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Obama Bails Out of Eastern Europe

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President Obama sure has changed the focus of American interests in Eastern Europe. It was only a few short years ago when then president Bush was building up Georgia’s modern military and loudly promoting NATO entry to any Eastern European country interested in snubbing Moscow. Now Obama is backing out of Georgia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and anywhere else in Europe as fast as politically possible. Why the sudden dramatic shift and where does it leave Eastern Europe?

For the ultra-pragmatic Obama everything is all about value. The Bush administration placed a high value in getting interceptor missiles in place to contain Russian sphere of influence expansion for the foreseeable future. Obama doesn’t see the value in trying to contain a recently failed stated still rising from the ashes. Time has eroded the Russian military, conventional and nuclear, much more effectively than any American deterrent ever could have done. America currently spends millions of its own tax dollars to decommission old Soviet nuclear missiles every year. The Georgian conflict openly exposed Russian conventional forces as old and slow. When a tank commander has to use his cell phone for military communications because the secure military system didn’t work there are serious problems. Give the Russians 20 to 30 more years of autocratic leadership and extreme corruption will efficiently waste all the valuable, country re-building, petrodollars that the world’s largest oil company can provide. A Russian military powered by French ships, because extreme corruption has even stopped internal large-scale production along with very few of their super-jets actually working  won’t even worry Germany’s hi-tech military all that much let alone America.

Further the world is heading for a shift in nuclear deterrence. Obama understands that the American military is on the verge of promising better than an 80% intercept ability for any inter-continental missile. Land based interceptors in independent countries are vulnerable while submarine based interceptors are undetectable and virtually impossible to stop and ship based interceptors are cheap and easy to deploy anywhere in the world. While this capacity is currently limited in numbers and may not be openly declared it is there and in place today. American protection will be unrivaled after a simple ramping up of established technology to handle more missiles along with the current drastic reduction of the quantity of Russian missiles due to aging and lack of funding for replacements. Assured mutual nuclear destruction isn't so sure today and that changes the whole military game.

The pragmatic American leader sees a game playing shift in world military power soon enough. So what  value does Eastern Europe have to draw expensive attention from America? Besides some Oil and Gas reserves in Central Asia that America is never going to get and a base to project American power there isn’t all that much of value in the region to America. Why build up a new pit bull a la Israel in Georgia and follow the same old doctrine that Bush was following? Look at all the problems Israel has caused for America in the Middle East! Oil and gas flowing through pipes to Europe isn’t America’s strategic concern. Eastern Europe is much more a European issue than an American issue. Poland and Czechoslovakia are already EU members with clear defensive alliances. They don’t need American bases; they need the EU to provide some serious military and economic muscle. This has already been identified as an issue with the EU offering its Eastern Partnership in the area. Of course in the great European diplomatic tradition it’s being done so slowly as to not upset anyone too much.

It’s clear that the military support network is shifting in Eastern Europe. Dreams of a NATO led alliance defending the area have faded fast. The future is very uncertain for countries like the Ukraine and the Baltic States Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The US didn’t rush to defend Georgia and surely won’t press NATO to do likewise if Russia gets militarily involved ‘defending Russian citizens’ in some NATO linked Eastern European country. The EU response was even worse with Sarkozy negotiating a cease fire agreement that Russia failed to respect because there were no serious consequences to not following the agreement. The most that would be expected is a diplomatic limit placed on the destruction and occupation that Russia would be allowed as what happened in Georgia. That isn’t much of a security blanket after watching Georgia get bombed for a few weeks and shattered for years to come.

About Noel Trotsky

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    I don’t know if you intended this, but reading between the lines you’re basically pointing out that Obama’s practical solution is to allow most of the world to slide down into tyranny and oppression, with now-free countries unsupported and left easy meat for new and growing expansionist powers.

    This lack of engagement which you draw attention to will leave the next great empire builders to determine the shape of the world’s future rather than the west, and chances are that shape is going to be very unpleasant for a lot of people.

    There are real problems in the world, and whle they don’t necessarily demand military solutions, they demand a higher level of proactive engagement than we’ve seen thus far from the Obama administration.

