Why are you Silent, Mr. Obama?
The new cold war is well underway, and Dima Medvedev’s Russia is consumed with a frenzied desire to provoke the Americans into a costly full-scale arms race Russia can ill afford. No sooner had it been announced that the U.S. would undertake a massive program to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, obviously a direct response to Russian threats which have included buzzing the Americans with nuclear bombers, than Medvedev was threatening to place Russian offensive missiles on the border of the Baltics, in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This makes the missile defense system now being installed in Eastern Europe, of course, all the more essential. Medvedev declined to congratulate president-elect Barack Obama, a clear signal that relations are about to get even frostier with the world’s only superpower. Obama snubbed him right back.
And yet, Obama remains silent about Kaliningrad. He is receiving national security briefings on a daily basis, yet we still have not heard one single word from him on Medvedev’s “missiles of November.” No sooner did we congratulate Mr. Obama on his electoral victory that he already has disappointed us. We feel betrayed. When another Democratic president, John Kennedy, was confronted by a missile provocation, he responded swiftly with condemnation and a U.S. military response. Obama has been tested, and he has failed. John McCain, America’s leading policymaker on Russia, cannot speak out for fear of being accused of divisiveness in the wake of the electoral results. Obama must speak out, and he must do it now. The Washington Post attempts to give Obama cover, arguing he can just ignore the problem and it will go away, that all Putin wants is attention. That’s naive nonsense, exactly the kind that gave us Josef Stalin.
One would never imagine, from Medvedev’s behavior, that Russia does not rank in the top 100 nations of the world for male adult lifespan. No clue is given from his antics that the Russian stock market has collapsed, losing 75% of its value in the space of six months, or that his government will end the year presiding over double-digit consumer price inflation. From his actions, no onlooker could guess that Russia has been condemned and ostracized by the entire civilized world over its naked aggression in Georgia, spurned by the World Trade Organzation and repudiated by international investors to the tune of billions of dollars in capital flight.
From appearances, it seems Medvedev believes his nation is invulnerable and equal in power not only to the United States but to the entire NATO alliance. Apparently, he’s not a frequent reader of the Moscow Times. Were he, then on Wednesday alone he would have read how his government has been forced to lower the excise tax on crude oil in order to prevent the nation’s fossil fuel industry from going bankrupt, thus depriving his government of it’s only significant source of income as oil prices plummet. He would have read how Gazprom and St. Petersburg local government, desperately strapped for cash, are cancelling plans to build a giant skyscraper for Gazprom’s new headquarters. And he might have thought to himself: Can we really afford to provoke a whole new cold war with the world’s only superpower, a confrontation exactly like the one that destroyed the USSR?
For the record, we should point out that there are those who might argue that America has no more right to object to Russia installing missles in Kaliningrad than Russia would to object to the U.S. putting missiles in Alaska. That’s simply false, for four reasons:
- First, Alaska doesn’t share a border with a country the missiles possibly could be used against, Kaliningrad does. Therefore, it’s immeasurably more provocative.
- Second, America is a superpower, Russia isn’t. Russia simply can’t afford to take the same kind of measures the U.S. can get away with. To believe otherwise is suicidal. Kaliningrad would not be at all easy for Russia to defend if NATO were to move against it.
- Third, America has no record of mass murder and and repression in Alaska the way Russia does in the Kaliningrad region (Katyn, etc.). It’s flatly immoral for Russia to act in this manner.
- Finally, it is ludicrous on its face to suggest that Russia has a clear title to Kaliningrad. Alaska was purchased in a business transaction; Kaliningrad was annexed by the Soviet army.
What Medvedev is doing in Kaliningrad is quite simple: He is intentionally escalating a military confrontation that Russia, like the USSR before it, has no hope of winning, and doing so even though he is fully aware of the dire and desperate need his countrymen have for investment in social services and infrastructure.
In short, Medvedev is far more dangerous to Russia’s future than any foreign “enemy” you can name.
NOTE: A word about Mr. Obama’s “Victory”
A few facts about Barack Obama’s “victory” days ago, just for context:
- Obama won 349 electoral votes. In 1980, Ronald Reagan collected 489. Though Reagan’s opponent, Jimmy Carter, was very unpopular, Obama’s opponent was far more unpopular. So Obama’s margin should have been much larger than it was.
- Obama won 63.4 million popular votes. That’s just 2% more than the supposedly despised George Bush got in 2004.
- In 2004 the two major parties collected 121 million votes. In 2008, they only got 119 million votes. Nearly 40% of Americans ignored the election and stayed away from the polls. So much for the Obama inspiration factor!
- Obama’s voters enacted gay marriage bans in many states, indicating his left-wing support is paper thin.
- Republicans still have the filibuster and can block any Obama initiative in the Senate, especially since conservative “Democrats” like Joe Lieberman are likely to cross the aisle.
- Democrats were lucky to lose in 2004. Had they not, they would have been blamed for the economic downturn. Republicans may well turn out to have been very lucky to lose this election. Democrats would do well to remember what happened to Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson after their glorious “victories.” The U.S. stock market has plunged dramatically in the days since Obama was elected.