I believe history will judge President Obama’s biggest foreign policy mistake to be his failure to support the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. Why? I think the abortive Green Revolution was a cusp in history.
What’s a cusp? Chaos theory teaches us that sometimes there are events, or points in time, where a complex system (like, say, a nation) can, with a small impulse, be shifted from one relatively stable state to another. I believe the sustained uprising of anti-Islamists in Iran in 2009 was such a point in time. The streets of Teheran were flooded with millions of explicitly pro-Western, heck, even explicitly pro-Israel, anti-mullah demonstrators for many months. A small push, such as, say, a strong endorsement by the US President, backed up by covert CIA assistance to the resistance, could have replaced the largest and most militantly anti-Western regime in the Persian Gulf with a pro-Western ally. But it was not to be. Damn you Barack! You and your blinkered, obsession with appeasement.
General Patton once said that a moment occurs in every battle when both sides know they have lost. The side that continues in spite of this knowledge is the winner. In the case of Iran, the battle in question was the War on Terror, started by George W Bush as a response to 9/11 and fought at great material cost and human sacrifice by the US, and others. By 2009, America’s population was war weary and certain they lost. But, if they had persevered a tiny bit longer, with just a little bit of moral support and CIA assistance, the US could have achieved a near-total victory over the jihadis for a tiny fraction of what they had spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars up until that point. The biggest sponsor of international terrorism would have been toppled, aid for the Iraqi insurgency would have been cut off and Afghanistan would have been transformed into an irrelevant backwater. But it was not to be, only because this last, smallest effort wasn’t made.
I believe the pro-EU riots are another historical cusp, with the largest nation in Eastern Europe tottering between the West (represented by the EU) and the East (represented by Putin’s neo-Soviet Empire).
Sunday’s demonstration in Kiev, which may have been attended by as many as a million people, was buttressed by demonstrations in other cities around the country. These “EuroMaidan” protests in favor of establishing closer ties with the European Union have been ongoing for the three weeks following Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an agreement with the EU. And while that may have been the initial impetus for the uprising, the protests have become more anti-government in general.
If the Ukraine ends up under the Kremlin’s boot, it will be Putin’s greatest foreign policy victory:
‘The Russian side of the equation is illuminated by Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman. He explains that the demonstrations are “both a humiliation and a threat to Mr. Putin,” because his “main foreign-policy goal is the construction of a sphere of influence for Russia, covering most of the old Soviet Union” and Ukraine “is meant to be the jewel in the crown.”'
Years of effort might be required to contain him after he has plucked this jewel of 50 million people. Who knows what other Eastern European dominos - currently free and thriving nations - might topple. The stakes are even higher for Putin himself because the Ukrainian demonstrators have inspired his domestic opponents:
‘As The Atlantic’s Brian Whitmore explains, protests in the Ukraine have galvanized Russian opposition to Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule. Protesters have gathered outside the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, and 30 high-profile Russians writers and poets wrote an open letter in support of their Ukrainian counterparts, noting that their demonstrations “would be a sign that in Russia we too can defend our rights and freedoms. We are with you!”’
This is why Putin he has tightened his grip on Russia’s state-run media.
What could President Obama do? First of all, he could say what George Clooney just said:
‘“I wanted to send a message to all of you brave citizens of Ukraine, who are struggling to look forward and not back. We here in the United States have great affinity for those seeking democracy. We have learned through trial and error that true democracy cannot exist without a free and fair and honest election. You cannot have a democracy when you arrest and harm its peaceful protesters.”
Imagine if that had come from the President of the United States instead of an actor. Second, the CIA could give covert aid to the government’s opponents. Third, he can increase American gas exports to Europe to undermine Gazprom. Fourth, consider this:
'Ukraine currently needs $10 billion to avoid possible default, even as the country remains mired in its third recession since 2008. Yanukovych has repeatedly rejected bailout terms offered by the EU’s International Monetary Fund (IMF), but remains enticed by Russia’s offer of financial aid and cheaper energy prices'
One way or the other, Obama could make that $10 billion problem go away. If you counter that $10 billion is a lot of money, consider how much is currently being spent in Afghanistan, for a war that achieved its post-9/11 objective long ago, and whose current purpose cannot be clearly enunciated by anybody.
The Ukraine must be free, and we in the West must do everything to make that happen!