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Obama Looks to Expand the Wars

02/13/2015 12:52 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2015

At a time when it's not easy to say how many wars we are already involved in, President Barack Obama is considering more: A proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, if the latest ceasefire fails to hold. And expansion of the war against Isis, now in control of much of the old Iraq and Syria, to a global struggle.

Which is of course ironic since Obama, who a year ago was not so sagely judging Isis to be the "junior varsity" of jihadists, at first refused to strike Isis targets in Syria since that might help the Assad regime hold on in Damascus.

It's not surprising that Obama wants to do something more, now, since the fight against Isis isn't going so well. The flow of foreign recruits for Isis into Iraq and Syria is unabated by the US bombing campaign.

Obama's Isis-related war powers proposal is so ambiguously conceived that it justifies operations against vaguely defined "associated" people and entities. Put that together with the post-9/11 authorization for anti-Al Qaeda operations and you have a blank check to do pretty much anything, anywhere, any time against anyone who evinces admiration/sympathy/solidarity for Isis or Al Qaeda. Who, let us be clear, are absolutely evil, evil, evil, you know. Very much so, and all that.

Kidding aside, this is another open hunting license for a big strategic whatever. And if you can't define the mission any better than this, you just may not know what it is.

We are already distressingly ignorant about what we are really doing with our worldwide drone strike program.

Are we killing people who pose real threats to the United States, and not an amorphously, and rather secretly, defined US interests? Or are we killing half-baked Islamist radicals or other folks who get themselves on a local power broker's hit list?

Since the existing program is subject to the very hush-hush oversight, as it were, of the increasingly unclever Senate and House Intelligence Committees, it's very hard to say.

In addition to this rather disquieting addendum to his already disastrously tardy moves against Isis -- which aren't going all that well -- Obama is considering involving the US in a new war.

That of the new Ukrainian government's fight against Russian-backed separatists opposed to the effort to move the Russian neighbor just a few hundred miles from Moscow into the Western camp of NATO and the European Union. Incoming Defense Secretary Ashton Carter this week talked up the idea of integrating Ukraine into NATO military planning despite the fact that it isn't a NATO member.

There's a new ceasefire agreement in Ukraine. But the new Ukrainian president, not so surprisingly an oligarch, a billionaire best known for selling chocolate candy, has a different interpretation of key elements than do Russian officials. So we'll see how that goes.

Though backed by liberal outfits like the Brooking Institution and Atlantic Council, as well as the predictable John McCain, sending arms to Ukraine is, to put it diplomatically, a nitwit idea.

For three reasons.

First, it will fail. Vladimir Putin will not back down. Rounds of sanctions, and the coincidental plummeting of the world's oil price, have not forced Putin to step away.

Second, it will partially corroborate Putin's narrative of events that we are behind last year's Ukrainian regime change. Which cleverly came at the successful climax of Putin's long-cherished Sochi Winter Olympics and included Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland -- the former Dick Cheney aide whose husband was one of the main cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq -- showing up in Kiev to urge on the removal of the democratically-elected Russia-friendly president.

Third, it will provide Putin with the pretext to up the ante. Putin, as we have already seen in this episode, beginning with the annexation of Crimea, responds to escalation with escalation. What are we going to do? Send the Marines into Ukraine? Hardly.

Keeping Ukraine out of the Western/Pax Americana orbit is a bedrock Russian strategic interest. Putin made this clear to Obama when they met at his dacha outside Moscow in 2009, as I wrote at the time.

Russia has come close to being conquered by invaders on several occasions, most recently in World War II when Nazi forces were finally stopped within sight of the gates of Moscow in late 1941. Had the earlier Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact not created a bigger buffer zone for Moscow, which included Ukraine, the Nazi decapitation move would have succeeded and World War II quite possibly would have turned out very differently.

Even before Putin came to power, Moscow was alarmed by the post-Cold War policy of expanding NATO toward Russian borders, a policy begun by then President Bill Clinton.

So Putin, who I ran across briefly when he was director of the KGB-successor FSB not long before then President Boris Yeltsin named him prime minister, isn't just making this up. Yeltsin, who Clinton supposedly supported, made Putin his intelligence/security chief and then prime minister to put some steel back into Russia's sagging spine.

Which Putin did. He also squashed the sort of Russian democratic reformers I tried to help in the '90s. Though a Saint Petersburg sophisticate whose English was much better than he pretended, he's decidedly not a nice fellow.

Not unlike more than a few American allies, not that he's going to be one now.

The Obama administration screwed up the vaunted "re-set" of relations with Russia early on, and not just because then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton notoriously presented the Russian foreign minister with a mistranslated "re-set" button at a big media event.

Obama and company proceeded as if Putin's former chief of staff, the youthfully affable Dmitry Medvedev, really was president of Russia and not just in the office so Putin wouldn't have to change the constitution.

When you don't understand who is really running the country, perhaps you don't hear what it is that he tells you. You can't have an alliance when you don't understand what your partner's bottom-line issues are.

Keeping Ukraine out of the Western alliance, thus maintaining strategic depth of defense, is a bottom-line Russian issue. As should be obvious to most anyone paying attention by now. Adding Ukraine to NATO and the European Union is not a bottom-line American issue.

Unless the Obama administration is prepared to go beyond the proxy war of arming Ukrainian forces, which will be defeated anyway, and inject US forces directly into a fight in Russia's backyard, this is another fool's errand. And of course sending our kids into direct combat with what would turn out to be Russian forces a few hundred miles from Moscow would be even more idiotic. Not that Obama would do that. So it's all a waste of time.

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