It's 1938 All Over Again

Shades of 1938!

For those unfamiliar with the reference, it harks back to the days prior to World War II when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Germany after conferencing with Chancellor Adolf Hitler. He had negotiated 'peace' between Germany and Great Britain, waving the signed peace accord in front of the cameras and declaring “Peace in our time”. Ten months later war broke out between Nazi Germany and Great Britain and France. The peace accord wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

And so it seems Putin is trying to pull off the same trick, 'repatriating' ethnic Russians by annexing Crimea. It is an eerie parallel to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland, supposedly to 'help' ethnic Germans. And so it was during the Anschluss, the merger of Austria and Nazi Germany. And then again with the occupation of Czechoslovakia.

After Crimea, what's next? The rest of Ukraine? Belarus? Georgia, which already has some part of its territory occupied by Russian troops? More than a few have been saying Putin isn't done yet, including a lot of Russian expatriates like Gary Kasperov.

When I tweeted about the possibility of a “Ukrainian Anschluss” on Feb. 20, the Sochi Games were still underway. I noted that Putin’s invasion of Georgia took place during the Beijing Olympiad in 2008 and wondered what would dissuade him from similar action in Ukraine since Russian troops still occupy South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian territories, with no visible harm to Putin’s international relations. By the way, Russia was never sanctioned by the European or the United States over Georgia, and just a few months after the brief war ended the EU restarted talks with Russia on a formal partnership and cooperation agreement. It was quite high-minded of them, but when dealing with Putin, turning the other cheek just gets you slapped again.

It doesn't help that we have a weak president incapable of leading and a foreign policy that is equally weak, equating to “You guys are on your own!” It shows that no one seems to be in charge in Washington and that decisions weren't made and actions weren't taken that might have headed off this problem before it became one.

In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, "a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."