George Will has written a very strange column on Ukraine and U.S. Russia policy. Consider this non sequitur:
Obama participated in waging seven months of war against Libya, a nation not threatening or otherwise important to the United States. Yet Joe Biden’s Tuesday phone call to Yanukovych is, as of this writing, Obama’s strongest response to the Ukraine crisis, which matters to the political trajectory of the European continent.
I have no idea what the one thing has to do with the other. The Libyan war was a mistake, and one of the more important errors that Obama has made in foreign policy, but what he did or didn’t do in Libya is entirely irrelevant here. I take for granted that the U.S. had nothing at stake in Libya’s civil war, and therefore shouldn’t have intervened, but then it’s also true that the U.S. has little at stake in Ukraine. Indeed, if you believe that Libya was a “nation not threatening or otherwise important” to the U.S., why on earth would you be so exercised about insufficient U.S. activism in Ukraine? It is at best an overstatement to say that the crisis in Ukraine matters to the “political trajectory” of all Europe. It is important to Ukraine itself, and to Ukraine’s immediate neighbors, but that is all. Is the “political trajectory” of Europe going to change significantly because of the outcome of this crisis? No matter what that outcome might be, it is difficult to see how it could.
Will faults Obama for not responding “strongly” enough to the crisis, but what exactly does Will think a sufficiently “strong” response should look like? He neglects to tell us, perhaps because there are so few practical options available to the U.S. in this case. It is also wrong to think of this as “the final episode of the Cold War,” and thinking of it this way is bound to warp our perceptions of what can and should be done by the U.S. government. Will is certainly seeing things very strangely if he believes that Russia has a “hunter-gatherer economy,” as he chooses to put it.
As for the crisis itself, the government’s excessive use of force has been deplorable, as is the violent agitation by some elements in the anti-government protests. We can hope that the recently-announced truce will take effect and that there will be no further escalation of violence. We should continue to pray that there is a peaceful resolution to the dispute, and should be very wary of taking or supporting actions that could further inflame an already dangerously volatile situation. I don’t see what constructive difference imposing targeted sanctions would have, but since imposing sanctions is almost always done just to express disapproval rather than achieve anything I suppose that is what the U.S. and EU will end up doing. All in all, there doesn’t seem to be very much that the U.S. can do that would be constructive, and it shouldn’t seek to have a larger role in trying to resolve the crisis.