by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
March 10, 2014
DO OR DIE? NOT THIS TIME, WE HOPE
When the invasion of the strategic Ukrainian region of Crimea was still imminent, I wrote that the first thing the Obama Administration should do in response is to reinstate the proposed defensive missile shield in Poland proposed by the Bush Administration but dropped by the Obama White House in 2009.
The first to propose the same thing was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who told the New York Times a few days after the then-accomplished Russian invasion of the Crimea that he wanted "a review" of the antimissile plan. Now, the suggestion I made on Feb. 28 is Republican policy, at least as the top CBS News political talk program, "Face the Nation,' is concerned.
It's not the first time our ideas have been adopted elsewhere. After our editorial advising North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un to drop the harsh and threatening rhetoric he had launched against the United States last year, he did so the following day. That must have been luck. Then I suggested that rather than our jets attacking Syria to kill its chemical arms, Israel instead should attack it. Three days later, it did.
Now, after calling for the plan to install an antimissile shield in Poland to be revived, the Republican hierarchy has agreed. It's all coincidence, of course, just as my Los Angeles Times OpEd, "How Do You Change A President's Mind?" calling on Mr. Clinton to abandon his plan to invade Iraq, didn't change his mind, even though he did so two weeks later. It's all just a convergence of presidential common sense and happy coincidence.
In a story published today, CBS reported that among Republicans "still searching for ways to convince Russia to deescalate a crisis in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Cheney and a number of prominent Republicans are calling on President Obama to revisit his 2009 decision to scrap a proposed Bush-era antiballistic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic."
"He cares a lot about that," Cheney told Bob Schaeffer's stand-in, Charlie Rose, on Sunday.
Cheney also called for joint military exercises, which had already been ordered by President Obama, along with offering "equipment and training" to the Ukrainian military, which it already receives from the United States.
"The Bush program, which would have placed 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland along with a radar in the Czech Republic, was replaced with a system of smaller interceptors to better deal with short- and medium-range missiles that the Administration believed Iran had made more progress developing. The final stage of the replacement program was cancelled last year to place more interceptors in Alaska to deal with threats from North Korea," CBS said in today's story.
"My answer is reinstate the ballistic missile defense program and policy. He [Putin] cares a lot about that. Conduct joint military exercises with our NATO friends close to the Russian border. Offer up equipment and training to the Ukrainian military," Cheney told Rose on Sunday.
"Obama took it out to appease Putin," Cheney alleged. That's certainly the way it looked to most Americans and the rest of the world, but now the Administration has disclosed that the plan was dropped to provide better protection against North Korea, and was replaced with shorter-range missiles in Poland that better match the war scenarios devised in the Pentagon. That was apparently classified information back in 2009.
The proposal also got a positive nod from the 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate and House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Ryan, who told CBS that the President should 'definitely' revisit the issue. "I think if President Obama himself revisited missile defense, that would be a very strong signal," Ryan said.
Former Bush Administration Secretary of State James Baker also spoke out in cautious support, saying the antimissile program deserved a second look.
National Security Advisor James Jones, however, warned against any "precipitous move" that could escalate the crisis. That's what I said, too, in a "Ticker Editorial" published here shortly before midnight last Wednesday. I said my desire to see the antimissile shield installed was tempered by a concern that it might precipitate a larger invasion of the Ukraine's eastern half. I still feel it may be the straw that breaks the bear's back, so to speak. It might push Putin over the edge and his troops into eastern Ukraine.
The question is, should that real threat be enough te stop us from a responsible responde? I honestly don't think so, as much as I hate to argue with Mr. Jones and our President. What Jones characterized as "tit for tat" gestures are "knee-jerk and overreactions," he said. In truth, the antimissile plan is now five years old.
But. Maybe it's just a resurfacing of the resentment I felt, with others, I think, when we backed out of the plan in 2009. Here we are in 2014 with none of the "bulk and resonance" I thought the antimissile defense would add to our opposition to Russian hegemony in Ukraine.
The Ukraine is divided in two parts by the 700-mile scimitar-like curve of the Dnieper River, and it is precisely on the eastern side where the country's bread basket and manufacturing base is, and where Russian-speaking citizens greatly predominate. The deposed president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was from near Donetsk, the major city on the eastern side. Kiev, the Ukraine's capital, is located right on the western side of the river, looking at Donetsk to the southeast across 450 miles of swamp and fields.
