By RACHEL HARRIS ’14
A year and a half ago, on a Monday night in late October, I was sitting in Pendleton Atrium watching the third debate of the 2012 presidential campaign. Though various posters on the walls of the Atrium announced that the room was to be a “partisan-free zone,” most people disregarded this proclamation. Though I realize as a conservative I represent a political minority on this campus, I was extremely frustrated with the lack of consideration that was had for anything said by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. In general, I’ve tried to shut out the memories from that night, as they typically bring resentment and disappointment.
The recent occupation of Crimea by Russian military forces, however, has led me to recall one notable exchange from the presidential debate. When the subject of foreign policy came up, President Obama drilled his opponent: “Governor Romney…when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia…Well, the 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back.” At the time, Pendleton Atrium erupted in jeers and laughter in response to Obama’s witty comment. In retrospect, I’m betting the president regrets making that comment.
More importantly, Romney proved that the Right isn’t always the bunch of idiots—or to use the popular jargon, “Republitards”—that they are always painted to be. Of course the party has its population of extremists who tend to steal the spotlight, but the Democratic Party is not without these people, either. I think my biggest frustration with American politics, and perhaps the main reason why I will never pursue politics professionally, is how black and white the media paints it, and consequentially, how you as a young voter may view it.
At a time like this, our leaders need to lay aside party differences and focus on the bigger task at hand. Russia is, in fact, the United States’—and western Europe’s—biggest geopolitical threat, and I think Romney deserves some credit for having that foresight. Though I don’t blame President Obama for his hesitancy with regard to Ukraine—the entirety of the West is wary of war after Afghanistan and Iraq—Putin has made it clear that he doesn’t take Obama’s threats seriously.
The truth is that Russia’s sphere of influence has dwindled since the fall of the Soviet Union, and Putin—an ex-KGB, imperialist-revivalist—likens the fall of Ukraine to democracy to the fall of Russia. That, combined with the confidence that the United States poses no threat under pacifist leadership, is why he invaded Crimea. Putin thinks he can get away with it.
And he is getting away with it. While the West argues with itself to determine what level of involvement it should have in Ukraine, Putin is taking steps to annex Crimea into the Russian Federation. And he’s doing so without any trouble.
While the United States and Western Europe begin to impose economic sanctions on Russia, Putin scoffs at the line they’re drawing in the sand and responds by nullifying the New START Treaty, a 2011 agreement made by Russia and the United States that aims to reduce and limit the number of strategic arms (e.g., ICBMs and nuclear warheads) held by each country’s military.
Do you see where this is heading? Already, Poland, a former Soviet satellite state and defector to the European Union, is pleading with the West to intervene. The country’s leaders see their nation—which shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia—as directly in the line of fire, should war erupt between its neighbors. Though Ukrainian forces are marching to Crimea as I write, the world knows that, standing alone, they’ll be plowed over by the might of the Russian military. What will the West do then? Impose more sanctions? Make more threats to Putin that he will no doubt disregard? What are you going to do?
The world is playing dominoes on a very unsteady table. Don’t absorb yourself in unnecessary political polarizations when there are much greater threats at hand. A second Cold War is right around the corner.