Monday, March 24, 2014

Critics of Obama's Handling of Ukraine Crisis are Disingenuous and Hypocritical

President Obama and Russian President Putin
I've certainly not agreed with everything President Obama has done over the past five years in terms of his foreign policy. But the relentless and callow criticism he's getting from his political enemies for allegedly being weak in his handling of the crisis in Russia and Ukraine is not only unfair and unfounded, it is utterly political and laughably disingenuous. And it shows the selective memory of so many of his critics. 

Obama, who kicks off a two-day summit on nuclear security today at The Hague in the Netherlands, where he'll reportedly meet later in the day with other leaders of the G7 nations, is doing exactly what any responsible, measured U.S. President would do regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin's rogue actions. Nothing more, nothing less. 

The widespread and transparent political shots being fired at the President from many of his Republican adversaries begs the obvious question: Where were these folks in 2008, when Russian forces invaded the former Soviet state of Georgia? Yes, invaded. At the time, President George W. Bush responded with virtually the same words and actions as Obama is giving us now, and no one on the right called Bush weak. 

We were still shooting and bombing the crap out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that didn't deter Russia from moving in to Georgia. Get my drift? As Russian tanks began rolling into Georgia in the summer of 2008, Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, now a Fox host and reliable Obama basher, said this: "We call for an immediate ceasefire. We urge all parties, Georgians, south Ossetians, Russians to deescalate the tensions and to avoid conflict. We are working on mediation efforts and to secure a ceasefire, and we are urging the parties to restart their dialogue." 

I'm sure Dana's comments had them Russkies shaking in their boots, eh? Some real fightin' words from the Bush camp. Can you imagine if Obama presser Jay Carney said this very same thing now about the Ukraine crisis? The right would eat him alive. 

And now, most regrettably and inappropriately, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is weighing in. Say it ain't so, Mitt. He accused Obama of being naive about Putin’s world views and “lacking the judgment” and foresight to have stopped the Russian president from taking over Ukraine’s Crimea region.

"There's no question but that the president's naiveté with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia's intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face," said the former Massachusetts governor and failed presidential candidate on CBS’ Face the Nation.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, quickly and appropriately responded to Romney’s suggestion that Putin would have been discouraged had the United States first shown military force somewhere else in the world.

“I disagree, and so does history,” Durbin told CBS. “In the midst of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin invaded the Republic of Georgia. … He is a bully, and we've got to call him for what he is.”

Durbin also said the idea that sanctions are going to stop a former colonel in the KGB is naive at best. “What the President has done is first, try to negotiate, try to stop the intrigue and the referendum in Crimea. It didn't work,” said Durbin, who praised the diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Obama's trip this week was previously planned, but Russia, who was not invited, will now be the hot topic. "We're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far," Obama said after meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. 

Sounds reasonable and reassuring. But obviously not to the knee-jerk anti-Obama crowd. There's obviously nothing Obama could say or do that would change the mind of his detractors. Why? Because many of them don't really care a lick about the people of Ukraine. They just see this as a golden opportunity in a congressional election year to appeal to the base and blast the White House.

Former Vice President and chicken hawk Dick Cheney, who never met a war he didn't like but who avoided the military draft in the 1960s five times with deferments, recently said there's "no question" that Putin thinks Obama is weak. Cheney, who should just keep his mouth shut when asked about U.S. involvement in a foreign country, also said on Face the Nation recently, “No military. He [Obama] seems to operate that way most of the time. There are military options that don’t involve putting troops on the ground in Crimea." 

Well, no, not really. Pretty much none of that is accurate. But it makes for a great sound byte, doesn't it? 

The equally war-loving John Bolton, who was ambassador to the United Nations in W's administration and who gets giddy whenever he mulls the possibility of a potential war between Israel and Iran, said Obama's handling of the Putin situation proves that he is not "interested in American national security affairs." 

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose foreign policy credibility is less than zero, recently said that Obama "left a vacuum that Putin is filling." Other Obama critics say that the President needs to "man up," "get a backbone," and that he has "lost moral authority" and "lost all credibility abroad." 

