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The Uses of Ukraine

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WASHINGTON, Mar 24 2014 (IPS) - The observation that the Chinese characters for the word “crisis” combine the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” has become a staple of Washington foreign policy discourse for years.

So it’s no surprise that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine – and Russia’s de facto absorption of Crimea – provides lots of “opportunities” for various interests to push their favourite causes.

The notion of a new Cold War appeared to offer all kinds of opportunities for those interests nostalgic for the financial and bureaucratic benefits which it wrought.

Of course, that begins with Republicans who have used the crisis – and President Barack Obama’s failure to anticipate, prevent or reverse it – as an opportunity to pound away at his alleged naivete, weakness and spinelessness, a theme which the party’s still-dominant neo-conservative faction has been hyping since even before his 2009 inauguration.

“(T)his is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” declared Sen. John McCain, Obama’s Republican rival back in 2008, before an audience of some 14,000 activists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) earlier this month.

At the same time, the neo-conservative editorial board at the Wall Street Journal has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism, comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter, rendered seemingly helpless in 1979 by the hostage seizure in Iran, the overthrow of the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, suggested that Obama slap tough sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and business elite (steps the White House began taking last week) to force the Russian leader to back down.

“Only a president as inept as Barack Obama could fail to seize the opportunity to win, or even wage, the new Cold War all over again,” according to Stephens.

Indeed, the notion of a new Cold War appeared to offer all kinds of opportunities for those interests nostalgic for the financial and bureaucratic benefits which it wrought.

While arms manufacturers have opted to remain in the background – lest their enthusiasm for a return to the golden age of sky-high defence budgets appear too obvious, even vulgar – their representatives in Congress and sympathetic think tanks have not been so constrained.

Thus, Amb. Eric Edelman (ret.), who served as Pentagon undersecretary for policy under George W. Bush, called last week for “a large increase in the defence budget, much like the one Jimmy Carter obtained after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

“A jolt to the budget …would signal an end to the relative decline in U.S. military power over the post four years that, in [Defence] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel’s words, has meant that ‘we are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies, and in space can no longer be taken for granted,’” he wrote in The Weekly Standard last week.

Edelman is currently a director of the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the successor organisation to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a letterhead organisation that championed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“That would send a powerful and unwelcome message to those in both Moscow and Beijing who are betting on the end of the unipolar world,” he added.

Writing for the same publication, Thomas Donnelly, a PNAC alumnus based at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that defence increases must include a reversal of the Obama administration’s decision to cut the active-duty from the current 522,000 troops to around 445,000, the smallest number since the eve of Washington’s entry into World War II.

He even decried other hawks, including McCain and neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who have ruled out putting “boots on the ground” to counter Russian moves, or for that matter advances by the Syrian army against rebel forces as well.

“Ukraine is still, for the present, a no-man’s-land, neither West nor East. But Ukraine is hardly the only no-man’s-land. The entire Middle East is fast become an especially gruesome. The South China Sea is likewise up for grabs. …Preserving the peace on the Eurasian landmass demands land forces,” he wrote.

In addition to restoring cuts to the army, another long-time and highly lucrative favourite of the military-industrial complex – missile defence – is being promoted as the answer to Russian moves.

“Beyond sanctions and aid to Ukraine, the most important thing we could be doing right now, with respect to Russia, is installing anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a likely 2016 presidential aspirant, told the Washington Post last week shortly after Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney made much the same pitch, deploring Obama’s decision in 2009 to scrap a plan to install missile defences in Poland the Czech Republic as part of a “reset” in relations with Moscow.

Echoing FPI, which, much like its PNAC predecessor used to do, published an entire agenda Friday of actions to counter Moscow signed by dozens of mainly neo-conservative foreign policy analysts, Cheney called for a “joint military exercises with our NATO friends close to the Russian border,” as well as a step-up in military equipment training for Ukraine’s armed forces.

But the military-industrial complex is not the only interest that is jumping on the Crimea crisis to push for major new initiatives from which it stands to benefit financially.

Bemoaning the degree to which Ukraine, other Central European countries, as well as much of western Europe depends on Russian oil and gas, U.S. energy companies and their advocates in Congress and on the op-ed pages are pressing the administration hard to permit them to more freely export their products, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG), for which the U.S. has very few export terminals, around the world.

“Even if, in the short term, most of our LNG exports go to Asia rather than to Europe, expediting and expanding those exports would increase global supply, push down global prices, and signal to Putin that Washington is determined to squeeze his gas revenues and break his energy stranglehold on Eastern Europe,” wrote Texas Sen. John Cornyn Monday in the National Review Online.

That argument was echoed by the Washington Post, which in the past has expressed concerns about the impact on climate change of encouraging fossil fuel consumption.

But, faced with Russian actions, the Post said ramping up U.S. exports now would send an important message. “The more suppliers there are…,” it wrote Sunday, “the less control predatory regimes such as Mr. Putin’s will have over the market.”

While the administration declined to comment on Monday’s announcement by the Department of Energy that it had authorised LNG exports from a terminal in Oregon, the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s lobby group, welcomed the move.

“The economic and strategic benefits of natural gas exports have sparked a bipartisan chorus for action,” said API’s president, Jack Gerard. “Today’s approval is a welcome step toward greater energy security, and our industry stands ready to help the administration strengthen America’s position in the global energy market and provide greater security to our allies around the world,” he said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

 
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