WASHINGTON – In a long interview on the Charlie Rose TV program aired on US PBS, (Public Television), US National Security Advisor Susan Rice tried her best to convince the audience that the Obama administration response to Putin’s machinations in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, is really hurting Russia and that the sanctions are aimed at forcing Putin to stop his actions aimed at destabilizing Ukraine.
During the interview, Ms. Rice strongly objected to the statement made by Charlie Rose, the interviewer, that the administration has in practice accepted the Russian annexation of Crimea.
She was almost outraged. Quite forcefully, she pointed out that only a couple of countries, bought by Russia, formally accepted the legality of this clear violation of international law. America has not accepted it, nor have all our (brave?) European Allies. In fact America led the chorus of condemnations.
To an additional question on the Crimea issue she replied emphatically that the goal of American sanctions against Russia is to force Putin to reconsider his unlawful actions and give Crimea back to Ukraine.
Words and deeds
Now, these statement, while technically true and consistent with basic international law principles and long-standing key US policy tenets, are totally disingenuous and in fact ludicrous, given the huge gap between America’s words about principles (plenty) and its actions to enforce them (hardly any).
Of course, the United States has not and will not accept the legality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. And it is also true that no European country has accepted it.
But to say –with a straight face– that the targeted sanctions imposed on a few individuals and a couple of Russian entities will force Putin to spit Crimea out is simply ridiculous. And, I am afraid that those, (like Ms. Rice), who keep articulating this empty nonsense in national and international fora become (sadly) the object of ridicule.
Gap between declared intentions and actions
And here is the real issue. Can you just talk and assume that the rest of the world will pay attention, simply because you are speaking on behalf of the United States Government? Since when has blah-blah become a valid substitute for action?
Indeed, there is a point beyond which speaking strongly on matters of principle while doing almost nothing real to see that those principles are upheld makes your audience conclude that you are not serious. I am afraid, the Obama administration has gone past that point.
Here is an example in which words were followed by actions, however costly. In the Summer of 1990 President George Bush Senior declared that Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait was unacceptable and that it would not stand. His administration then proceeded to send US troops to Saudi Arabia, while Secretary of State James Baker forged an international coalition composed of countries willing to help in the liberation of Kuwait.
And America did exactly what it said it would do. The US-led international coalition attacked the Iraqis in Kuwait on January 16, 1991, only a few months after the invasion, and it pursued them until they were all gone.
Sanctions will do little
The Obama administration, having clearly ruled out any use of force to compel Putin to relinquish Crimea, would like the world to believe that the largely symbolic sanctions already imposed against Russia, coupled with the threat of adding more, will force Putin to reconsider and give Crimea back to Ukraine.
As they listen to all this, I suspect that most world leaders yawn, while they conclude that America has become an innocuous former great power, now clearly in decline.