WARY STANCE FROM OBAMA ON UKRAINE
|Televisions around the White House were aglow with pictures of Ukrainians in the streets, demanding to be heard and toppling a government aligned with Russia. It was an invigorating moment, and it spurred a president already rethinking his approach to the world, writes nytimes.com. |
That was a different decade and a different president. While George W. Bush was inspired by the Orange Revolution of 2004 and weeks later vowed in his second inaugural address to promote democracy, Barack Obama has approached the revolution of 2014 with a more clinical detachment aimed at avoiding instability.
Rather than an opportunity to spread freedom in a part of the world long plagued by corruption and oppression, Mr. Obama sees Ukraine’s crisis as a problem to be managed, ideally with a minimum of violence or geopolitical upheaval. While certainly sympathetic to the pro-Western protesters who pushed out President Viktor F. Yanukovych and hopeful that they can establish a representatively elected government, Mr. Obama has not made global aspirations of democracy the animating force of his presidency.
"I just think this president is not going to lean forward on his skis with regard to democracy promotion,” said John Lewis Gaddis, a Yale University historian who advised the Bush White House as speechwriters worked on the former president’s January 2005 inaugural address promising to combat tyranny abroad. "If anything, he’s going to lean back and let natural forces take us there, if they do.”
Mr. Obama’s handling of Ukraine reflects a broader "policy of restraint,” as Mr. Gaddis termed it, keeping the United States out of crises like Syria, minimizing its involvement in places like Libya, and getting out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It reflects, he said, not only fundamental differences between the presidents but an underlying weariness on the part of the American public after more than a dozen years of war.
Turned off by what he saw as Mr. Bush’s crusading streak and seared by the dashed hopes of the Arab Spring, Mr. Obama, aides said, was wary of being proactive in trying to change other societies, convinced that being too public would make the United States the issue and risk provoking a backlash. The difference, aides said, was not the goal but the methods of achieving it.
"These democratic movements will be more sustainable if they are seen as not an extension of America or any other country, but coming from within these societies,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. "For the longer term, it is better to let the people within the country be the strongest voice while also ensuring that at the appropriate times you are weighing in publicly and privately.”
To some critics, though, that justifies a policy of passivity that undercuts core American values.
"The administration’s Ukraine policy is emblematic of a broader problem with today’s foreign policy — absence of a strategic vision, disinterest in democracy promotion and an unwillingness to lead,” said Paula J. Dobriansky, an under secretary of state for Mr. Bush.
Mr. Obama’s commitment to democracy promotion has long been debated. Advocates say he has increased spending on projects that encourage democratic reform in places like Africa and Asia while directing money to support changes in the Arab world. At the same time, they said, he has cut back on democracy promotion in Iraq, Pakistan and Central Asia.
One of the strongest advocates for democracy promotion in Mr. Obama’s circle has been Michael A. McFaul, first the president’s Russia adviser and then ambassador to Moscow. But Mr. McFaul is stepping down. Mr. Obama’s nominee for the assistant secretary of state who oversees democracy programs, Tom Malinowski, has been languishing since July waiting for Senate confirmation.
For Mr. Bush, the focus on spreading democracy preceded his decision to invade Iraq, but it was inextricably linked to the war after the failure to find the unconventional weapons that had been the primary public justification. The goal of establishing a democratic beachhead in the Middle East began driving the occupation, but it became tarnished among many overseas because of its association with the war.
After winning re-election in 2004, Mr. Bush decided to broaden his ambition by setting a "freedom agenda” for his second term. Even as he and his aides were working on his inaugural address, images of Ukrainian protesters wearing orange scarves and resisting a corrupt election exhilarated the West Wing. In January 2005, Mr. Bush declared it his policy to support democracy "in every nation” with "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
For a time, Ukraine was a model. The newly elected president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, was welcomed at the White House and addressed a joint session of Congress. "It was the poster child for ‘democracy can work, we’re on a roll,’ ” said Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine now at the Brookings Institution.
Yet like other places, the heady days in Kiev eventually gave way to political paralysis and retrenchment. Mr. Yushchenko failed to consolidate support and ultimately was replaced by his nemesis, Mr. Yanukovych, in a democratic election. The unresolved debate over whether Ukraine should be more tied to Europe or Russia led back to a similar showdown over the past weeks and months, this time more violent, with more than 80 killed.
Mr. Obama privately told aides he admired Mr. Bush’s second inaugural as a piece of writing and expression of values, but thought it overpromised, raising expectations that could never be met. As the latest Ukraine protests got underway, Mr. Obama personally evinced little of the enthusiasm of Mr. Bush, but his administration has been heavily involved in seeking a settlement. Taking the lead has been Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who called Mr. Yanukovych nine times since November, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has reached out to Russia repeatedly.
On the ground has been Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state who previously worked for Mr. Bush’s administration and is passionate about anchoring Ukraine in the West. A leaked recording of a conversation she had during the height of the events showed her discussing ways to bring the opposition into the government.
Mr. Obama waited until last week, three months into the crisis, to make his first statement in front of cameras. Aides said he wanted to wait until the critical moment, and it came when Americans saw indications that Mr. Yanukovych might turn loose the military on the protesters. Mr. Obama followed with an hourlong phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Critics saw that as too little, too late. "Regrettably, the West viewed the situation as a crisis that needed to be tamped down rather than an opportunity for positive change,” said David Kramer, a former Bush administration official now serving as president of Freedom House, a nonprofit group that advocates democracy around the world.
Others said caution might be justified. "It doesn’t seem to me that the Obama administration is so invested in that democracy theme,” said Mr. Pifer, but that "may not be a bad thing.” He added: "Given how fluid things are in Kiev, I’m not sure it would be wise to jump in there with advice, and I’m not sure the advice would be welcome. This may be a time where a little restraint on our part is a good thing.”
|614 reads | 25.02.2014|