While the Washington Post editorial board gets its position on sanctions correct, the editors have a little less luck on research. The Post slams the incremental increases in sanctions applied to Russia over its actions in Ukraine, actions which John Kerry claimed publicly are directly controlling the unrest in the eastern provinces of its neighbor. Calling the new sanctions “half measures,” the editorial board demanded more comprehensive penalties for Vladimir Putin:
President Obama’s response has been slow and excruciatingly measured. New U.S. sanctions announced Monday fall well short of the steps that senior officials threatened when the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine began three weeks ago.
No wonder that, even as he announced them, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism that they would work. “We don’t expect there to be an immediate change in Russia’s policy,” a top aide told reporters. This official acknowledged that the United States could take steps that would impose “severe damage on the Russian economy” but was holding them back. The obvious question is: Why would the United States not aim to bring about an immediate change in Russian behavior that includes sponsorship of murder, torture and hostage-taking?
Why, indeed? These are extremely serious and disturbing tactics used by Moscow, which should prompt a massive economic response from the West. Instead, Obama and his European allies dither, giving Putin no reason to stop using those tactics. When asked why the US insists on taking a micro-incremental approach, one “senior official” suggested that they didn’t want to impact economic growth in an election year.
Well, that’s one for the reprint of Profiles in Courage.
Still, the editorial board seems to have missed an entire decade with its payoff pitch in the conclusion:
Those are understandable motives, but they ought to be trumped by the imperative of standing unambiguously against the first forcible change of borders in Europe since World War II.
WashPost editorial board calls Ukraine "first forcible change of borders in Europe since World War II." Uhhhhhhhhh cc: @dandrezner
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) April 29, 2014
Ahem. The layers of editors and fact-checkers at the post seem oblivious to the Balkans Wars of the 1990s, when a number of European borders got redrawn by force. That’s odd, since the US conducted bombing campaigns against Serbia and Slobodan Milosevic when it resisted redrawing those borders. The UN got called in as peacekeepers and have been there ever since in one form or another, although they stood by and allowed the genocidal massacre of Srebrenica after establishing it as a sanctuary for civilians. And let’s not forget that the borders in eastern Europe remained static only by the threat of force, or in some cases — Hungary and Czechoslovakia among them — with force itself.
Marshal Tito only kept Yugoslavia from erupting into chaos through the use of his police-state force and Soviet support, and his nation barely lasted twelve after his death, and three after the beginning of the Soviet collapse. No one puts
Baby Tito in the corner, or Milosevic either when it comes to forcible border changes in Europe, not even the Washington Post’s editors.
Getting back to the sanctions, McClatchy’s Kevin Hall isn’t impressed either:
While the new sanctions don’t target Russia’s energy sector _ Obama said that step would be taken if Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine _ they take aim at individuals whose wealth comes largely from Russia’s vast oil and natural gas industry. The reluctance to impose broad sanctions on Russian sales of oil and natural gas reflects concerns that such a step would cripple Europe’s economic recovery _ the European Union is deeply dependent on Russian energy _ and likely drive up global oil prices, which would hurt U.S. consumers and slow the U.S. economy ahead of hotly contested midterm elections in November.
The sanctions also don’t target Putin. “The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin, personally,” Obama said. “The goal is to change his calculus with how the current actions he’s engaging in in Ukraine could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy.”
“It seems to me a pretty modest step,” said Michael Singh, a former senior national security adviser in the Bush administration, who thinks the administration’s approach has emboldened rather than punished Putin. “You have to be willing to show that you are ultimately willing to incur a cost to deter Russia.”
Maybe Obama will have more flexibility after the election, eh?
Update: Forgot to include tweet from my friend Olivier Knox at Yahoo News, who tipped me to the problem.