China reported sightings of Henry Kissinger in the White House Situation Room recently. For a 91-year-old foriegn policy veteran to have to be present there can only attest to the severity of both the current Ukraine crisis and the state of disrepair in the conduct of foreign affairs by the current incumbents in the Administration. (China also cited Dr. K’s presence last month in that same room giving or receiving an intense briefing with Art Lasar of the State Dept on the East and South China Seas tensions prior to John Kery’s trip to China and Korea, conspicuously skipping Japan.)
If it were true, it is definitely not business as usual. As I have pointed out, after Obama’s Syria debacle, it would be inconceivable that our foreign policy heirarchy could leave him alone as the quarterback on the field, much less calling his own plays and executing them. Nonetheless, the team is still running amok on the field, as accented by the “f**k the EU” leak and what it revealed to the astute.
To try to put some order back into the management of the Ukraine crisis, Henry summarized his strategic diplomatic framework in a rushed article in the Washington Post:
Shortly thereafter, in the second 1-hour+ phone conversation with Putin, Obama read out the US demands that contained the typical Kissingeresque one-step -further-than-bottom-line positions covering all major points in the above road-map. Immediately, it was followed by a flurry of military mobilisation in multiple locations, brandishing knuckles and fists without removing the gloves. On Putin’s end, the scheduled Crimean secession referendum was advanced to March 16 from its original March 31 date, and went one step further than the probable bottom-line by calling for not just independence from Ukraine, but of joining Russia. Thus, the West and Russia are on-course for an eyeball-to -eyeball on Crimea. Also, it seems that both sides are prepared to settle by the standard formula: you take one step back and I take one step back, and we have a temporary solution. As K puts it in his article, both sides have to be realistic. The “best” managed outcome for the crisis for the moment can only be “not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction”. [This is all in Kissinger’s works for those who care to study.] The key is that both sides need the other side to cooperate on other critical matters — Syria, nuclear arms, energy, trade. As I have said, it is now a polycentric world and “there is me in you and you in me”, albeit in many matters we can only opt for “balanced dissatisfaction” in light of “assured simultaneous disasters”.
Obviously, Putin cannot be repelled without the West showing some real military resolve, just as he will not lose completely because he knows the West’s resolve can only be limited. I think this crisis should be a lesson for America to do her homework and refrain from the perpetration of dirty tricks around the world in place of the proper conduct of foreign policy. As K puts it, we must remind ourselves that “the demonization of Vladimir Putin (or of our imagined enemies) is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.”
As for Ukraine, even the attainment of “balanced dissatisfaction” over the Crimea show-down will only be Round 1 in a long race through hell. For the next decades, the world will have to skate delicately over thin ice paving over the strategic balance between Russia and the West lying over the vast terrain that the unfortunate Ukrainians call home. Even a break-up of the country will not be a permanent solution. We need an architecture or framework for continual management of crisis spillovers from the region.