    If not us, who? If not now, when?

    Dave

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    Interesting article. Assuming that President Obama’s international objectives lie other than in Europe, where do they lie? His administration managed to make a mess of Honduras for four months until the light finally dawned that maybe the “coup” government is not all bad, that maybe it was not a “coup” after all, and that the “constitutional government” under former president Zelaya is not all that great and hence need not be reinstated. Finally, under U.S. pressure, an accord was finally reached on October 30, which the Zelaya faction has managed to undermine and then declare dead. The U.S. Government will probably recognize the results of the November 29 Honduran elections, although the OAS probably will not. The administration has also managed to irritate Venezuelan President Chávez by negotiating a military base use agreement with Colombia, which has caused Chávez to tell his military to prepare for war since the U.S. is plotting to steal Venezuelan oil. The Obama administration has had little to say about the massively repressed protests in Iran, and continues to demand that Israel yield to Palestinian demands, which does not seem to be producing much beyond disillusionment with the United States in Israel. It certainly does not seem to be persuading Iran to rethink its nuclear ambitions, or its support for terrorists elsewhere.

    Is there some at least vaguely consistent thread in President Obama’s foreign policy; if there is, how is it likely to benefit the United States?

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    So, Obama is the screw-up I predicted he’d be. He messed things up for the Luo (his ancestral tribe in Kenya) as a senator from Illinois and now he is screwing up world-wide. Is it Divine Punishment that Obama is flushing you all down History’s toilet?

  • zingzing

    yes, ruvy. god hates obama. hates his black ass. he said, “if they elect obama, i’m going to get sooooo damn mad.” then he went skiing. by which i mean he did a lot of blow.

  • Baronius

    I think the President has made it clear that his primary foreign policy goal is to improve America’s image among Muslim countries. His second priority (and it’s more economic policy than foreign) is to keep China buying US bonds. I guess you could include both of those within an overall policy of not upsetting the applecart.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    The only good thing there exists about Obama is his black ass. Americans have shown that they can move beyond several centuries of racism by choosing a man who looks black – like Obama.

    Everything else about the man – is shit.

  • Baronius

    Zing, Ruvy may hate Obama, but he was rooting for him during the whole campaign. Don’t you remember that?

  • Noel

    Dave,
    I think Obama clearly sees that the US can’t afford engagement everywhere on planet Earth. The credit that the US has lived on is getting worn out and fiscal responsibility will come as it always does when I get my Visa bill at the end of the month! What is strategically important for the US in Eastern Europe? Nothing really. I think Obama and the US will still engage Europe and Eastern Europe but there will much less action and more talk. That will happen behind closed doors and be largely keep quiet. I hope proud Americans can understand that 99% of diplomacy happens at conferences over coffee and not in front of CNN.

    Dan,
    US interests are in many places and I only profess to be a Russia expert. Middle East Oil is #1 in Washington. This includes Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iraq. Containment of Chinese power is also high on the list. I think South America doesn’t get much attention as you mentioned with the lack of understanding of Honduras’ situation and backing the wrong horse there initially. The US has been content to meddle in South America and keep everyone upset at each other rather than banding together for a common purpose. Chavez sees this and wants to unite everyone against this meddling but he’s too extreme for many others to follow. Iran is destined to get nukes and will/can not be stopped without grave political consequences. The Muslim Middle East would never forgive the US for supporting Israel bombing Iran. Imagine a billion Muslims actively supporting Bin Laden because he’s the only one willing to stand up against the US…it could happen if Iran gets bombed. Israel would surely be heading for another Middle East war after the surrounding Muslim countries prepare for a few years.

    I think Obama is calming world opinion that is strongly anti-american right now…and this is the right strategy. Travel to Europe and the Middle East wearing a US flag on your backpack and you’ll see what I mean. After this he is focusing on wealth and trade I believe, another key issue. But truth be told Obama works quietly on international issues. Russia has been handled very nicely by Obama while staying out of the papers largely.

