RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., March 10, 2014 – The Ukrainian crisis seems to have caught many Americans by surprise, which is surprising in itself… or perhaps just disappointing. Our Nation and its leaders seem to be captivated by the moment; living in a Twitter-like world that carries an attention span of 140 hours instead of 140 characters. While it is discouraging with respect to our citizens, it is totally unacceptable with regard to our Government.
Given the current economic fragility of most countries (ours included) as well as the political instability that often accompanies such occasions, you might expect our leaders to have anticipated potential crises such as the one in Ukraine. Sophisticated leadership would have orchestrated a thorough assessment of reasonably foreseeable issues and developed preventative strategies along with contingency plans in the event the preventative actions failed.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.
The last two Administrations seem more inclined to apply an ad hoc approach to whatever surfaces. This is not to suggest that they haven’t tried to author the best solutions within their grasp when a difficult issue arose. However, they appear to have been preoccupied with the present without having dedicated sufficient resources to anticipate the future.
As a result, the Bush Administration entered into two wars without a clear exit strategy. When the original missions were accomplished, President Bush allowed our Nation to be drawn into a secondary exercise of “nation building;” an approach that may have worked at the end of previous wars, but one which was ill-suited to work within the context of the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the Obama Administration has continued the theme, particularly with respect to Afghanistan, it has added to the saga by taking very short-sighted positions that appear to be driven by political expediency as opposed to forethought. Since many of the examples occurred more than 140 hours ago and have probably been forgotten, let’s do a quick review.
During the Arab Spring, many of our political leaders “stood in solidarity” with their “brothers” in Egypt, who were trying to establish somewhat of a democracy. When the Mubarak regime was clearly about to fall, President Obama called for him to step down. When Mubarak did, our President was deemed to be quite “presidential.”
It is interesting to note that the Egyptian uprising began on January 25, 2011, and the government toppled on February 11, 2011. The United States quickly called for new elections. However, before those elections were held, we offered Egypt and its then-unknown regime $3 billion in loan guarantees. We also promised a fairly massive number of tanks and fighter jets because nothing says “peace” and “stability” like tanks and fighter jets.
We were assured by the Administration that the Muslim Brotherhood could not possibly win the Egyptian election and that the group was relatively benign anyway. When the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated more political capabilities than the Administration believed they had and began persecuting non-Muslim factions, we didn’t have a strong “Plan B.”
For those who object to any suggestion that political expediency ever entered into the equation, let’s keep in mind that Tunisia’s government had already been overthrown before the Egyptian unrest began and that Algeria, Jordan, and Oman were also experiencing similar revolts at the time. In fact, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Mauritania, Lebanon, and several other countries began experiencing revolutions within weeks of the end of the Egyptian revolution.
Do you recall the Administration’s concern over what was transpiring in those countries? In this case, it’s not a Twitter-like attention span that is impacting your memory.
Luckily, an ad hoc distraction arose in the form of Libya. On March 3, 2011, President Obama demanded that its ruler, Muammar al-Gaddafi, step down when his departure appeared to be as inevitable as Mubarak’s. Unfortunately, Gaddafi’s ego and mental instability exceeded expectations, and the Administration had to build a coalition (which would not have existed had it not been for the United States’ insistence) to provide the necessary military support that led to Gaddafi’s execution.
Using the same tactic on August 18, 2011, President Obama called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. That scenario still hasn’t “played out” as planned, but because it was more than 140 hours ago, no one seems to notice.
Interestingly, no one also seems to remember the President’s strong words with regard to Libya on March 28, 2011, when he said: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
As the war rages on in Syria and revolutions continue in a number of other countries, perhaps we are unaware that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more may face the same fate… or maybe we have just forgotten.
If not political expediency, what is the explanation?
This brings us to Ukraine:
- Why could we not have anticipated the revolution and its possible consequences?
- Why do we appear not to have taken steps to dissuade Russia from taking advantage of the conflict?
- Why do we seem to be reacting to Russia’s aggression rather than proactively deterring it?
- Why does Russia seem to have a strategic response planned to counter our reactive steps?
You need not even be a student of international politics to have known that a Ukrainian revolution was probable. If you watched boxing on HBO, you should have known it was coming.
Vitali Klitschko, a leader of the opposition, also happens to be one of boxing’s legitimate Heavyweight World Champions (along with his brother Wladimir). HBO has often discussed his political involvement.
If you aren’t a sports fan, you may have caught Klitschko’s interview on 60 Minutes in 2004, when he alluded to his interest in running for office and pursuing change in Ukraine.
The point is: You apparently had a better opportunity to be aware of what was transpiring in Ukraine if you watched television than if you were a member of our State Department … and that’s a travesty.
During the 2012 Presidential campaign, I created an approach called the FREEDOM Process. Its premise was that our Government would better serve the People if it developed interrelated strategies in anticipation of opportunities and threats rather than continuing to respond to circumstances in a linear fashion as they arise.
“FREEDOM” is an acronym that stands for Foreign Policy, Resource Policy (i.e., Energy and the Environment), Economic Policy, Education Policy, Defense Policy, Operations Policy (i.e., those issues that go to the operating efficiency and effectiveness of Government), and Medical Policy (i.e., those issues that impact health and quality of life such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.). The concept is not only a guideline for our elected officials, but it also provides a methodology by which every citizen can better understand the problem/decision analysis that should support our Nation’s actions at home and abroad.
Not every policy needs to be impacted by every strategy, but each should be tested before a final strategy is embraced. For example: In the case of the Ukrainian revolution (which should have been anticipated), a cohesive blend of cogent Foreign, Resource, Economic, Defense, and Operational policies would have dramatically improved our ability to proactively influence the outcome.
A well-articulated Foreign Policy would define our thresholds for intervention. It would be strengthened by a coherent Resource Policy that would recognize the considerable effect of energy resources on both our Economic Policies as well as those of other countries (a critical element of the Russia/Ukraine conflict).
Correspondingly, our Defense Policy would be positioned to be supportive of the objectives of our Foreign, Resource, and Economic Policies, while our Operations Policy would streamline our ability to respond in the event that our proactive solutions failed to achieve their objectives.
This approach would accomplish two things:
- It would anticipate potential problems and either prevent them or allow our Nation to respond to them more effectively; and
- It would create a more consistent and defensible approach to our interaction with other countries.
The first element is obvious, but the second merits comment.
Our recent Administrations have interfered in the natural evolution of sovereign nations in an inconsistent manner. For example: We support the Ukrainian people’s right to decide whether they wish to continue under their established form of government or replace it with a new model, yet we claim that it is unconstitutional for a subset of the Ukrainian people who live in the Crimea region to make a similar choice.
Apparently, we support movements that establish democracies unless they are inconsistent with our political or economic interests. We give money to one ($1 billion in the case of Ukraine) to support its right to self-determine its government but tell the other (the Crimea region) it has no such right.
This shouldn’t really surprise anyone. After all, we don’t even support the concept of a democracy in our own Republic. As was discussed in this column during the past two weeks, we limit political choice and have skewed ballot access and other critical aspects of our system to ensure that the power resides within the two major Parties and, in turn, within the pockets of those who support them.
If you are comfortable with ad hoc leadership and a limited choice, there are many other countries in which you can reside to live under that model. I would prefer to see a return to FREEDOM in the one called the United States. Tweet that!
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).