The Crimea, far to the south on the Black Sea, and famous for its fierce Tatars (who were also the inspiration for tartar sauce and steak tartar), was the setting for one of history's greatest and most popular poems, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," by Lord Alfred Tennyson. Its most famous line was still being memorized when I was a kid: "Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred," it went. The poem also produced one of the great aphorisms of Western literature: "Theirs not to reason why; Theirs but to do or die." That has been the code of generals ever since.
There was no equivalent challenge in March to the 30,000 Russian troops that moved into Crimea, where the Ukraine has leased Russia's only warm water port to it until 2042, with an option to renew the lease until 2047. The Crimea was lost by the Russians in the Crimean War, and was returned to the Ukraine (now often called just "Ukraine," with no "the") by Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Khrushchev is the Russian leader who famously pounded his shoe on the U.N. General Assembly podium, and who in a speech to ambassadors gathered at the Polish embassy in Moscow on Nov. 18, 1956 vowed, "We will bury you," addressing the United States and the West. That was 100 years after Russia finally lost Crimea to a Western alliance in March 1856. They got it again when they helped us win World War II, and then gave it back, with conditions, in 1954.
As my friend (in 1987, I started the Committee to Draft U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, a draft committee that hoped to get him into the 1988 race) Secretary of State John F. Kerry put it, we now live by a different diplomatic calendar, one that says the Cold War rivalry of America and the Soviet Union was relegated to the "dustbin of history," where the Bolsheviks once deposited the Tzar. John Kerry says diplomacy provides ample means to address the false charges that Russians in Crimea are being harassed and hurt by ethnic Ukrainians, and that violating Ukraine's sovereignty is old politics and wrong.
He is right, of course. If the harsh sanctions some are proposing come about, they will have a meaninfgul effect on Russia's economy. But they are aimed at Russian oligarchs and businesses, and Putin has promised to respond in kind against American interests in Russia. I don't think those sanctions, at least in the heat of confrontation, will make the slightest difference to Putin, as cancellation of the G-G Summit also will not. So what should we do?
There is a less ominous but more powerful statement the West and the United States can make in the Ukraine, as I suggested in the "Ticker Editorial" on March 5: That would be to do as Russia has - to lease or purchase a naval port in the Ukraine's other great harbor, Odessa, a western Black Sea port.
That would mightily distress Putin, obviously, since Russia has staked so much on its unchallenged dominance of the Black Sea by headquartering his country's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, a few hundred critical miles to the east. A U.S. destroyer is heading in that direction as I write for exercises with nieghboring Bulgaria and Romania; there's no indication it will stop in Odessa, though.
Are Republicans willing to take this bold, daring and slightly less dangerous step - setting up shop, with Ukrainian permission, just down the road from the bear? I don't know.
Right now it's a battle of words, a rumble of rhetoric, and it's hard to say who's "talking smack" and who really means what they say. Today, there's no brave poet saying, as Tennyson did of the British troops who rode into the Crimean battle against overwhelming numbers of Cossacks and Russians, "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do or die,", he wrote. Into the Crimean "valley of Death" they rode; most were slaughtered and just a few survived, but though they lost the battle they won the Crimean War.
This very minor poet, however, would remind all sides of the quiet warning in my own Sonnet XXXV:
"And once I saw a sight of greater age,
Perhaps more appropriate, though, are the words President Ronald Reagan wrote to me on November 15, 1985:
"Thank you for your message of support following my address at the 40th anniversary celebration of the United Nations," Mr. Reagan said.
"We are determined to do everything in our power to advance the ideals found in the United Nations Charter and to make progress toward a safer and more peaceful world. This is the toughest challenge we face," the President wrote, "but it would be impossible if we were not mindful of the lessons of history and the need for those who would defend freedom to remain strong. I am pleased to know that you share my convictions about the responsibilities we must shoulder as leader of the Free World."
Be strong. Seek peace. Those are always good ideas.
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter, since April 10, 1995 the first exclusively electronic newspaper in the history of the world.