    Ruvy,
    My personal opinion of Obama so far is that he is tackling huge problems at home and abroad rather well. He walks a fine line between domestic public support and getting difficult issues resolved. Resolving 2 differents wars while facing the biggest economic crisis in 80 years isn’t easy and not everyone will agree with how to fix things. He is spending his political capital quickly however so expect some ‘feel good’ decisions to build up his support soon. Hope he makes you a little happier soon, possibly with free health care???

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Noel -

    Careful, friend – anyone who espouses a thoughtful, objective viewpoint on here is immediately viewed as a left-wing socialist fifth-columnist subversive whose only goal is the destruction of liberty and freedom. Oh – I forgot you’d also be a communist and a nazi and a reverse racist, too!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Noel -

    BTW, I’ve seen the conservative party line that the Russo-Georgia war was almost all Russia’s fault, whereas I’ve read other articles purporting that Russia was strongly provoked by Georgia.

    What’s your viewpoint on this?

  • Noel

    Glenn,

    Appreciate your comment and words. Not too worried about being called left, communist, socialist and all that given my name ‘Trotsky’! America is really going through a strong right wing period now but I’m sure intelligent readers understand there is good and bad about everything, left or right!

    The Georgia conflict has enough evidence now given the balanced EU report on the incident to show both parties were at fault. I believe that Russia initially approved and funded increasing levels of harrassment by S. Ossetian forces. This was done to upset Georgia and keep it unstable. Teach it a lesson so to speak. Georgia’s response was fool hardy and well over the top. They started a full on invasion leaving Russia no option but to respond and save face. Georgia was very likely told by the Bush administration that military support was not an option but that the US would not let Russia invade Georgia. That made Georgia a little too brave I think. Russia on purpose invaded more of Georgia than the US allowed to display to everyone who is the regional superpower and how much actual support the US is willing to provide in the face of a real war. With the US in Iraq and Afghanistan there wasn’t any practical military option available, although a bunch of US vessels cruised the Black Sea. As many ships as allowed under current treaty limits actually. This kept the Russian fleet in the Black Sea pinned down and very worried.

    Ultimately Russia was going to have to do something about Georgia given the huge military support the US was pouring into the country. Georgia was using UAV’s while Russia didn’t even have any themselves! Israel now sells them to Russia by the way. The typical Russian subversion and support of seperatist areas was barely containing the sphere of influence.

    The US can’t be blamed for heavily arming and training Georgia to defend itself though. Everyone deserves the right to defend themselves.

    Check out a few of my previous articles Glenn if your interested in Russian topics and thanks for the question!

  • zingzing

    baronius: “Zing, Ruvy may hate Obama, but he was rooting for him during the whole campaign. Don’t you remember that?”

    for the wrong reasons and without a vote. so, yes, i remember. but i didn’t say ruvy hates obama. i said god does. i was just agreeing with ruvy.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle


    Careful, friend – anyone who espouses a thoughtful, objective viewpoint on here is immediately viewed as a left-wing socialist fifth-columnist subversive whose only goal is the destruction of liberty and freedom. Oh – I forgot you’d also be a communist and a nazi and a reverse racist, too!

    Glenn, based on Noel’s comment about Georgia it appears that he actually thinks about issues rationally rather tha repeating talking points and the same old tired distortions. That’s likely to get him treated a bit better than the run of the mill leftist [Personal attack deleted by Comments Editor] like Wattree.

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Noel,

    Free health care? The United States are broke! They can’t even provide free health care to Americans, let alone Israelis like me. Besides, we have a surfeit of Russian (Jewish) doctors here.

    From what I’m able to see, Obama needs a lot of help to figure out what to do. He’s in far deeper water than an inexperienced elitist like him is used to swimming in.

    It goes without saying that Russia under the dictator Putin will do what it can to rebuild its own power as an empire. Putin has a whole slew of Russian Israeli politicians trying to get Israel annexed as the newest district in the Russian Federation. Obama’s actions alienating Israelis can only help those efforts – but any intelligent human being keeps his distance from a bear.

