Stephen Zunes writes: It’s been interesting to observe the large numbers of people who suddenly think they’re experts on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine — both those on the left who blame it on Obama for intervening too much and those on the right who blame it on Obama for not intervening enough.
As someone who has spent his entire academic career analyzing and critiquing the U.S. role in the world, I have some news: While the United States has had significant impact (mostly negative in my view) in a lot of places, we are not omnipotent. There are real limits to American power, whether for good or for ill. Not everything is our responsibility.
This is certainly the case with Ukraine.
On the right, you have political figures claiming that Obama’s supposed “weakness” somehow emboldened Moscow to engage in aggressive moves against Crimea. Sarah Palin, for example, claims that Obama’s failure to respond forcefully to Russia’s bloody incursion into Georgia in 2008 made Russia’s “invasion” possible, despite the fact that Obama wasn’t even president then and therefore couldn’t have done much.
Even some Democrats, like Delaware senator Chris Coons, claim that Obama’s failure to attack Syria last fall made the United States look weak.
In reality, there seems to be little correlation between the willingness of Moscow to assert its power in areas within its traditional spheres of influence and who occupies the White House: The Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956 when Eisenhower was president; the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Johnson was president; the Soviets successfully pressed for martial law in Poland in 1981 when Reagan was president; the Russians attacked Georgia in 2008 when Bush was president. In each case, as much as these administrations opposed these actions, it was determined that any military or other aggressive counter-moves would likely do more harm than good. Washington cannot realistically do any more in response to Russian troops seizing Crimea in 2014 in the name of protecting Russian lives and Russian bases than Moscow could do in response to U.S. troops seizing Panama in 1989 in the name of protecting American lives and American bases. [Continue reading…]