Putin has put Obama on the spot

Though events have moved quickly, it is already apparent that there is little the United States can do to get Russia to leave Crimea any time soon.  The proposals from left and right for action are nowhere near sufficient to get Vladimir Putin to reverse his successful military seizure of the province’s vital security and governance installations.  American military action is not in the cards.  While the West notes Russia’s inconsistency in violating the principle of sovereignty, Putin even claims legal justification:  the province’s prime minister asked for help, which he says is permissible under Russia’s security agreements with Kiev.

The most immediate requirement is not to push Russia out of Crimea, which may take a decade or more.   Washington lacks non-military means capable of doing it, and no one is advocating war with Russia over Ukraine.  But Moscow, successful in Crimea, may well be thinking of similar takeovers in other southern and eastern provinces with large Russian-speaking populations that voted for Viktor Yanukovich: Read more…

Left and right are shooting blanks

Hayes Brown over at ThinkProgress suggests five ways the US can respond to Russia invading Ukraine without going to war.

It’s a brave attempt.  But nothing he cites will suffice to get the Russians out of Crimea:

  1. Suspending Russia’s membership in the G-8 would be a pinprick to Moscow.  It has never cared as much about the G-8 as we would have like it to.  In any event, the G-8 has yielded economic leadership to the G-20 and hasn’t produced much in the 8 years since it first met in Russia.  President Putin boycotted the 2012 meeting at Camp David.  He cares that much.
  2. Placing travel bans on Putin and his family is symbolic, not substantial.  The Europeans likely won’t go along.  The man doesn’t vacation a lot in the US.
  3. Trade (and I would say financial) sanctions are a serious proposition, but there are real limits to what we are permitted to do by our World Trade Organization obligations and by our concern about damage to the global financial structure.  Trade and financial sanctions won’t have much impact unless a good part of the rest of the world goes along with them, which isn’t likely.
  4. Suspension of NATO cooperation and participation.  The Russians have never much appreciated their post-Cold War relationship with NATO.  Few in Moscow would cry over this spilled milk.
  5. Accelerate missile defense.  This would require a dramatic turnaround both in the US and Europe in favor of missile defenses few think are terribly important or will work.  And it would cost a bundle. Read more…

It’s all over but the shouting

1.  Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich held his first press conference yesterday since fleeing Kiev in Rostov on Don, in southern Russia not far from the Sea of Azov (and Crimea).  He was not in Moscow and has only talked to Russian President Putin by phone.  Putin has not committed to back Yanukovich’s claim to still being President, or his insistence on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

2.  President Obama went to the briefing room to warn Russia

the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

What those costs might be is not clear.  There are rumors of canceling a G-8 meeting, which won’t bring tears to Russian eyes.

3.  The Prime Minister of Crimea has asked Putin for help.  Security contractors who work for the Russian military have taken over Crimea’s airports and pro-Russian paramilitaries have taken over government buildings in the province.  Russian helicopters have flown into Crimea. Read more…

Tunisia: the bright spot

Maia Blume, a master’s student at SAIS, writes:

Carnegie Endowment hosted a discussion Wednesday with Rached Ghannouchi, co-founder of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, moderated by Marwan Muasher, vice president of the Carnegie Endowment and former Foreign Minister of Jordan.

Muasher sees Tunisia as the one bright spot in the region.  It now has the most pluralistic, democratic and progressive constitution in the Arab world. Compromise is critical to progress, and Tunisia’s various political factions have succeeded in overcoming their differences. It should be recognized as a model for the Arab world. Ghannouchi himself helped steer his party toward compromise, as Ennahda relinquished control of the government in order to pave the way for passage of the constitution. The role of religion in politics has not yet been decided, and Tunisia is facing mounting economic challenges, but its progress thus far should not be understated.

Ghannouchi said the Tunisian model has proven that democracy can be realized around the world.  Fundamentalism only leads to chaos and destruction. The cost of giving up is less than showing patience for the democratic process to take hold. Countries in the region need time to become accustomed to democracy after decades of despotism and tyranny. Because of the Tunisian commitment to the process, the constitution has gained the widest possible consensus. Read more…

Yes, Virginia, there is civil society in Afghanistan

The Woodrow Wilson Center Tuesday discussed “Civil Society in Afghanistan: Spark or Stumbling Block for Stability.”  Four panelists provided an optimistic portrait of the role of Afghan civil society and its potential to improve the security and stability of Afghanistan.

Clare Lockhart, the co-founder and director of the Institute for State Effectiveness, stressed the importance of balancing the roles of the state, the market and the citizenry to build stability and security. She cautioned against what she sees as one of the biggest mistakes that Western countries make when engaging in post-war reconstruction – failing to recognize that civil society already exists. It may need reinvigoration and strengthening, but its history must not be ignored. Foreign aid and Western NGOs are not the same thing as civil society, which must come from the citizenry itself through local efforts such as religious organizations, youth groups, and political groups. Ms. Lockhart identified the National Solidarity Program as the best example of development that truly rested in and on civil society by providing grants to villages for the development of local councils. Today, there are more than 31,000 local village councils. Read more…

The difference women make

Tuesday morning the National Democratic Institute and Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Insitution co-hosted a discussion with members of parliament from Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. The panelists were Rabia Najlaoui, the youngest member of the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly; Fatiha Mouknii, Moroccan Member of Parliament representing the Istiqlal party; Moussa Faraj, member of the Libyan General National Congress; and Reem Abu Dalbouh, Member of Jordanian Parliament. Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, moderated the discussion.

Rabia Najlaoui (Tunisia): The Arab Spring made it clear that women are not passive victims. They are protestors, journalists, and activists. Women played a critical role in the revolution. But soon after they were marginalized. April 2011 saw the enforcement of the zipper rule requiring that names on ballots alternate by gender.  94% of electoral lists listed a man first. Read more…




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