It should be noted that none of these folks had a single word to say about the Bush administration six years ago when Russia went into Georgia. Cheney certainly didn't. Yes, he obligatorily condemned Russia's invasion, but never connected it with any sort of weakness on Bush's behalf. 

Conservative writer and Bond villain wanna-be Charles Krauthammer made this curiously wimpy statement back in 2008: "Well, obviously it's beyond our control. The Russians are advancing (in Georgia). There is nothing that will stop them. We are not going to go to war over Georgia."

And then there's Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a man I admire greatly for his service to his country. But he's been predictably rattling his rusty saber all over the place in recent weeks. In 2008, while he was on the Presidential campaign trail, he didn't have a single critical word for Bush over the fact that Russia had just invaded a sovereign country. Instead, he said there should be an end to the “partisan sniping” over the issue and called on the country to unite.

Of course, McCain and the rest of these political animals know that no Republican President would do anything substantively different than Obama is doing right now -- especially any Republican President who got millions in campaign money from big oil companies that have multi-billion dollar business deals with Russia. They also know that none of the Republicans who are slamming Obama for being weak has any effective ideas on how to deal with Putin, other than maybe reviving plans for a NATO missile defense shield in Poland. 

Uh, yeah, that'll work. All the NATO talk and Cold War-era silliness about nukes is just a red herring. Putin knows it is very unlikely that any country will intervene militarily in this regional fight. 

Obama's haters say there's a bigger-picture issue at stake here. They say that it's about "peace through strength," and that Putin has the upper hand and is not afraid of Obama and that broadcasting our intentions to reduce troop numbers will only embolden a guy like Putin. But Putin doesn't need us to embolden him. Whether we broadcast our intentions or not, it makes no difference, Putin doesn't care.

Despite what happened in Syria with Obama's "red line" comment - and thank goodness we DIDN'T send troops there, which McCain and others would have done - Obama is actually much more of a hawk than he promised he would be. Putin knows this, and he's also obviously aware of the 100,000-troop surge in Afghanistan under Obama's watch, as well all the drone killings. Neither phase him. He knows no country will militarily oppose his actions in Ukraine, just as Russia knew six summers ago that no one would oppose its actions in Georgia.

As for the notion that we can't reduce our troop level now and in fact should raise it, that's dangerously false. We will still have more than enough troops to invade another country if we choose. Our military budget is the same as the next 10 countries in the world combined. It's obscene, it is unnecessarily high. More of this money should be spent on our veterans who've already fought in wars.

Is Putin dangerous? Probably. Is he an arrogant buffoon who likes to roam around shirtless and steal Super Bowl rings? Definitely. But this is not our war. I am not sure how we stop this but clearly we have to join with most of the other nations around the world and strangle Putin economically and by other means. But we should not and can not get involved militarily. 

Interestingly, the same Republicans who are attacking Obama right now agree that there are no military options. Even McCain admits there are no military options. But he and others continue to bark at the moon.

This is a major international incident, and good Americans are standing by the President. As I said, the Republicans in Congress who are moaning the loudest over Obama's alleged weakness could care less about the people of Ukraine. It's all just more political theater.

A slice of truth: Obama has killed far more of our real enemies - radical Muslim terrorists - than Bush ever did. He is fighting the right enemies, the real threats to America, and he got us out of Iraq, where we should not have been in the first place. And he is about to get us the hell out of Afghanistan. 

Make no mistake: we will always have a robust number of trained troops. Reducing our fighting force won't embolden Putin or anyone. But it will help our economy and our country. We will still be the strongest, most powerful military in the world by a long shot. This is all just political manure from some of the great chicken hawks of our time. And it stinks.

Friday, March 21, 2014

CBS, NCAA & Madison Avenue: Doing Their Best To Ruin The Greatest Sporting Event On Earth

I like capitalism. I like competition. I believe in free enterprise. Heck, I studied marketing in college and I even like television commercials, if they're creative. But this is ridiculous. March Madness, the greatest event in all of sports, has finally lived up to its name. The beloved college basketball tournament has become almost unwatchable thanks to the NCAA, CBS and Madison Avenue. It's de-evolved into an insane and relentless barrage of breaks in the action to drop in more 30-second commercials. And that becomes increasingly annoying as March Madness, um, marches on. 

