Castling into checkmate
Scrutinizing the cross-section of news about what is transpiring with Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army is more chess match than soap opera.
This is where we lose.
No one plays chess in this country anymore like they used to, except in jail.
However, when it comes to soap operas that dominate Facebook and other forms of media, America is the undisputed king. That, however, is fodder for another day.
Putin keeps juggling Russian troops in and around the Ukraine border. He also has amassed troops to the neighboring Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Belarus that once were Soviet republics during the Cold War and still have significant Russian populations. There is at least one American taking advantage of this - Warren Buffett. Buffett is now offering one billion dollars to whoever guesses all the nations Russia invades, but they must be in the correct order and date.
OK, maybe not, but the thought has possibilities.
Prior to the end of the Cold War, the Ukraine possessed the world's third largest concentration of nuclear weapons. When the Ukraine finalized its divorce from the former Soviet Union and declared its brief independence, it agreed to relinquish this substantial arsenal.
Do you think Putin would have annexed Crimea had the Ukraine retained those nuclear warheads? Putin knows Obama is reluctant to act and prefers to stand aside or, as one pundit effectively labeled it, "lead from behind." To wit - the proposal to cut our military to pre-World War II levels. To Putin, such perceived weakness means opportunity.
The result: Russia remarries Crimea via shotgun.
Worth billions, Putin is no old-time Politburo hardliner, but he is a student of Russian history. He learned from another Vladimir (Lenin) who said, "When you probe with your bayonet and hit steel, you back off, but when you hit mush, you continue moving forward."
Obama does deserve some of the credit, however. In another of his celebrated "firsts," Obama has done what no other American chief executive has ever done - make a Russian look like a formidable world leader and future Nobel Prize victor.
There are those who insist Putin was within his right to annex Crimea because of the longstanding historical correlation and language the region shares with Mother Russia. Such reasoning coupled with unadulterated aggression can distort one's cerebral cortex. The effects of Russian vodka, I suppose, or is it bad food? Perhaps it's both.
What these folks fail to realize, or choose to ignore, is that the same rationale was used by Adolf Hitler when he annexed the Sudetenland in 1938. The only thing Obama is missing is a wing collar and vest to go along with a funky black umbrella where he can proclaim "peace in our time" as he morphs into the 21st century's version of Neville Chamberlain.
I wonder what these same people would say if Mexico invaded New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California, because so many of the historic parallels and the many who habla Espanol? Then there are some who will argue that Mexico has already successfully invaded, but that is more fodder for another column.
Foreign policy is another healthy dollop of Obama kryptonite and he gets politically weaker by the day. The only discernible foreign policy that the Obama administration possesses is condemning Israel. Fear of world criticism is not a deterrent or an effective foreign policy, and neither is channeling Jimmy Carter. Obama's certainty that his presidency and persona would transform our enemies into allies was always fantasy and worse, dangerous.
There is absolutely no threat that Obama will use military force against Putin, and the Russians know this. This isn't like an NBA owner running his mouth or some rancher grazing his cattle on federal land.
It's the old story line that the more Russia changes, the more it remains the same. And those "useful idiots," another phrase attributed to Lenin, still applies to those who echo whatever rationale the Kremlin issues.
Still more will argue that the world is already in the midst of World War III and the U.S. has been at it since 9/11. The irony is this time Germany is on our side. The major drawback with the Germans is they are 0-2 in world wars. On the flip side, however, it's tough to beat a good army three times in a row.
What the Obama administration should do is declare Russia a small business, which will force them to comply with all the outrageous Obamacare mandates. Within six months, the Russians will not only give back Crimea, but throw in Siberia for good measure.
(Greg Maresca, a freelance writer, composes "Talking Points" for each Sunday edition.)