January 29, 2016

Astonished by UCCA response


Dear Editor:

I write to express astonishment at the UCCA’s post-State of the Union press release (January 24). During his speech, President Barack Obama said that “Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria – client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.” Although Russia has intruded in both, it is supporting separatists in Ukraine and the government in Syria. Thus, the attempt rhetorically to capture the parallel damage between Russia’s two actions did not work and is regrettable.

That said, the UCCA’s unhinged response to this mistake is beyond the pale. After quoting from the president’s speech (but in part misrepresenting what he had said, i.e., he did not say that Ukraine had slipped away from Russia’s orbit but that this was how Russia viewed it), the UCCA stated: “President Obama once again demonstrated a shocking ignorance of foreign policy hotspots. . . .” UCCA said it was “outraged by the description of Ukraine,” and it added: “Signaling this administration’s lack of understanding of geopolitics, this major address. . . focused instead on petty political squabbles.”

So, our crack (or is it cracked?) cohort of heavy duty foreign and domestic policy experts on Second Avenue is ready to lecture the president of the United States? Really? Is this the UCCA’s notion of making friends and influencing people? Does anyone on Second Avenue read the newspapers? Travel to Ukraine? Speak with political leaders in Ukraine? Speak with folks at our Embassy in Kyiv? Anyone on Second Avenue notice that the U.S. under this administration has been Ukraine’s strongest defender on the international stage, whether publicly at the United Nations or behind the scenes? That we led the movement on sanctions? That we’ve given Ukraine three-quarters of billion dollars since the Maidan? That this administration has repeatedly sent our vice-president, and other Cabinet members, to Ukraine to cajole and support reforms? That it sent our military to train Ukrainian forces? That the president’s representative in Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador, is generally recognized by all to be doing an extraordinary job in Kyiv?

The issue is not whether one likes or dislikes Mr. Obama or any other political figure, nor is it whether one agrees with one or another policy decision. For example, when I represented the United States, whether in federal court or as a diplomat, I regularly interacted with persons with whose positions I strongly disagreed and which disagreement I articulated forcefully, but that did not ever entitle me to act the way in which the UCCA has just done.

If the UCCA thinks that because our political discourse has recently become much more coarse therefore we should join the chorus, it should think again. The Ukrainian community does not have any Sheldon Adelsons ready to donate hundreds of millions to promote a political agenda. Unfortunately, quite the opposite. So the rationale behind the kind of tone adopted by the UCCA towards an administration that will remain in office for another year is what exactly?

Summit, N.J.