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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 05:39 PM
Number of posts: 18,274

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About Me and the Prez

Very glad to have him as my President, in light of the alternative scenarios that could have played out in 2008 and/or 2012. There are plenty of things that I like about Obama personally, and there are plenty of things that he has done in the way of policy that I also like a lot. I fully supported his election campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and unless the Democratic Party goes ape shit batty and nominates a Lyndon LaRouche or David Duke type candidate in 2016 I fully expect to support the Democratic nominee in 2016 also. None of that means that I think today's Democratic Party, on the whole, does a particularly good job of representing me or my interests in general. It does means they come much closer to doing so than today's Republican Party however.

My interests are important to me even if no one else shared them though I know millions of others do. So of course I will continue to work to prevent Republicans from screwing me over even when I am not all that happy with this or that Democrat in specific or Democrats in general. What I won't do however is suspend by beliefs when they differ with our President or any other Democrat. If something is important it should be advocated for by those who deem it as important. If that means taking a position different than Obama's or any other elected Democrat, so be it. That is how democracy functions and I am an advocate for democracy - it's how we get from here to there when justice is the goal and the status quo is unacceptable. Fundamentally, it' really is that simple.

If that means I'm not a good Democrat I can live with that. It is not by goal in life to be a good Democrat, though sometimes in practice I act like one. But the Democratic Party is a potential means toward an end, not the end itself. I try to stay clear on that concept.

Grenada, the Crimea, and the GOP.

In 1983 a government of disputed legitimacy in Grenada, a small Caribbean nation well within the long acknowledged U.S. sphere of influence, was itself overthrown by a coup amid social turmoil that resulted in some deaths, including that of the then Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Within days of that outbreak of political and social unrest, the United States of America militarily invaded Grenada. Quoting from Wikipedia here: “U.S. officials cited the murder of Bishop and general political instability in a country near U.S. borders, as well as the presence of U.S. medical students at St. Georges University, as reasons for military action.” While Wikipedia may not always be the final word in authoritative sources, that's pretty much how I remember things going down also. The recently deposed head of the Ukraine government wasn't himself murdered, like Bishop of Grenada was, but he did feel in necessary to flee his nation for reasons that included his personal safety.

There are other unsettling similarities between the U.S. military invasion of Grenada in 1983 and the Russian invasion of Crimea last week. In the year prior to U.S. use of force in Grenada the then U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, had been expressing alarm over developments there. Quoting Wiki again, and again it is consistent with my own recollections of that period; “In March 1983, U.S President Ronald Reagan began issuing warnings about the threat posed to the United States and the Caribbean by the "Soviet-Cuban militarization" of the Caribbean as evidenced by the excessively long airplane runway being built, as well as intelligence sources indicating increased Soviet interest in the island.” In the year preceding the Russian invasion of Crimea the Russian President Vladimir Putin issued warnings about the threat posed to Russian interests by Western meddling in the Ukraine seeking to draw it closer to an alliance with NATO and Western Europe against “traditional ties” with Russia.

Of course there are plenty of differences between the two invasions as well. Arguably what happens inside the Ukraine is much more central to Russian national interests than anything that took place inside Grenada could ever have been to American interests. The Crimea had long been an internationally recognized part of Russia/the Soviet Union before Nikita Khrushchev handed it off to the Ukraine in an inside political maneuver, whereas Grenada has never been under U.S. sovereignty. American interests in Cuba, Chile, and even Nicaragua came far closer to rising to the level of current Russian interests in the Ukraine than anything that precipitated the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

None of this speaks to who is/was right and who is/was wrong, nor to who occupies/occupied the higher moral ground in either of these uses of military force. Power, legality, and morality are not always closely aligned. In both military engagements however the predominant international view holds that the invasions were staged in violation of international agreements. The United Nations General Assembly, for example, condemned the American invasion of Grenada as "a flagrant violation of international law”. It appears that Russia would have a similar problem now in winning the blessing of that world body for its military actions in the Crimea. The United States did not allow unfavorable readings of international law to deter it from invading Grenada, nor have similar views constrained Russian military action over the last week. Wisely or foolishly, each nation used its military outside of its borders but within its self defined geographic sphere of influence to promote its national interests, as determined by those in power at the time.

