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Monitor Board of Contributors: From Benghazi to Balaclava: Charge of the Right Brigade

Once upon a time generations of school children memorized Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which memorialized the suicidal charge by British light cavalry against Russian forces in the Battle of Balaclava in the 1854-56 Crimean War.

“Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them / Volleyed and thundered.”

In today’s distinctly unpoetic Theatre of the Ukraine volleys of rhetoric and thunder are rising in opposition to Russia’s Crimean occupation. America’s support of independent Ukraine is multi-faceted: We love independence, we love underdogs and we hate communists – even when they’re no longer communists.

In today’s Crimean conflict the charge of America’s Right Brigade is breathtaking to watch. America’s neoCons hyperventilate and breathe life into binary cold-war thinking. Complexities are ignored, provocations are dismissed, statesmanship disregarded and battle lines drawn – regardless of consequences.

In the Right Brigade’s dystopian world, Crimea’s fall is President Obama’s fault.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said, “From Syria, to Snowden, to the Crimea, the administration’s “reset” with Russia is a failure. . . . The administration’s weakness and accommodation toward Russia has only invited disdain and aggression from Putin. Putin’s actions in Crimea demonstrate a brazen disregard for international law.”

“Some one had blunder’d / Their’s not to make reply / Their’s not to reason why / Their’s but to do and die.”

Ayotte’s statement didn’t acknowledge that America itself could be subject to charges of disdain and aggression – of demonstrating a brazen disregard for international law, of ignoring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other nations – charges that keep America from fully occupying the moral high ground and rallying others to Ukraine’s defense.

“Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!”

Sorry, Ukrainians, Russians and Tartars. Sorry, three Senate amigos Ayotte, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Sorry, chickenhawks John Bolton, Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer. I’m not convinced that, while Russia’s Crimean occupation is morally unacceptable, it’s in America’s strategic interest to risk major international capital in the Black Sea basin.

Knowing about the Ukraine matters, as does knowing about its centuries of ethnic, religious and territorial conflict. Being a superpower also means knowing one’s limits, especially in someone else’s neighborhood. America cannot be overly exposed in Ukraine while crises in Iran, Syria and Egypt demand complex and nuanced negotiations involving both friends and foes.

We know how we respond to foreigners projecting their presence and ideologies into our neighborhood. Remember the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Bay of Pigs, Salvador Allende, Iran-Contra, Cuban embargo, Sandinistas – all names that resonate within our communal understanding of how America has protected itself against all threats – both real and imagined.

“When can their glory fade? O’ the wild charge they made!”

Yes, Sen. Ayotte, I acknowledge that sometimes Obama’s strategy on Syria or Afghanistan or Iran may “appear” incoherent or inconsistent, but I believe that sometimes leadership and strength means being willing to change direction as circumstances change.

You were right, senator, when you said you, “could not at this time support committing U.S. military force in Syria in the absence of a well thought out strategy and plan to achieve definable military objectives that are consistent with our national security interests.”

And Obama was right when, rather than bomb Syria, he was able to form an international coalition, including Russia, that today is trying to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

And Obama was right when, rather than bomb Iran, he recognized that sanctions and boycotts, with Russian participation, gave the world an opportunity to negotiate over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Yes, Russia has acted illegally and intemperately. Rally our allies. Express outrage. Use sanctions and boycotts.

Recognize that the Kremlin has acted out of weakness and leave them an exit ramp.

Recognize that restraint is America’s strength.

The New York Times said that Obama must “make clear to (Putin) that he has stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior, and that this carries a steep price.” The Wall Street Journal partially blamed Obama for Putin’s aggression, suggesting that it may have been the result of his “failure to enforce his ‘red line’ in Syria.”


America won the Cold War despite the fact that Eisenhower didn’t keep Russia from crushing Hungary. America won the Cold War in spite of Khrushchev’s Berlin Wall (where President Kennedy’s response was to give a speech), and we won the Cold War even though the Prague Spring was crushed on President Johnson’s watch and Solidarity was crushed on Ronald Reagan’s watch. Later, we survived George W. Bush’s inaction in Georgia.

We won all because we, of all weapons we could deploy, exercised restraint.

Today, America continues to confront the fallout from the Arab Spring and the re-emergence of dictator-generals in Egypt, the fallout from the disastrous war in Iraq, the tentative negotiations over nuclear programs in Iran, Syria’s inhuman civil war and the struggle to find a Palestine-Israel peace – none of which will happen without Russia.

So, should we care about Crimea? Yes, but we should also care that NATO forces just inadvertently killed at least five Afghan soldiers at a time when America is negotiating security agreements with Kabul.

