The Ukraine a Test of American Capabilities and Credibility

Big Red Car here.  The Boss is in Steamboat having toured Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and now Colorado.  Big range of weather enroute and some striking country [some boring as sin country also — hey, sin isn’t boring is it?]

So you have undoubtedly been following the brouhaha in the Ukraine, no?

Bad deal and let’s establish from the start that the United States is not in a position to intervene militarily.  Don’t even waste your breath suggesting such nonsense.  Too far from home.  Short supply lines for the Russians.  Questionable strategic interest for America.


The US had fifteen aircraft carrier battle groups in the Reagan era.  Fifteen!

Today we have eight with one more being built.  There is whispering going on in the Pentagon to eliminate two aircraft carrier battle groups as part of what many categorize as a foolish contraction of our military capabilities.

 Would you rather have fifteen of these battle groups or seven?  Your choice.

The world is a very dangerous place and we need to be able to project force in the Pacific (China), the Mediterranean (Middle East), Indian Ocean (Afghanistan, Somalia) and now the Black Sea (Ukraine).  You have to embrace the mission of disaster relief also (Haiti).  You can’t cover the world with seven aircraft carrier battlegroups.

The Russians and the Chinese know this and they are waiting to test us.


Not only do you have to have the right capabilities to project force and to be taken seriously, you have to have earned credibility in the world.  A feckless and inconsistent leadership is not going to make any tyrants give a second thought about using their capabilities.  Tyrants and despots will always ultimately use their weapons — witness Syria and chemical weapons or Saddam Hussein and his tanks.

The American track record in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Georgia — emboldens Putin and the Russians.  You cannot scare anyone by leading from the back.

Our pathetically weak economy and our inability to get our financial house in order means we cannot afford to project force.  We are broke.


It is clear that Putin has calculated his decision to invade the Ukraine — starting with the pretense of protecting ethnic Russians in the Crimea — carefully.  We — the United States, NATO, the European Union — cannot project force in the Ukraine.  Putin holding trump.  We are checkmated.

Know this — the Ukraine is intellectually part of Russia.  Because of its ethnic makeup.  Because of its past as a member of the USSR.  Because it shares a border with Russia.  Because Putin thinks so.

The location of the Ukraine on Russia’s border is like the United States dealing with the implications of Canada wandering off the game board.  It is very serious.  This is NOT a head fake.

Language matters

In confronting this mess, President Obama uses the language of a follower, not a leader.  He indicates that there “will be costs”.  Putin says:  “So what?”

President speaks in a passive voice.  Putin speaks in an active voice.  This is the difference in leadership styles.

The President threatens not to come to Sochi, Russia to attend a G-8 meeting.  Oh boy!  In the past, Putin has blown off such meetings.  He has arbitrarily failed to attend.  He could not care less whether President Obama scuttles his visit or the entire G-8 meeting.  He is too busy bullying the United States and President Obama.  Too busy stealing the world’s lunch money.

Putin is focused on rebuilding the former USSR — he did not give back those Georgian states he took with his tanks last Olympic season.  The world let him get away with it.  The world will likely get over Ukraine and the seizure of the Crimea also.  Why should he believe otherwise?

Putin uses the language of a leader — evil prick to be sure but a leader nonetheless — and just asks his faux legislature to authorize the use of military force which they authorize unanimously.  He has followers and they are following completely.  The Russians consider unrest on their border very seriously.  The President considers it an impediment to keeping a tee time.

This mess is going to be a test of the capabilities, credibility, competence and leadership of our country and our President.  Stay tuned.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.



7 thoughts on “The Ukraine a Test of American Capabilities and Credibility

  1. First up: my wife’s Ukrainian so I’ve got some skin (and limited inside knowledge) in this game.

    I’ve read so many articles on the situation they all merge into one and makes it difficult to provide links. But, in a nutshell, this is my take. Putin is all about image. Apparently the man does not admit mistakes or apologize. Draw your own conclusions from that.

    Far from being an admirer of the ex Ukrainian president, Yanukovych, whom they backed very strongly, the Russians dislike him intensely. Why? Because he is weak and incompetent. In Moscow’s eyes he should have snuffed out the first sparks of dissent at the very beginning. Once he allowed the protesters to consider Maidan square their own, the die had already been cast — it became only a matter of time before the balance shifted to the people.

    So, in a way, Putin is giving a lesson in how it should be done. In others words: no fucking about.

    But I believe he is overplaying his hand. The key difference between Ukraine and Georgia is that no-one was really paying attention to the latter. But the world has been totally focused on the events in Maidan. People power won. The people made the puppet president run away. This is not small news.

    The row started because the Ukrainians want to be closer to Europe, not Russia. That fact is key.

    I believe there is good opportunity to call Putin’s bluff. Ukraine should formally request NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over their territory and NATO should accept. Then we’ll see who blinks first.

    • .
      Keen insights and authoritative voice. Thanks.

      If one were not afraid to escalate things, the “no fly” zone would be a good gambit.

      I don’t think anyone has the cajones to do that because of the short term potential for Russia to turn off the natural gas to about half of Europe. The natural gas is a huge consideration.

      The no fly zone doesn’t do much about the tanks and ground troops — including anti-aircraft. Again if one were willing to take a gamble, hitting the Russians now with their fleet in port, their armor massed at the border would be a good military bet.

      I see Russia getting the Crimea and the country being split much like the Russians have retained the two provinces in Georgia.


      • Crimea is expendable, that’s the unfortunate reality of the situation.

        But Putin wants to also provoke strife within the main body of Ukraine, regardless of the views of its inhabitants. He should not be allowed to get away with that.

        You’re right when you talk about the gas supplies, but I read an excellent article in the Economist a few weeks back which pointed out that without its energy revenues Russia would be in deep recession. So cutting them off would be a risk for Putin too.

        There’s nothing like economic hardship to embolden popular uprising — as Maidan has itself shown. But the big question is whether Putin knows when to fold. Khrushchev did over Cuban missiles, but I doubt Putin’s cut from the same cloth.

        • .
          The notion of having newly recruited NATO countries sharing a border with Russia is a toxic mix. No differently than the US feels about Canada or Cuba.

          Putin only has to turn those valves off for three days for everyone to get the message.

          I recently read the declassified Russian Politburo transcripts of Krushchev’s talks with Eisenhower in 1959 which left the Russians with the distinct view that Eisenhower would give them a war if they wanted one.

          The Russians feared Eisenhower’s war fighting expertise. Krushchev had been a battalion level Communist party apparatchik

          I think Putin is very, very shrewd but part of the matter is the lack of expertise in his opponent. Putin was a fairly senior KGB guy and you don’t ever stop being one once you’ve been one.

          He has put himself in the limelight with Syria, Iran, Venezuela and now Ukraine. The Olympics was a coming out ceremony. Who knew the Russians owned Miami Beach in Sochi?

          The rest of the world thinks Putin is a resolute and powerful leader. All that silly macho nonsense plays well in other parts of the world.

          This is a very dangerous game right now.


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