No doubt the Soviets were livid over the use of America's military within our perceived sphere of influence during the Reagan presidency, but taking direct military action against the U.S. was never a real option for them to utilize in response. There was no international military opposition to the use of force by America in Grenada in 1983, just like there wasn't when we invaded the Dominican Republic under President Johnson in 1965 either. The harsh truth is that there are times and places when military action can be construed as an at least somewhat viable option for one major player operating in an international arena, but not reciprocally for others. The United States and its western allies, unlike Russia, have no direct military options available inside the Ukraine and every Republican in the U.S. Congress of even marginally sound body and mind knows it. Outrage and bluster that the recent Russian use of force in the Crimea was triggered by an America weakened by the policies of our current President, profoundly misconstrues geo-political realities.

At virtually no point during the decades long Cold War were either the United States or the Soviet Union able to directly counter the overt use of military force by its adversary when that adversary was operating within its own geographic sphere of influence, protecting its perceived vital national interests. That goes for both Democratic and Republican Presidents, moderates and hawks alike. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. Five Star General who defeated Hitler in Europe could not, as President, stop the Soviet Union from invading Hungary any more than the Soviets could prevent us from occupying Santo Domingo. Mutual deterrence, even when it overall succeeds in preserving the larger peace, has a downside as well as an upside. Direct large scale military conflicts between major powers are painstakingly avoided because the costs associated with such warfare, for both sides, are astronomical. For that very same reason, however, regionally confined acts of military intervention by a major military power against a third party nation, one not closely allied with an opposing major military power anyway, are seldom countered militarily by adversarial outside forces.

The last time that happened was during the Korean War when the United States directly confronted the military of Communist China. The human costs associated with that conflict were staggering. Between 1950 and 1953 there were 33,686 direct U.S. combat deaths in Korea far outstripping total American casualties from Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Especially after our Viet Nam experience where even more American troops died over a longer period of time, there is little public tolerance for seeing such sustained bloodshed revisited. Very few threats to our national interests rise to a level where the American people would support entering into a war that could result in hundreds of thousands of American casualties. Not only do most Republicans in Congress know that to be true, but with just a few note worthy exceptions the Republican leadership and Republican rank and file members in both houses of Congress were conspicuously gun shy when it appeared they have the opportunity to vote for authorizing missile strikes against Russian client state Syria, after Syria was accused of war crimes for using poison gas against its own civilian population. That would only have entailed a limited air attack on a Russian client state, not a direct engagement with Russian forces, and no American ground troops would have been involved. Still most Republicans in Congress had no stomach for signing their names to any legislation calling for direct military action against Syria, let alone directly confronting the Russian regime that is instrumental in keeping Assad in power in Damascus.

So many Republicans love bluster and routinely confuse it with strength, while reflexively scorning a broad range of diplomatic initiatives as only singling weakness, but they too read polls. The American public by overwhelming numbers wanted no part of any military strikes against Syria when that option was seriously being looked at. All indications are that the majority of Republicans in Congress would have voted to deny our President the authority to militarily punish Syria for its deadly and illegal transgressions. Yet they still persisted in calling the President weak.

How can military aggression by Russia against a regional neighbor be prevented or countered by the U.S. if direct use of the American military in such a conflict is realistically off the table? One option is set up and sponsor proxy forces to exert counter military pressure in support of our security objectives. The United States went that route in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there. But proxy forces can be notoriously unreliable and ineffective, often accomplishing little at the cost of dangerously strained relations with the powerful aggressor state that we seek to counter. And the standing up of proxy forces can come with unanticipated negative consequences, such as the rise of Osama Bin Laden as a credible jihadist leader who morphed into our mortal enemy. Not to mention that Afghanistan was plunged into a decades long civil war that left that nation in shambles from which it has yet to recover. The U.S. belatedly came to recognize the actual cost of that chaos in Afghanistan, but initially disruptions inside that supposedly inconsequential nation were thought to have only minimal and manageable effects on American concerns, since aside from Cold War politics, the U.S. had little vital interest in Afghanistan. The Ukraine, sitting near the heart of Eastern Europe in close proximity to NATO nations, with growing economic ties to Western Europe, is on its face a very different matter. Armed conflict inside a nation like the Ukraine could not as easily be ignored or contained as it seemingly long was within Afghanistan.

Treaties and alliances are a traditional deterrent to military aggression and that is how NATO came to be. It's mutual defense clause guarantees that all member nations will come to the defense of any one of its members should that country be attacked. That explains why former Eastern Europe Soviet satellite states such as Poland, and reluctant Eastern Europe member states of the Soviet Union itself such as Latvia, were so eager to fall under the NATO umbrella as protection against possible Russian expansionism . But a military alliance in a multipolar world where no one side is all powerful is in essence a type of doomsday machine. It promises horrific violence for all concerned if an aggressor triggers it's mutual defense provisions. That functions well to deter violence if the threat of mass retaliation is suitably respected. But doomsday in a nonpartisan event. Both sides suffer grievously in any all out war. Defense pacts set up trip wires; cross that line and all hell breaks loose.

