Sarah Palin has profoundly influenced my view of politics. She persuaded me, for instance, to vote for Barack Obama in 2008.
Before her introduction as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate, I’d thought the resume of the first-term, junior senator from Illinois was a bit thin for the Oval Office and his vision for the nation’s future seemed disturbingly vague. The prospect of Sarah sitting a heartbeat away from the nuclear launch codes, however, convinced me that it was indeed time for change…
Though the McCain-Palin ticket ultimately went down in flames, the campaign served to make its distaff member a household name. With due apologies to Michele Bachmann, Sarah became the poster child for nutty Republican female politicians.
Over the years, her exploits and observations have supplied me with the fodder for numerous columns. But all good things must come to an end and it now appears to be time for me to eat some crow on her behalf.
To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson: My fellow Americans, it is with heavy heart that I come before you to admit that ex-Gov. Palin was right about Vladimir Putin and I was wrong.
When the Russians occupied the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008, Mrs. Palin predicted that the Russian strongman would exploit the foreign policy naiveté implicit in an Obama presidency by likewise intruding into Ukraine. At the time, I dismissed her dire prophecy as hyperbolic campaign rhetoric.
Looks like I underestimated her prescience. Vlad the Olympian has now morphed into Vlad the Invader and his troops occupy the Crimean Peninsula as I write these words. Kudos, Sarah…
Echoes of Sudetenland
While I break new ground by lauding Palin’s prognostication, I also have to break my long-standing rule against comparing contemporary figures to historical Nazis. I generally feel that practice unfairly demonizes the present while trivializing the genuine horror of the past.
Rules have exceptions, however, so I must point out that Putin’s explanation for his invasion — persecution of ethnic Russians within the Ukraine — is merely a hackneyed recapitulation of Adolf Hitler’s justification for occupying the Sudetenland; an exercise putatively conducted to relieve the indigenous German population of Czech oppression.
In each case, the only verifiable injustices to be found were those perpetrated by the aggressors.
Though Palin was spot-on in her prediction, her reasoning baffles me, which is nothing new. She contended that the cunning Putin would exploit Obama’s liberal instincts to his own advantage. Presumably, he wouldn’t dare try such stunts with a no-nonsense guy like John McCain in the West Wing.
Fair enough, but when the Russians went into Georgia, G.W. Bush was still in office. If all it took to deter their expansionist tendencies was a bellicose Republican, W. would seem to fill the bill. And now that they’re in the Ukraine, even McCain — who apparently has never met a war he didn’t approve of — admits that there is no viable U.S. military option.
The Panama Parallel
Of course, our moral outrage at the arbitrary incursion would carry more weight if we weren’t guilty of the same sin. Critics understandably cite our adventure to rid Iraq of its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction as an example. Those with longer memories, however, can find a better analogy in our invasion of Panama.
In that instance, the United States intruded upon a smaller, weaker nation situated squarely within its sphere of influence under the risible pretext that doing so would cripple international cocaine trafficking. In reality, Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega had prior dealings with Bush the First when the latter man was director of the CIA. He later proved to be an embarrassment to the sitting president, so the commander in chief ordered what may be history’s largest and deadliest drug raid.
Casualty figures vary widely. It is known that 23 U.S. troops were killed in the action and an additional 324 were wounded. Estimates of Panamanian military deaths range from 205-314, with an additional 1,906 taken prisoner. Between 250 and 3,000 civilians lost their lives as a result of the invasion.
Though no blood has been shed thus far in the Crimean occupation, there has been unanticipated collateral damage. One such victim is nuclear non-proliferation.
When the Soviet Union went out of business, Ukraine agreed to remit the Soviet ICBMs housed in its territory to Russia in exchange for that nation’s written guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty. Subsequent events clearly demonstrate to nuclear aspirants in Iran and elsewhere that warheads provide more effective deterrence than paper.
Another casualty is Chuck Hagel. The beleaguered secretary of defense had just previewed his new military budget when the Russians invaded. Hagel planned to reduce U.S. forces to pre-WWII levels — the size they were when Hitler took over the Sudetenland. You don’t have to be Sarah Palin to predict the outcome of that proposal.