In Iraq, a twofold crisis has the barbarian forces of the Islamic State trying to butcher their way into Kurdistan and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clinging to power. The airstrikes and military aid to the Kurds ordered by Obama may help slow the advance of Islamic State forces but won’t significantly damage the group. As the suffering of the 30,000 to 50,000 Yazidis trapped by the Islamic State on Mount Sinjar worsens, the Pentagon is reportedly planning their evacuation, a massive effort that would require a substantial ground force to accomplish.
If that weren’t enough, Ukraine is apparently facing an imminent Russian invasion, cloaked as a “humanitarian” mission, which the Ukrainians have vowed to turn back at their border.
Fifty-eight years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower faced a very similar scenario. When Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Britain, France and Israel sent troops to contest his action. While Ike was preoccupied with Suez, Hungarians rebelled against Soviet oppression. Eisenhower was entirely focused and gauged the risk of war with Russia too great to intervene. The Soviet army crushed the rebellion and restored their puppet government.
Obama is disengaged, even disinterested. As a result, Ukraine is likely to suffer the same fate as Hungary did in 1956.
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is riding a wave of popularity sustained by his personal super-macho Image, which he has successfully conflated with Russia’s Image in the minds of his countrymen. American and European sanctions haven’t even paused his plan to restore Ukraine as a Russian satellite, which has been unfolding since February. Then, Russian special forces and mercenaries seized the Crimean Peninsula. Putin formally annexed it to Russia with great fanfare in March.
Russia has about 40,000 troops massed at the Ukrainian border apparently ready to invade. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that there was no sign of Russia withdrawing its troops and that there was a “high probability” of a Russian military intervention. The only White House reaction has been a statement that an invasion would “... provoke additional consequences.” That echoes previous statements that have accompanied Obama’s ineffective sanctions.
Russia has declared a humanitarian crisis in the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk and is dispatching a “relief” convoy of some 280 trucks. The humanitarian crisis is real, but the only part of the crisis Putin cares about is the looming defeat of the Russian-backed insurgents by Ukrainian forces. Putin’s personality, which depends on sustaining his Image, cannot allow such a defeat.
The Ukrainians have vowed to stop the convoy at the border and only let it proceed if it is inspected and accompanied by the International Red Cross. Most analysts conclude that the convoy will serve as the lead elements of a Russian invasion. That is probably wrong because the situation allows Putin to actually send relief, albeit in trucks driven by Russian army soldiers and partly laden with communications and navigation equipment along with food and water, making an invasion easier without making his intent too obvious. It’s only about a 13-hour drive from Moscow to Donetsk, so Putin has the luxury of time to load the trucks with whatever suits his plan.
If the Ukrainians block the convoy, Putin would blame them for blocking relief to the suffering. If they let it through, Putin can take credit. Either way, he wins. But he shouldn’t.
It is late for Obama and NATO to send military supplies and aid to Ukraine, but not too late. Sending arms and speaking out in favor of Ukrainian freedom, Obama would not face a risk of war like that faced by Eisenhower.
By failing to act, Obama strengthens Putin and encourages his aggression against Ukraine and other former Soviet satellite nations.Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author of "The BDS War Against Israel," with Herbert London.