But trip wires have much in common with mine fields. The more mines that are buried over greater and greater amounts of territory, and the more trip wires that get strewn across expanding geo-political landscapes, the more likely it becomes that one will be intentionally or perhaps inadvertently be tested if events should ever spin out of control, as they sometimes are want to do. Will that doomsday machine actually be triggered or is it really just a bluff? At what point does the steady encroachment of new mine fields ever closer to your home become more threatening than confronting the mines previously put in place? Some make the case that were the Ukraine a part of NATO Russia would never have invaded it. A case can also be made that had NATO not kept advancing closer and closer to Russia's borders that Russia would have been less motivated to take a stand and cross a line into the Crimea. Military Alliances are powerful potential tools for peace but they too can bring with them potential unintended consequences of a very serious nature. They too present inherent risks.

The Russians long viewed Eastern Europe as a buffer zone protecting it from aggression from the West. In recent years they have seen carefully cultivated and frequently imposed buffer shrink. That can be unnerving to leaders with a strong nationalist streak and a sightly paranoid bent. For generations the United States proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine, defining the Western Hemisphere as our special domain. One could say that U.S. leaders became a bit unhinged when Fidel Castro proclaimed Cuba to be a Marxist state. We narrowly avoided a nuclear cataclysm and assured mutual destruction over Cuba before all was said and done.

What options are left then, if a direct military response to Russian military moves against one of its neighboring states is ruled out, when a proxy war is ill advised, and when expanding a military alliance becomes dangerously uncertain as to whether it would succeed at keeping the peace or instead tempt an even greater disaster? In the Ukraine of course that latter option is officially moot, at least for the immediate future. The Ukraine is not a NATO member and Russian troops are already on the ground there. So, when both sides wield big sticks and it appears each would get maimed if they were simultaneously swung, what other incentives exist that could ultimately influence the behavior of an adversary in a positive rather than negative direction? We all know that alternative well. We call it Carrots. But Carrots, Republicans say, are a reward, and you should never reward bad behavior. There is an alternative to either punishing with sticks or rewarding with carrots however, and that is to withdraw some carrots previously put in place. Of course that requires a degree of planning and general foresight, to get those carrots in their place to begin with, but at this point in human history it should be apparent that a prolonged peace is never achieved easily. It always takes effort and planning, and it takes sustained relationship building in many simultaneous spheres of endeavor for extended periods of time.

There is a word for the policy of doing exactly that, and that word in engagement. It isn't a new concept nor is it particularly ideological at its core. It's what Nixon did with China. It involves weaving a web of subtle interdependency in ways both large and small. It means transforming the status quo so that formerly entrenched adversaries begin to have more to lose than gain by allowing remaining flash points that exist between them to escalate rather than dissipate. There are bumps on any road, some more severe than others. And those become the times when existing carrots embedded in a relationship are at least temporarily withdrawn instead of offering new ones. At some point in an interdependent relationship the loss of some hard earned and long counted on carrots carries a sting as sure as a blow from a stick, without directly risking an escalation of violence.

Yes Putin wants Russia to again be a great nation, but he wants Russia to be great within a community of nations, standing proudly alongside great peers, not for it to now be isolated as some type of brooding and troubled pariah. Like China, Russia sees a need to integrate its economy ever more closely with the rest of the world to remain relevant and prosper over the coming century. A stick is a very blunt tool to wield, limited in its useful applications as I've discussed above relative to our current options regarding the Russian invasion of the Crimea. It is the strings of an international social and economic order that Russia benefits from participating in that most forcibly constrain Russia's military actions now. It is the past fruit of long pursued bi-partisan efforts consistent with the Obama Administrations recent efforts to “reset our relationship with Russia” that are providing us with whatever leverage the G8 nations now hold over Putin's next actions now. It is the carrots we now can threaten to withdraw, only because we had the foresight to have tendered them earlier under less tense circumstances, that provides us with any influence as events in the Ukraine continue to evolve. And hollow bluster has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Obama isn't weak, he's right. This is a serious episode flaring up in the middle of a continuing long term game plan. The overall strategy remains correct. Embracing a new Cold War, in so many ways, would be a mistake of epic proportions. That truly should be the last resort.
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