After watching three games yesterday, my inner curmudgeon shouted in my ear, "Jamie, what the hell is up with these games? They last like an hour longer than regular-season games! Is this just so they can squeeze in all these extra ads? Really? It ain't right, man!"

I usually ignore my inner curmudgeon. He's obnoxious and irrational. But I have to agree with him on this one. The North Dakota State-Oklahoma game last night, which was an overtime thriller won by the underdog NDSU Bison, lasted nearly three hours -- and that was before the overtime even STARTED! 

All the extra ads have became a real distraction. Kinda like all these commercial logos I've strategically placed on this news blog. See them! Like them! Know them! Be them! Auuggghhhh!! 

This is the first time I've ever had an issue with this tournament, which has been my favorite event in sports since I was eight years old. I still love this sport and always will, but the saturation of commerciality has made the games just a little less enjoyable. I feel like Charlie Brown as he watched his loyal dog Snoopy "go commercial" at Christmas! 

Am I becoming more of a grouch as I get older? Probably. Will I continue to watch as many of these games during March (and April) as I possibly can despite my whining? Definitely. And therein lies the problem. CBS, the NCAA and Madison Avenue all know this. They have us basketball fans by the you-know-what's. Isn't that gouging...  or something?!

The game itself is still 40 minutes long during tourny time. That doesn't change. But everything else is painfully stretched. The NCAA's David Worlock told AP recently that timeouts and halftimes are both longer during the tournament. Halftime lasts 20 minutes, which is 5 minutes longer than most regular-season breaks. The TV timeouts after each 4 minutes of play will last 2 minutes and 30 seconds, which is roughly a three-minute break by the time the players get back on the court. Ugh. On top of that, each team gets five timeouts -- same as the regular season. But they all last longer. Gotta sell more trucks, credit cards, chicken wings and beer!! 
This of course allows CBS to pack in a ton of extra spots and make a ton of extra cash. And the difference for the viewer is immediately noticeable -- at least it is to me and my inner curmudgeon, who's decided to sit the rest of this tournament out and just "do some damn yardwork!"

What makes all this even more annoying is the fact that the same commercials sometimes run over and over and over during the course of a game. Most people don't seem to be as grouchy about this as my inner curmudgeon, who loses his marbles when the same Bud Light commercial comes on for the fifth time. I guess you guys don't mind watching a Buffalo Wild commercial 734 times. But my inner curmudgeon can't really be the only one who's annoyed by this, can he? 

It seems to me that the advertising strategy by the marketing folks at Company X have employed of buying ad time during March Madness because they know they can hit their target market repeatedly could easily backfire. I personally believe that commercials repeated over and over can alienate viewers and make us NOT want to buy whatever they are selling. I would think that Company X doesn't want fans like me to take off my shoes and throw them at the TV because I've seen the same commercial one too many times. Unless it's an ad for a new HD television.

And the viewing experience for college basketball during the tournament is even worse when you are the game. I've been to plenty. Trust me. As writer Matt Yoder hilariously pointed out recently, "Every time the game begins to develop a rhythm, it's brought to a screeching halt by a TV or coach's timeout. It's brutal. By the fourth TV timeout, you've run out of conversation with your pal and left to hopelessly try to tap into the arena's severely overloaded WiFi to check Twitter or e-mail or Words With Friends. It's perhaps the worst in-stadium experience in sports if you're not a drunk college student. There's only so many times you can be entertained by the dance team and cheerleaders passing out pizza boxes to people sitting courtside."

And I haven't even touched on the fact that while all these entities are making millions and millions of dollars, the people who are generating all of these riches - the athletes - do not get to participate. That's another issue, but it is directly related. It's all about money, not the fans or even the players.  

As my inner curmudgeon was desperately trying to tell me last night, nobody cares about the players or us viewers! They only care about our wallets and purses. Does CBS care that all these ridiculously long breaks are compromising the game itself? Heck, no. They're making gazillions during March Madness. And the fact is, none of us ever complains. 

Maybe we all need to bring our inner curmudgeons out of the garage and start complaining. What do you say we rise up and take our beloved game back? Are you with me? OK, great. But, um, can we do it after the game? Pass the Bud Light!