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Obama Flubs Ukraine in UN Address

President Obama addressed the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly today in New York and gave what could only charitably be called an incomplete accounting of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine:

Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

Aside from what HL Mencken would have recognized as “the usual hypocrisies,” there are, it hardly needs saying, a number of problems with this kind of capsule history of the Ukrainian crisis, not least the venue and the timing of its airing.

The United States has, as of yesterday, embarked on its fifth war (Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria/Iraq) in 15 years, and this time in the company of five Islamic countries, four of which are perhaps, and without exaggeration, some of the most odious regimes on Earth. The target of the U.S.-led airstrikes is a relatively small (30-35,000) army of fanatics and malcontents whose leadership happens to be made up of more than a few of the former Iraqi Army officers who were summarily dismissed in the aftermath of our second Iraqi adventure in 2003. The IS Group, ISIS or ISIL, has in addition to declaring war on the United States (no doubt for recruitment purposes, but no matter), also declared that none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin is in its sights for, among other things, helping to arm Assad and for Russia’s degradations in majoritarian Islamic Chechnya.

What this might suggest is that Russia, because it faces a challenge from these very same extremists, and given its vast military superiority over our five allies as well as its longstanding relationships with Syria and Iran, could be of some assistance in our latest Near Eastern adventure.

All the while, incidents of violence between Russia and Ukraine since the cease fire agreement took hold on September 5 have sharply declined. And on Friday the two sides will begin talks on how to address the issue of resuming the transit of Russian gas, which has been on hold since June 15, to Ukraine. That Mr. Obama thought that the opening of the UN General Assembly would be an opportune time to hector Russia speaks volumes as to the quality of counsel he must be receiving. And so rather than issue a plea for the cease fire to hold in eastern Ukraine, and rather than use his UN address to try and maneuver Russia into assisting the anti-ISIL coalition, the President, as he so often does, chose instead to grandstand and assert a largely fictitious American moral superiority before the world.

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28 Comments To "Obama Flubs Ukraine in UN Address"

#1 Comment By John Sobieski On September 25, 2014 @ 6:56 am

Obama’s accounting of the crisis in Ukraine was charitable toward Russia in my view as it left out Russia’s responsibility for the generations of disorder and corruption that the Maidanists were protesting. And the ceasefire is a ceasfire in name only. No one considers it the beginning of a lasting peace.

#2 Comment By Paul On September 25, 2014 @ 6:57 am

Sir, I take your main point to be that the timing of this address was imprudently chosen, as it will cause Russia to be more reluctant to provide assistance (in any of its myriad forms) to US efforts against ISIS / Da’ash.

That being said, we might pause to consider the ways in which the summary provided undercuts US credibility: “Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed.”

All the people of Ukraine? Is popular protests and calls for reform” meant to refer to nonviolent demonstrations and calls for reform within established constitutional parameters? Was the government in Kiev at the time of the annexation legitimate in terms of the existing constitution (although one presumes that the preceding government also would have refused to consent)?

The implicit answers which the US President desires that we give to these questions are, in fact, false; to the extent that he understands this, the address asserts lies. This is the sort of thing that we used to decry about Soviet propaganda — not merely that it was overtly biased, but that its premises required one to deny facts which left its prescriptions open to debate.

#3 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On September 25, 2014 @ 9:19 am

Here here, could not have said it better myself. I think Russia could be another organizing power against our own enemies if we just tipped our hat to them every once in a while. But no, we have to antagonize them at every chance we get.

Yes I realize that they see us as rivals, this is in part because of a Russian zero-sum view of the world, and also because we have clearly shown that we also believe this to be the case; but we should be cultivating a positive working relationship. They will not be true allies anytime in the near future but we should be working towards that goal. Whether we like it or not, Russia is growing and is would be an excellent partner on any number of our issues of the day.

#4 Comment By steve On September 25, 2014 @ 9:25 am

This is silly. “Let’s not step on Russia’s toes because they can help us against ISIS!” America has a reputation to uphold and throwing Ukraine under the bus simply because Russia -might- help against ISIS is penny wise and pound foolish.

And for your information, the days of Russian military might are over. France is far more well-armed and trained. Even Poland could take Russia in a non-nuclear war.

#5 Comment By Niccolo Salo On September 25, 2014 @ 11:58 am

When are people going to realize that enemy number one for US foreign policy planners is Russia, and not Islamic extremism?

