Paul Pillar

Crimea, Credibility, and Intervention

The global, indiscriminate hardline approach lends itself to exploitation for other purposes that also do not advance U.S. interests. The theme about American retreat is, of course, an old stand-by for politically attacking Barack Obama. An example of another kind of exploitation is Elliott Abrams arguing that the Crimean crisis is somehow a reason for passing the Kirk-Menendez bill to slap more sanctions on Iran. Never mind that his argument shows no cognizance of what is most needed at this juncture to keep the Iranians negotiating seriously. In fact, never mind the argument at all, because it is delivered not to improve the chance of reaching an acceptable agreement with Iran but instead to prevent any such agreement. Just savor the inventiveness necessary to contend that a proper response to a Russian military move in Crimea is to bash Iran with more sanctions. That makes about as much sense—unsurprisingly, given the neocon source—as saying that a proper response to a terrorist act by an Afghanistan-based group is to launch a war against Iraq.

Considering in tandem a Middle Eastern problem and a Russian military action in its own sphere of influence brings to mind one of the great historical instances of accidental simultaneity: in 1956, the Soviet quashing of the Hungarian revolt and the Israeli-Anglo-French invasion of Egypt. Zakaria mentions the latter of those two crises, in the course of admiring Dwight Eisenhower for wisely deflecting repeated calls, which sounded very similar to ones we hear today, for the United States to intervene hither and yon lest freedom retreat all over the world. Indiscriminately assuming a hardline posture is if anything even more unwise with the challenges of the moment than it would have been in the autumn of 1956. Russia has a more plausible claim to having a lasting and legitimate interest in Crimea than the Soviets ever did in Hungary. And an Iran that is on track to negotiate a more normal and nuclear-weapons-free relationship with the rest of the world is much different from an Egyptian strongman who made a nuisance of himself by nationalizing canals.

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