    I do not know whether the new Russian nomenklatura in Moscow wants to be bothered with the raving ego-maniacs of the Russian-Israeli political class. I really had a good laugh when one of these guys, Gaydamak, ran away to mother Russia to escape weapons smuggling charges in France, and gave up his Israeli citizenship so that the French could not extradite him from Israel. I myself am forced to wonder if Rav Kahane, z”l, hy”d, did the right thing in supporting the freeing of Jews from the Soviet Union. But that is neither here nor there. The deed is done and we are loaded with Russians here.

    If you are indeed descended from the late Lev Bronstein, you can come here, and establish yourself as sort of a “Louie Napoléon” figure among the Russian émigrés, and inject some fresh blood to a tiresome bunch of fools. And the rest of us Jews can go back to joking about how the Trotskys make the revolutions – and the Bronsteins have to pay for them.

    Blessings from Samaria,
    Ruvy

  • Arch Conservative

    Rising unemployment, tension between Iran and Israel, healthcare refrom, cap and trade, illegal immigration, shooting at Army bases, china’s runaway economy, Russia influencing all of eastern Europe, picking out a White House pooch……

    What’s a messiah to do?

    Go on television before the nation and give shoutouts?

  • Arch Conservative

    “So, Obama is the screw-up I predicted he’d be.”

    Ruvy…..when you’re an incompetent state Senator, you’re a “screw-up.”

    When you’re an incompetent president that got elected because of messianic media driven stupidty, you’re a “fuck-up.”

  • moncsa

    “Now Obama is backing out of Georgia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and anywhere else in Europe”
    wtf?! Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist since 01.01.1993! LOL
    What an expert :D

  • Noel

    Moncsa,

    Sorry to use the old term for both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It adds a flavour of past Russian dominance of the region to the article. Of course both countries are very independant of each other now. The question is more to do with how independant of Russia are they?

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Noel,

    Just curious. I know this is really old stuff, but going back to the end of the Soviet Union, I had the feeling back then that Gorbachev understood that the Union was on its last legs, and that he was attempting to ease things along in an effort to avoid the inevitable chaos that an abrupt change of system would (and, to some extent did) bring.

    I know many reviled Gorbachev for his actions against Afghanistan, but, otherwise, he seemed to be the most westward leaning of any of the Soviet leaders.

    What’s your take on that?

    B

  • Noel

    Baritone,

    Good to hear from you. Gorbachev is a very interesting person in Russian history. The beneficiary of the quick deaths of Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko he was a very young man to be picked as leader of the USSR. At the time it was a big departure from picking tried and true old timers however it was felt that stability was needed (no quick deaths!). In hindsight he sure didn’t provide stability!

    I would never consider Gorbachev a westward leaning leader though. In an interview he himself confirmed he was and is a socialist completely. He had a better understanding of Western economic structures and thought due to extensive travel abroad, but his reforms were out of pure need. The USSR was completely stagnant due to years of little productivity improvements and wide spread corruption. Peristroika was the idea to spark creativity and initiation within the Soviet system, unlike what many think it is now. At the same time he proposed expanding co-operatives so he wasn’t western leaning, just trying to inject reasons for productivity increases into the managed economy system.

    Of course his changes were sweeping for the time. Glasnost was his defense against the old timers still left in the party when they came after him. He thought the people would support him and his reforms if he let them speak their minds. He understood that respectful open debate is more productive than backdoor deals and corruption. He didn’t understand the deep feelings against Russia by so many different groups within the USSR. A common mistake in all leadership.

    On Afghanistan Gorbachev’s hands were literally tied by the powerful military structure in place at the time, which is still being fought by Putin today! He didn’t pull out quickly because he didn’t have the support to make that decision. The USSR was governed by force, not laws and police. The military was the ultimate force in the land and we all openly saw it in the August 1991 coup by Yeltsin.

    The most Western type of thing Gorbachev did was drop the Breznev doctrine of controlling all the republics with an Iron fist. Even this I believe was a mistake on his part in thinking the republics would manage themselves well and never considered they could leave the USSR completely. Gorbachev truly believed they loved the USSR despite all it’s problems.

    Gorby was very intelligent but any system of government that is changed too rapidly will lead to major problems. He wanted to do too much too quickly I believe.

