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Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Difference A Leader Makes

I was struck this morning by the difference having a real leader can make for a country.  It happened when I read the news that Russian president Vladimir Putin had warned the Israelis not to sell weapons to the Ukraine.  Just think about it.  Russia's biggest challenge in the international arena right now is its aggression against Ukraine.  Putin has taken Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine.  Russian troops disguised as "separatists" are fighting in Ukraine, and they are slowly advancing against poorly armed Ukrainian government forces.  With the return of better weather in the area, we are likely to see an offensive by the Russians soon.  Though the USA has denounced the fighting in Ukraine, America has done nothing to help the Ukrainians.  President Obama will not even authorize the USA to provide intelligence assistance to the Ukrainians while their country is under assault by Russia.  Obama won't sell any weapons to Ukraine.  He has even tried to dissuade other NATO countries from helping Ukraine.  The reason for the policy has been that Obama wanted Russia's help in reaching a nuclear deal with Iran.  Of course, that deal with Iran is a joke.  Obama has been so desperate to get the deal that he has basically changed it from one that prevents an Iranian bomb to one that guarantees that Iran joins the nuclear club.  That means that Obama has withheld help from Ukraine for essentially nothing.

Now consider what Russia has done.  After Obama made his big speeches about how wonderful the agreement with Iran is (even though there is still no agreement), Putin went ahead and relaxed sanctions against Iran in the most meaningful way possible:  Russia announced it would sell a world class air defense system to the Iranians.  Once that system is in place, it will remove any remaining chance for Israel or the USA to use force to take out the Iranian nuclear installations.  The American response was almost non-existent.  Obama's spokesman did say that the USA would prefer if Russia did not sell the air defense system to Iran, but that was about it.  The Russians well know that with Obama at the helm, the USA will take no action against it as a consequence of the weapons sale.  Israel, however, cannot be happy with the sale of this system to the Iranians.  That is why we are now hearing that the Israelis are considering sales of weapons systems to the Ukraine.  Unlike the USA, Israel is making clear to Russia that selling the air defense system to Iran will come with significant costs.  Israeli weapons will not change the overall balance on the Ukrainian front.  Nevertheless, those same Israeli weapons might allow much stiffer resistance by the Ukrainians with much higher Russian casualties as a result.  Depending on what the Israelis sell to the Ukraine, the Russians might be forced to engage many more of their armed forces in this fight.  Since Russia's economy is in chaos, raising the cost of the fight is a burden that Putin would clearly want to avoid.  Putin's response is to issue a veiled threat to Israel.

So look at the outcomes for the USA, Russia and Israel.  America has no real leadership to wield its superior power against its adversaries.  As a result, the results America does not want occur and the perpetrators suffer no ill consequences.  American power is diminished; America is reduced in the eyes of its allies; and America gets no benefit from the "agreement" with Iran.  Russia takes Crimea; Russia takes eastern Ukraine; Russia even gets to earn huge sums for selling an air defense system to Iran.  Russia's power increases at very little cost.  Israel suffers a major blow when Iran gets the new air defense system.  Israel, however, shows the Russians that while America may take such actions lightly, the Israelis will not.  Israel inflicts a cost on Russia, a cost which may be enough to head off the Russian sale to Iran.  We are now at the point at which the Israelis and the Russians are trying to face each other down.  Ultimately, Russia is much more powerful, but given the current strategic situation, Russia still might back down.  At least in Russia (and Israel) we see leaders who try to maximize the positive outcome for the nation.


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