When seen in this context, Obama’s speech makes sense, however distasteful and dumb it was.

If the USA could figure out a way to insert ISIS into Chechnya, it would. Recall Russia’s very, very real threat to the Saudis and Qataris that if anything should happen during Sochi, they’d experience a bombing campaign of their own.

ISIS isn’t a threat, it’s an ‘opportunity’ to re-insert forces into the region, remove Assad, isolate Hezbollah, and set the stage for war with Iran, all with the backing of the Gulf Monarchies and the blessing of Israel as well. This serves to weaken Russia’s position vis a vis Europe as per ‘full spectrum dominance’.

#6 Comment By JohnG On September 25, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

Can we imagine an American president (Democrat or Republican) saying:

“After the people of Saudi Arabia mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt royal family fled”?

#7 Comment By Andrew On September 25, 2014 @ 12:03 pm


Steve, before writing anything on military issues–learn the subject. You, obviously, have no clue what you are writing about. I am being lazy limiting my response to you to these several short sentences but both your statement on France, let alone Poland, are manifestations of utter incompetence.

#8 Comment By Andrew On September 25, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

What this might suggest is that Russia, because it faces a challenge from these very same extremists

And? The times of cooperation of the scale it used to be prior to Ukrainian coup is over between Russia and USA. Russia is going to be dealing with these threats (including what is coming in Afghanistan) within the framework of ODKB. Several Councils were held already in the last couple of years. Iraq received both Su-25 and Mi-28s in her fight against IS way before US strikes. I wrote it many times, I will reiterate–United States committed a cultural suicide in Russia. Period.

#9 Comment By Paul Grenier On September 25, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

“Incomplete accounting” indeed (forgot to mention, for example, that the U.S. helped bring about the coup that got this war started). What Obama gave the UN, as usual with any American president (at the least since Kennedy’s death), was propaganda. When a whole society allows itself to be immersed in warm-and-fuzzy-propaganda, as America has done for many years, the facts sound harsh and hateful; and those who speak them are attacked. Thanks for giving it your college best, Mr. Carden. TAC is doing essential work.

#10 Comment By Darth Thulhu On September 25, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

steve wrote:

for your information, the days of Russian military might are over. France is far more well-armed and trained. Even Poland could take Russia in a non-nuclear war

Riiiiight. That certainly explains why Ukraine has so easily steamrollered a modest fraction of Russia’s available military resources …

Meanwhile, back in reality, the Poles have fewer than 50,000 troops and a few hundred very-old tanks, while the Russians have just under 300,000 troops and around 2500 tanks (some old, some new). If Poland weren’t part of a treaty organization that promised to rally to its defense, it would get creamed in any imaginable conflict.

#11 Comment By SDS On September 25, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

“America has a reputation to uphold and throwing Ukraine under the bus simply because Russia -might- help against ISIS is penny wise and pound foolish.”

Yes; quite a reputation…..And Ukraine is not ours to “throw under the bus”…It is really none of our business…. as is ISIS, for that matter….But we will choose to insult any we can and interfere everywhere as that is the reputation we need to uphold….

#12 Comment By Beatio On September 25, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Since when and how exactly did Russia become an enemy of the United States?

#13 Comment By JohnG On September 25, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

In total agreement with SDS here.

It’s all about ethnic and religious rivalries which should be none of our business. ISIS is a direct consequence of the raw deal the Sunnis were given in the new Iraq. They want their piece of territory where they can be and feel safe. The sooner that gets recognized the better, and the sooner we get rid of ISIS, which is something only the Sunnis can do, as it CANNOT be imposed by external powers. And, BTW, has anyone noticed how our “allies” the Kurds (and the Iraqi army) have no wish to go on a conquest of the Iraqi Sunnistan, while they are perfectly happy to get and protect their Kurdistan (Shiastan)? So why not just leave it at that?

Russian speakers and Russophiles in Eastern Ukraine the same thing. The central government (admittedly corrupt, but so are most governments in this world) gets overthrown and another one is installed against their will. So they rebel and demand autonomy, big deal! Give them their share and I don’t see them marching on Kiev or L’viv any time soon. End of story. I am sorry but I just don’t buy the idea that this would somehow be new Munich and that Putin is about to invade Ukraine, much less Poland or some other country. So the whole Polish vs. Russian army debate is throwing gasoline on a warm place where, depending on one’s point of view and goals – fortunately or unfortunately, there is no fire.

