peninsula, there was a complete American intelligence breakdown:

On Thursday night, the best assessment from the U.S. intelligence community—and for that matter most experts observing events in Ukraine—was that Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine. Less than 24 hours later, however, there are reports from the ground of Russian troops pushing into the Ukrainian province of Crimea; the newly-installed Crimean prime minister has appealed to Putin to help him secure the country; Putin, in turn, is officially asking for parliament’s permission to send Russian forces into Ukraine. It’s not a full-blown invasion—at least, not yet. But it’s not the picture U.S. analysts were painting just a day before, either.

There was good reason to think Putin wouldn’t do it. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that the 150,000-man Russian military exercises announced by Putin on Wednesday were not preparations for an invasion of Ukraine because no medical unitsaccompanied the troops. And Russian and U.S. diplomats were still working on Iran and Syrian diplomacy. All of this followed a successful Winter Olympic games for Putin’s Russia.

Yet private security contractors, working for the Russian military, seized control of two airports in Crimea on Friday. And Ukrainian border officials said that Russian cargo planes had landed inside the province, and that 10 military helicopters flew into Ukrainian airspace.

I continue to believe–and have seen no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise–that the United States has few options here, and that it would have few options regardless of who is president. But that doesn’t mean that the Obama administration did not do its part to help bring about this crisis in American credibility:

For much of his time in office, President Obama has been accused by a mix of conservative hawks and liberal interventionists of overseeing a dangerous retreat from the world at a time when American influence is needed most.

The once-hopeful Arab Spring has staggered into civil war and military coup. China is stepping up territorial claims in the waters off East Asia. Longtime allies in Europe and in the Persian Gulf are worried by the inconsistency of a president who came to office promising the end of the United States’ post-Sept. 11 wars.

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor.

It will be a hard argument for him to make, analysts say.

A president who has made clear to the American public that the “tide of war is receding” has also made clear to foreign leaders, including opportunists in Russia, that he has no appetite for a new one. What is left is a vacuum once filled, at least in part, by the possibility of American force.

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

How many more times does the phrase “if you want peace, prepare for war” have to be repeated in order for people to understand it?

Oh, and perhaps an apology to Mitt Romney is in order. I mean, the below looks rather silly now, doesn’t it?

Mitt Romney-John Kerry