by Austin Bay
March 26, 2014
Here's the bottom line for our moment in time: Vladimir Putin's Smart Thuggery has exposed Barack Obama's Smart Diplomacy as a pompous mix of faculty lounge jive, utopian balderdash and reckless weakness.
Cunning thugs running countries behave like cunning thugs running criminal cartels, or for that matter, running banks, honky-tonks or day-care centers. Cunning thugs treat deals, contracts and diplomatic agreements as momentary conveniences. Even the most savvy amoral geniuses, strategically gifted brutes like Putin, ultimately respect only one thing: the existential power to harm them and/or thwart their goals in the possession of an adversary and the will to use it.
Putin has surveyed Europe and North America. With the possible exception of Angela Merkel, he does not see an adversary with the will. She would have to assemble the existential power.
At this point, another diplomatic document won't cut it. Last week's column made the case Putin's Crimean invasion and annexation did more than seize the territory and its military assets. With malice aforethought, Putin destroyed the political agreements framing post-Cold War European security.
Putin shredded the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Co-signed by the U.S. and Great Britain and ratified by the U.N. Security Council, the Memorandum gave Russia Ukraine's nuclear arsenal (over 4,000 Soviet-era weapons) in exchange for definitive security guarantees. Moscow would (verbatim quote) "refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."
Putin trashed several other well-crafted pieces of diplomatic parlor paper, which assured European stability in our time. The list includes the Charter of the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the May 1997 Russia-Ukraine bilateral Treaty on Friendship and other totally good stuff. Both nations extended that treaty in 2008, when Putin was Russia's prime minister.
The street phrase "in yo' face" sums up Putin's view of diplomatic agreements when he concludes he has the power to act with relative impunity.
That column didn't simply bemoan our fate. I made several operational suggestions, including stationing a U.S. heavy (armor) brigade in Poland. Why? Poland is now a NATO ally. Putin's annexation of Crimea is also psychological warfare -- an attempt to shatter Eastern European faith in NATO's commitment to mutual defense. A U.S. Army trip wire in Warsaw blunts that stratagem.
But Putin's deep strategy relies on energy. He believes he can annex Crimea, dissect Ukraine and maybe, just maybe, shatter NATO because Russia can strangle European economies. Russia provides Europe with oil and natural gas. It's Putin's "gas advantage." Putin's New Cold War leverages cold weather. Hey, Europe, kowtow or freeze. That is why I suggested that the U.S. "open federal lands to natural gas "fracking" and start shipping gas to Europe. Undermining Russian gas sales is a real economic sanction."
Obama has threatened Putin, his clique and his country with economic sanctions. Cunning Putin calculates that his economic sanction -- cutting off energy supplies -- will quickly erode European support for sanctions. Yes, this also hurts Russia. In fact, Putin's regime has become quite dependent on maintaining high natural-gas prices -- the genius thug also runs a cartel. However, Smart Thuggery calculates that Russians are resigned to suffering. Can Paris out-suffer Moscow? Vienna? Let the snickers begin.
The fracking revolution -- hydraulic fracturing to tap vast reservoirs of "tight" natural gas -- is in the process of altering America's strategic energy calculus. The U.S., Canada and Mexico have enormous reserves. So does Argentina.
Western Europe has at least a dozen seaports capable of off-loading tankers carrying liquefied natural gas. Within two years, the U.S. can be shipping LNG to Europe. Gas pipelines are two-way streets. Now competitively priced natural gas flows from Spain to Ukraine.
Now Crimea costs Putin, big time. This economic attack could shatter his regime. Hey, peaceniks, let's bring the boys home. We won't need a heavy brigade in Warsaw. Sell heat; don't bring it.
Political environmentalists who oppose fracking and American LNG exports ultimately confront a very tough question: Is fracking preferable to capitulation to cunning thugs? The tough question masks a more definitive moral question: Is fracking preferable to a shooting war? If the answer is yes, here's a bumper sticker for frack-peacenik Volkswagens: Frack Warmongers. I'm down with it.