#14 Comment By c matt On September 25, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

And here I thought Putin and Obama were buds just before the O’s re-election.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 25, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

Gotta love all these armchair strategists safe in their recliners ready sacrifice so many innocent lives and livlihoods in the name of “Full Spectrum Dominance” – that is, world domination.

What is it about those among the powerless who salivate at the proxy experience of dreaming of domination of others, by slavish devotion to their own masters’ appetites?

#16 Comment By Andrew On September 25, 2014 @ 4:55 pm

@Darth Thulhu

It is more complex than just the number of troops and tanks, albeit you are correct here. Russian Air Force today fields one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world. Russian Armed Forces, in general, operate on the principles of the Net Centric Warfare employing a whole spectrum of stand off high precision weapons. In general, C4ISR complex of Russia rivals that of the US. The experience of the Operational Planning is, actually, unique and is based on a very rich combat history. Do Russian Armed Forces have problems? Absolutely! Some of them are very complex and require a huge effort to address, but this guy comparing Poland, and even France, and Russia–yeah, that made my day;-)

#17 Comment By James Ward On September 25, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

These attempts to downplay Russian actions so that we may cooperate with them smacks of an apology for the devil. It would be hard to devise a less sympathetic argument. Either the whole moral perception of the situation must be challenged directly or the subject should be left alone.

As it happens the moral perception can be challenged and should be. America is at least as culpable as Russia for the conflict in Ukraine, perhaps much more so. This is not the proper space to lay out that argument but here are a few points that are a matter of public record and may be easily verified:

Yanukovich was ousted unconstitutionally and without the support of the majority of the country.

The Crimea referendum reflected the real wishes of its residents.

Nato members supported Kiev morally, financially, and with promises of future support in launching a war in Eastern Ukraine – this despite eastern rebels doing nothing that had not been done by Maidan protestors in Western Ukraine when such potential actions were condemned by Nato members.

The Geneva agreement of April, which clearly applied to the whole country, was treated as applying only to Eastern Ukraine by Kiev. Despite this clear breach Nato members blamed Russia solely for the failure of the agreement without providing any evidence that Russia had the power to ensure the agreement was followed in the East and even though the agreement did not require Russia to do so.

The State Department repeatedly lied about or concealed air and artillery attacks carried out by the Ukrainian army against civilian targets. It likewise denied the existence of hundreds of thousands of refugees and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

All this was done without challenge in the U.S. media, nor did it gain serious attention in journals of foreign policy.

#18 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 25, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

Why can’t we just butt out…of the Ukraine and the alleged “crises” over ISIS?

I fail to see why either the Russians or the ISIS folks have to be our enemies. Ukraine is none of our business, nor is the Iraqi/Syrian Sunni borderland.

Yes, Obama “flubbed” it. But not because we should be sucking up to Russia so that it might join us in our absurd, never ending, pointless, fruitless, as well as illegal and immoral wars in the Middle East. Yeah, I don’t see that happening, Chechnya or no Chechnya. Why would Russia be so stupid? Russia is not beholden to Israel as we are.

No, Obama “flubbed” it because, viz a viz Russia, unlike the Middle East, rather than a powerful and vociferous and wealthy and engaged lobby working overtime to ensure our continued subservience to the wrong side (or, at a minimum, to a side that doesn’t deserve it), there is only the kind of tedious, easily rebutted, E European, weak sister cry babyism such as we see here in the comments. There is no Ukrainian equivalent of AIPAC and Obama actually could, if he wanted to, make a deal with Russia and end the controversy altogether, in a way that political reality doesn’t really allow him to in the Middle East.

#19 Comment By VikingLS On September 26, 2014 @ 6:14 am

“Obama’s accounting of the crisis in Ukraine was charitable toward Russia in my view as it left out Russia’s responsibility for the generations of disorder and corruption that the Maidanists were protesting.”

No one is responsible for that other than the Ukrainian political class which has done little other than engage in court intrigues since the country gained its independence. This is not Russia’s fault (nor America’s), it’s Ukraine’s.

#20 Comment By Winston On September 26, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

The anti Russia people have no grasp of reality. I wonder what axe do they have to grind?

#21 Comment By All Blond On September 27, 2014 @ 9:17 am

I wondering who on earth prepare speeches for that guy called President?
Obviously that someone is not from USA or working for people of our country.
Our country need jobs and keep money in the country, need to stop wasting money overseas – they hate us anyway.
And more aid we sent to them – more they hate us.
So, lets just stop helping people who hate us and start take care of our own problems!