    Sorry for the long version…

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    I know many reviled Gorbachev for his actions against Afghanistan, but, otherwise, he seemed to be the most westward leaning of any of the Soviet leaders.

    Actually, when one reads the “fine print” of the Soviet dissolution it’s apparent that Russia came out way ahead on this one. The former satellites all pay Russia every day for the basics like electricity, infrastructure and water. When countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent it was independence on paper. All of these countries continue to pay the bills of the Soviet occupation. These people may have freedom but they lost in terms of quality medical care, societal order and the basics. The government officials in all of these countries are quite corrupt and driven only by financial gain.

    Case in point is the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake. My business partner lived through it and his family lost everything. One of his uncles was dug out from under six stories of debris. Once extracted, Russian rescue workers rushed him to Moscow for treatment. Without it, he would be dead. Therein is the difference. If such a disaster was to befall Armenia today, that which was available then is no longer there.

    Life in many of the former Soviet bloc countries is actually worse today than it was under Soviet rule. Government officials on every level from small towns to the federal are corrupt. If a “citizen” requires government assistance or permissions such things are not granted without the “citizen” paying cash, period. So, in my mind, the jury is still quite out on the positive impact of Gorbachev and the fall of the USSR.

  • Noel

    Your very correct Silas. I’ve travelled several former USSR republics and most citizens feel life was better under the Soviets but now they have more freedom. The corruption however is everywhere, Russia and former republics.

    After all these years I still feel that life is more difficult now than under the USSR. The current ‘freedom’ has cost a great deal.

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    When I think of how idyllic I was during the Reagan years I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret. Was the fall of the Soviet Union really the best alternative for Eastern Europe? Or has Eastern Europe turned into a cheap immitation of the United States? A system driven by a handful of corrupt capitalists and politicians? I made a remark recently to a group of native Russia nd, Georgians and Armenians concerning all of the corruption. I said that Russia wasn’t really free but an oligarchy. The standard reply was that the officials in those countries learned their queues from United States.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Whether it was Gorbachev’s notion or not, mightn’t Russia and it’s former satellites have faired better if changes had taken place more gradually? I don’t suppose that was really possible, but we are talking about people who had never in history lived in anything resembling a free society, let alone a capitalist economic system. No one knew the rules of the game. What followed was essentially a free for all.

    In that light, is Putin seen simply as a power grabber, or is there any sense that he is attempting to regain some kind of control over a system gone wild?

    B

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Baritone, you make good points that are right on. Putin is very beloved in that region, even among the “satellites” and the reason for that is the people believe he is trying to reign in the chaos and set up a system that’s effective. No doubt Putin is the most powerful man in the area if not all of Europe an dis trying to bring the region into a new age.

  • Noel

    Baritone,

    Of course the USSR would have been better off with more gradual change, but like you said it wasn’t possible. There was too much pent up frustration from years of suppression of local people and cultures. A small crack and the pressure blew everything up. It would have taken a Stalin type of crack down in East Germany when a million people demonstrated to put the genie back in the bottle.

    There weren’t even laws on the books for privitization when auctions were being held for millions of dollars to assets! No one knew the rules because there were none yet!

    Remember that Putin was selected by the Oligarchs that rose from the chaos, or ultimate free market economy some might say as there was no rules. When his name first surfaced everyone said “Who is Putin?”. He was picked as a person that could work within the old power structures to manage the country while being controlled by the Oligarchs who wanted to maintain the huge gains they had attained. He didn’t grab power as he had no significant power base to support him. He wasn’t even very high in the KGB and service in the St. Petersburg government never counted for much in Moscow. Putin was simply the person picked to manage the new system of power.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Interesting article and comments, Noel. I believe you’re correct in your analysis – namely that US has too much on its plate right now to deal pro-actively with the Eastern Europe. I don’t view the situation of there being two distinct spheres of influence as necessarily bad or dangerous. The “annexing” of the Eastern European powers by the West would definitely be worst and a continuous bone of contention, so I think the present course is a better strategy. So let’s “enjoy” two spheres of influence while we still can – before the world becomes one, as it were.