If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we all can agree that the West’s response to Russian aggression has been disgraceful. First they invade Crimea and we basically wagged our finger at them and said “no more.” Then they shot down a jetliner and all we did was sputter. Now they’ve invaded Eastern Ukraine and we’re still incrementally tightening the squeeze to the general hilarity of Moscow.
Look, I understand that no one wants to start World War III over Ukraine, but I don’t really understand why some obvious steps like arming the Ukrainian army are off the table except that we don’t want to make Putin mad. And I understand, although don’t accept, that Western countries who do a lot of business with Russia don’t want to hurt their own commercial interests. Wouldn’t want to undercut the French arms industry would we!!!
But rather than torturing ourselves by arguing over the kind of ineffective economic sanctions we’re going to impose or the tough U.N. speeches we’re going to make, let’s think creatively. Let’s accept that Western democracies are going to be wusses when it comes to military action or anything that might also hurt a domestic company and instead develop some non-military, non-economic penalties. Here are five ideas:
- Move the 2018 World Cup out of Russia. Really, Russia never should have been awarded the 2018 World Cup in the first place. I can only imagine the corrupt bargains that made that possible. The Sochi Olympics were bad enough but allowing the World Cup to continue to be in Russia under these circumstances is an outrage. If FIFA won’t go along (and who are we kidding, FIFA will never change its mind), the Western democracies could organize their own world cup. If we have it in Latin America again we could get the Latin teams to join too and leave the FIFA World Cup to Russia, Iran, North Korea and China (e.g., the Axis of Evil World Cup).
- Allow unrestricted immigration to any college-educated Russian citizen. The worst thing we could do to Russia is to hollow out their educated classes. Let’s entice all their scientists, writers, engineers, etc. to the U.S. by offering them immediate green cards. The transfer of the cream of Russian society to the U.S. would not only be an embarrassment to Putin, it would be a boon to our own economy.
- Recruit Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a sequel to “Team America World Police” with Putin as the comic buffoon bad guy. When the “South Park” creators ridiculed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in the original “Team America” (see clip below), well, it’s safe to say his reputation never recovered. The scuba diving shirtless horseman who runs Russia cares a lot more about the world’s opinion than Kim Jong-il ever did, and a vicious satiric attack by Trey and Matt would hurt more than all the sanctions currently being contemplated.
- Beef up Voice of America. The Russians have tried to block VOA programming and shut down independent domestic news services because they don’t want the Russian people to know what’s really going on. Build bigger and better transmission services and blast VOA programming all over Russia. And while we’re at it, figure out a way to prevent them from shutting down Facebook and Twitter accounts.
- Drive down oil prices. Russian power rests on two things: oil revenue and a lack of shame in bald-facedly lying to the rest of the world. We can’t do anything about the latter but we can undercut the former by dramatically increasing energy production and decreasing energy usage. This is something we’ve talked about since the first Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s but every year our scientists develop more technology to develop energy and use it more efficiently. Let’s take advantage of that.
Here’s the bottom line. NATO is a military powerhouse and the EU and USA together are economic powerhouses. But collectively our leaders are afraid to act. OK, got it. Instead, let’s unleash our “soft power” and use the strength of our open societies to punish Putin without direct confrontation.