#22 Comment By Verus On September 27, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

President Obama did not flub in UN. He is just taking it personally. Until someone more pragmatic appears in White House, Russia is going to be lambasted anyway.

#23 Comment By rus_programmer On September 27, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

What makes the United States, it is not just hypocrisy. Here is more suitable word Chutzpah.

First Nobel Peace Prize laureate has flooded into Syria and Iraq weapons. At the same time he did not care that the “champions of democracy” demonstrated sadistic. But what a surprise, they do not go to geyparady and continue to cut off the head.

At the same time he accuses Russia to capture the Crimea. The fact that this violent seizure not killed any civilians.

Previously, at least a jar of white powder showed. And now Russia is accused of entering the army to the east of Ukraine without any evidence. Although even an idiot clear that if there were our troops, the situation would be the same as in the Crimea, ie peace and order.

#24 Comment By Vladimir Makarenko On September 28, 2014 @ 10:40 am

I am quite sure that Obama left all burning problems of US-Russia relations to idiots in State dept who will do today anything to shift guilt for Ukraine troubles on Russia. Somebody said very bitterly – Obama is a man in the Office not in Power, looks like he is more interested in golf than trying to figure out what really his people are doing.

here is rather estranged and objective analysis what is going on:


#25 Comment By mightypeon On September 28, 2014 @ 7:07 pm

In the case of Mr. Sobieski here, well, he is Polish.
Russian Polish hostility is pretty drat old, and also pretty drat recent, and goes back a long long time.
Most People in the west dont tend to know that Poland conquered Moscovy twice in the early 17th century, they also dont know that Poland was the last Country to successfully (as definied with “concluding hostilities with a beneficial one sided peace treaty”) attack Russia in the early 1920s.
That war is also interesting for some different reasons too. Initially, Poland saw the Russian Civil War as an opportunity to grab land. The Polish assault was seen as so serious, that the mortal Red and White enemies cooperated against the Poles. The Poles were thrown back, and Bolshevik Propaganda immidiatly changed from “throw back the Polish invaders” to “We will storm into Europe over the dead corpse of Poland”. This lead to a predictable Mobilisation of all segments of Polish Society (which didnt happen when Pilsudski started his excellent adventure, the Polish left remembered that they and the Reds fought on the same side of the barricades in 1905 and wasnt too hot on grabbing lands full of Belarussians and Ukrainians), and to the “wonder on the Vistula”. Now the Reds were running, and Pilsudski had a choice between grabbing land and marching on Leningrad or Moscow.
He grabbed land, for a quite logical reason. Poland wanted Russian land, they also wanted a Communist victory in the Civil War, since a Communist Russia would be an isolated Russia and could not coordinate with a non communist Germany against Poland.
It didnt quite work out though but it was a reasonable assumption.

The big Problem is though, there are many such hostilities around the world, Russia and Poland have the destinction of never properly uniting against some common threat. Not against the Wilhelimine Empire, not even against the Nazis, not against Napoleon, even against the Mongols they fought and lost seperatly.
That individual Poles could rise pretty highly in Russia (which makes it a bit different to Ireland and England) is a thing, but not a very big one.

Mending Russian Polish Relations longterm requires a jointly defeated Alien Invasion.

#26 Comment By Andrew On September 29, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

not against Napoleon,

Well, Tolstoy provides a very good description of Polish Colonel reporting to Napoleon in his War and Peace. Poles were an integral part of Grand Armee’.

#27 Comment By mightypeon On September 30, 2014 @ 9:20 am

Actually, now that I think it true, if Aliens would invade Belarus, and be militarily defeated by a joint Polish Russian military operation, the most likely outcome would be a Polish Russian clash over who gets the Alien artifacts.

#28 Comment By Seamus On September 30, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed.

The fact that “their corrupt President” was the legally elected president of the Ukraine doesn’t seem to mean anything, nor does the fact that “the government in Kiev” that objected to the Russian annexation of the Crimea was one that came to power through mob violence, in violation of the Ukrainian constitution. It’s quite interesting to see the contrast between the way the Obama administration treated the Ukrainian coup d’etat in 2014 and the way it treated the removal of the Honduran president from office by Congress in 2009 in accordance with the provisions of the Honduran constitution.