That iconic American, Mark Twain, said it best: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
It shows in the comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, justifying his country’s military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula:
“He … insisted that if Russian-speaking citizens in the east of
Ukraine ask for Russia's help, Russia has the right ‘to take all
measures to protect the rights of those people.’”[i]
And from Adolf Hitler as his forces entered Austria – without a shot fired – in what’s termed the “Anschluss” (or union) in March 1938:
“The Reich will not permit Germans to be persecuted any longer
in this territory because of their membership of our nation or
their loyalty to certain views … I have, therefore, decided to place
the assistance of the Reich at the disposal of the millions of Germans
in Austria … soldiers of the German armed forces have been
marching across the entire border of German Austria … They
will guarantee that the Austrian people will shortly be given the
opportunity to decide their future and their destiny by means
of a genuine plebiscite.”[ii]
Before long, posters were going up, declaring, “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer! (One people, one empire, one leader!)
Soon after, Hitler broke up Czechoslovakia, by taking over the Sudetenland, where ethnic Germans lived, and, later that same year, with the acquiescence of Great Britain and France, ended the country’s existence (at least until the war ended).
So here we are, facing the greatest fascist since Hitler, figuring out how to prevent Putin from issuing the next order, which will likely send his troops into combat in the Crimea and on a march toward Kiev.
There’s speculation, by one CNN military analyst, President Obama told Putin he wouldn’t commit American soldiers to resolve this problem.[iii]
So what’s Putin doing? Biding his time before making a move that will shock the world even more.
The tragedy of this situation is that it parallels Germany and the 1930s, a time when a forceful response from Great Britain and France, maybe even the United States, to Hitler’s provocations could likely have averted an even greater calamity, a European war that, all totaled up, killed about 40 million people, maybe more.[iv]
Just like today, no western European nation then had the stomach for military action, even a limited amount, which could stop something worse.
Sure, it’s hard to find a reason Americans and its western European counterparts will fight in the Crimea or in Ukraine but it’s better to initiate a standoff now, when the situation is more favorable to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In fact, if Putin isn’t forced to withdraw, you can be certain, just as we learned from Hitler, he’ll strike again. He was emboldened after Obama failed to involve the United States in Syria. You have to fear what Putin will do next if Obama does nothing now.
The Anschluss happened nearly 20 years after the end of World War I, a time when many people viewed Germany as a defeated warrior. It was just over 20 years ago today that Soviet leaders learned they lost the Cold War.
Right now, many look upon Russia and see what their grandparents and great grandparents saw in Germany up until September 1939 – a country that was.
Putin knows this and, like his long ago predecessor, the czar Peter the Great, he’s reestablishing his country’s former dominance.
In addition, if this latest provocation shows anything, it’s this: There’s no such thing as a “peace dividend,” when defense budgets can be cut. With the end of the Cold War, the world’s more dangerous.
That’s the question that needs to be answered. The possibilities are endless but Putin could do any of the following:
- · Move against the Baltics.
- · Team up with China (one of the few countries supporting Putin’s actions) – it could send one submarine to make sure the United States and its Asian allies are prevented from keeping the South China Sea open to international fishing.
- · Align with China to prevent Japan from asserting its sovereignty over the Senkaku islands. Here again, Russia could send a submarine to make a statement.
- · Russia occupies the rest of its former Soviet state, Georgia, also located along the Black Sea.
What can be done?
What’s surprising is that not even The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editors saw this one. They suggested deploying the U.S. Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea, long the dominion of the Russian (and, previously, Soviet) navy.
An even better idea comes from the playbook of the one president Obama likely admires, Jack Kennedy.
On August 13, 1961, East Germans sealed off the crossing points between East and West Berlin and started building the Berlin Wall. There was a very good chance they would move into West Berlin, kicking out the United States and its allies from the city.
Instead of playing a weak hand, President Kennedy and his generals played a strong one.
They created the Berlin Brigade and seven days later, on the 20th, marched 1,500 U.S. troops into West Berlin.[v] Tensions were high but East Germany and the Soviet Union received the message – the United States would not be thrown out of West Berlin without a fight.
The same play could be used in Ukraine, perhaps in the Crimea, too. Put U.S. troops, and allied ones on the ground and on patrol, saying very publicly they’re going to make sure the rights of those supporting the Kiev government are protected.
This puts Putin on notice. If he fires a shot at an American or allied solider, there will be a vigorous military response. Otherwise, we’re there as a peaceful force.
Journalist Gordon Brook-Shepherd, in his book about the Anschluss, states that Austria was always the world’s rehearsal ground. Today, it’s in the Crimea and Ukraine.
If the United States and its allies fail to stand up to Putin, where does the stage go next? How much worse will it be?
These critical questions require answers from President Obama and his foreign policy experts.
[i] CNN.com -- http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/04/world/europe/ukraine-russia-tensions/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
[ii] Gordon Brook-Shepherd, The Anschluss, (New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1963), page 188.
[iv] http://www.hitler.org/ww2-deaths.html and http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Austria/Anschluss01.html