For some reason, my grandmother and her global adventures keep popping up on my radar lately. Last week I was writing about how fortunate it was for me that in 1907 she didn't change course midstream on her way to America to follow her Polish lover. This week, with Ukraine in the news, I am reminded that my baba hailed from a little berg about one thumb print west of Kiev on the map, a town near the Dnieper River called Novogradvalensk. Life was pretty tough back then: Of her ten brothers and sisters, she was the only one chosen by the magnanimous Tsar to go to school; Jews were heavily taxed and systematically barred from many professions; even worse, they were the subject of periodic pogroms and other violence by Cossacks and other drunken low lifes.
She wasn't in the least bit sad to leave the Ukraine. "Russia," she often used to say, "was a great place to be from." That said, one can't help but feel for the plight of the current Ukrainian population who, if one is to believe the Western press, only yearn to live in peace and freedom. And though it's too soon to predict how all this will play out, I'm sure my grandmother-were she still alive-- would have recognized another old reliable Cossack in the face of Vladimir Putin.
As a side note, you'd think that our Republican friends in Congress and on television would want to stay as far away from Putin as possible, but no, they seem strangely drawn to him. That's one Russian who knows how to put facts on the ground, is the general consensus you hear on the right. That's leadership. Now why can't our President Obama act so decisively?
It used to be, as I recall, that when we were confronted with an international crisis, the country pulled together. At the water's edge there was unanimity. You didn't hear the minority party carping about our government's response when, one Sunday morning the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, or not long ago, when nineteen hijackers from the Middle East leveled the World Trade Center. Why is it so different this time?
Republicans demand action, but what, exactly are we supposed to do? Does Senator McCain really want us, for example, to declare war on Russia? I can't imagine. Does Rudy Giuliani believe, in his heart of hearts, that we should funnel weapons into Ukraine? Maybe put some boots on the ground? After more than a decade of conflict and a burnt out military, who now is going to step forward for this craziest of missions? And even if we don't wind up going to war, what good would it do just to rattle our sabers? As Eugene Robinson wrote recently in the newspaper, there are many countries out there that would be intimidated by the sight of an American fleet on the horizon. Russia, however, is not one of them.
What we really need now (and why I'm thankful Obama is President) is for cooler heads to prevail. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back to the hair-trigger brinksmanship of the Cold War. Nor do I want us to go rushing into situations where we have no earthly idea how it will end. This includes places like Iraq. Also Libya, Syria, and Iran. And now I'd humbly suggest we throw in Russia as well. It may be 2014 and not 1907 anymore, but my grandmother nailed it years ago: it's still a good place to be from.