We should care that Tunisia just lifted its state of emergency, three years after the first uprising of the Arab Spring.

We should care, within our sphere of influence, about the challenges to democracy in a Venezuela ruled by President Nicolas Maduro – and about what is happening in El Salvador, Mexico and Columbia.

We should care about protecting our interests.

The charge of the Right Brigade to disenfranchise Obama continues unabated – to America’s disadvantage – and to the shame of a political party that was once a partner in strength and resoluteness. Have no doubt: if it were Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ or Reagan being tested the tenor would be very different.

The Right Brigade’s hysteria over Obama’s handing of Ukraine is an extension of its obsessive belief in an ignorant Benghazi-narrative. Until the right is willing to place American interests above parochial interests, until they learn to read critically rather than read selectively to re-enforce their own narrow points-of-view, they will continue to attack Obama regardless of how they diminish America.

“Cannon to right of them / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them / Volleyed and thundered.”

If Putin cares about what America thinks (which I don’t believe he does), he would’ve been pleased watching Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani extol his virtues as a leader – and comforted by a certainty that America’s Right Brigade would not support President Obama in opposing Russian aggression but would work against whatever stance Obama took.

Putin knows that Right Brigade’s Benghazi and Syria narratives are false. If, in the end, there is victory for Putin, hand some credit to feckless neocons McCain, Graham, Kristol and their ilk, who’ve served Russia well by projecting a divided American posture well beyond our borders.

Being on the prestigious Armed Services Committee is an honor, especially for a freshman senator like Ayotte. Such honor carries a responsibility – not just to support our armed services but also to be an informed, nuanced, intelligent advocate of American – not parochial or Republican – interests.

“Honour the Light Brigade?”


Honor the Right Brigade?


(Robert Azzi is a writer and photographer living in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com.)

Legacy Comments15

"Charge of the Right Brigade"--well said. Another terrific piece from Mr. Azzi, whose background gives him the expertise to expose the hypocrisy of the neo-cons and the chicken hawks, including our local versions--the Carp Per Diems and the Grokers, on foreign policy from Benghazi to Iran and now Crimea. Important points from this piece to iterate: Putin acted out of weakness, not strength; and we need Russia as a partner going forward on Syria and other issues. We need a diplomatic solution that allows Putin to save face, while recognizing Russia's vital interest in the Crimea.

The Harp Per Minutus club members believe in Rodney King diplomacy "why can't we all just get along". The problem that the Russians, Chinese and third world thugs view us as weak because our leaders have no backbone. The same goes for the supporters of our leaders.

It's noteworthy that the Carp Per Diems are always full of complaints and quick to assign blame, but generally have no solutions of their own that in reality wouldn't make things much worse. Their list of "solutions" for the situation in the Ukraine is notably missing from this thread. It's just more of the same fact-free rhetoric. And let's not forget--the last time the neo-cons were in charge of foreign policy, it worked so well they gave us the Iraq War. Kristol and Krauthammer have no shame about being wrong then, and needless to say, are unapologetic about the mindless cheerleading they did for war then.

Let us not forget Georgie Bush who looked into Putin's eyes and read his soul or some such rot.

So sayeth MSNBC....

Gee you mean they didn't show it on Fox? It was quite a statement at the time. Just like the rest of the Putin lovers in the Republican party.

You have no idea what GWB meant by that comment nor do you care. Why dont you look up why he said that...facts matter..

Nice try on the rewrite...Maybe you should look it up. "In 2001, President George Bush issued a truly astounding appraisal of Vladimir Putin, the former KGB agent who has run Russia since replacing Boris Yeltsin in 1999. 'I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.'” http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2010/06/i-looked-the-ma.html/ http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/30/opinion/30sat3.html?_r=0

GWB's book gives a better description of the conversation he had with Putin,on which the statement was made. And from what I have read, Putin remains quite popular in Russia.

GW's book...a vain effort to rewrite history.

Again, two wrongs don't make a right.

Bush derangement syndrome is curable- seek help

Are you in a recovery group for Obama derangement syndrome?

The leftist medias usual spin has been caught on the wrong side again. This time the statements regarding Russia and the Ukraine by both Romney & Palin in debates with NObama & Biden have been proven 100% correct. The mocking, personal demonizing debate tactics of the democrats NObama and Biden have been proven 100% wrong as usual.

"Have no doubt: if it were it Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ or Reagan being tested the tenor would be very different."....there is no test here. Obama is on vacation in Florida. And calling Krauthammer a chickenhawk...thats probably an unfair assessment.

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