An overwhelming majority of 87.5 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders do not believe new U.S. sanctions will encourage President Vladimir Putin to diplomatically resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
Unfortunately for President Obama, that was the stated goal of the sanctions he levied against Russian officials and companies last week. "Sanctions or no sanctions, Vladimir Putin will do what he thinks best to restore Russian hegemony and influence in his backyard," one Insider said.
Putin has already made his decision to take parts of eastern Ukraine, another Insider said, and he sees the tough sanctions talk as a bluff, one Insider said. "He knows the West isn't prepared to impose sanctions that will have adverse effects on Western economies, and he's confident Russia can endure anything short of that."
Russia can make other trade arrangements with parties like China and India, another Insider added.
Sanctions may already be too little, too late, one Insider said. The economic pressure could be enough to deter Russia from sending a military force across the border into Ukraine, "but … Putin has already destabilized it considerably with his actions in Eastern Ukraine," the Insider noted. "So even if Russia were to rein in its provocative actions, the crisis will be ongoing."
A small minority of Insiders said the sanctions could change Putin's calculus. "While modest, the sanctions have led to notable market shock: Capital outflows from Russia have skyrocketed, the country's GDP is projected to fall by several percentage points, and investors are hedging for fear of more sanctions," one Insider said.
But even those optimistic about sanctions encouraging a political solution in Ukraine had their doubts. "Putin and his ex-KGB cronies cannot be counted on to make rational decisions, so the risk of a wider invasion will remain for some time," the Insider continued. What's more, sanctions' effects "won't be seen for a long time," another Insider said. "Putin may well use his army to seize more of Ukraine before the sanctions work. Then the challenge will be getting him out of Ukraine—and that will be dangerous."
Separately, 98 percent of the Insiders said Israel and the Palestinians would not strike a peace deal during Obama's last term. A Middle East peace deal has been one of Obama's top goals during his presidency, and it faces another major obstacle after Israel called off U.S.-brokered peace talks upon the news that Hamas and Fatah would ink a unity agreement.
"A peace deal has escaped every U.S. president and there is no reason to think the parties will agree in the next few years," one Insider said. "An agreement will be struck by the parties when it is in their interests and within their timetable." This "charade of negotiations," another Insider quipped, has been going on for roughly three decades. "Both parties have more to gain from disagreement than from agreement."
At this point, the central question involves seeing Hamas as a potential player on the Palestinian side, one Insider said. "The U.S. is largely incapable of contemplating a deal that includes Hamas. No American official could suggest working a deal with Hamas without creating a firestorm of criticism. In Israel, however, there are influential and thoughtful players—the old Mossad/Shinbet crowd—who have long understood the need for coming to grips with Hamas. They'll have to take the lead at this point. But a solution during Obama's second term is unlikely."
1. President Obama's goal in levying new sanctions against Russian officials and companies this week was to encourage President Vladimir Putin to diplomatically resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Will it work?
- No 87.5%
- Yes 12.5%
"Putin has already been warned that more economic sanctions were coming and has discounted them."
"Sanctions are unlikely to 'resolve' the crisis diplomatically, but they may well help convince Russia not to invade eastern Ukraine."
"This crisis has a few more moves before it ends, and it could end badly, with a Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine."
"But the high cost of digesting Ukraine might."
"As long as Europeans don't levy comparable sanctions they won't have any real impact."
"They are a joke."
"We are still only slapping Putin's hand. We are still not making it hurt."
"Sanctions will have to be increased, and the Europeans will have to be on board."
"We have yet to alter his behavior, and now one of his ministers is raising the issue of access to the space station. We've gotten ourselves into a position where there is no reasonable framework of escalation or de-escalation that is effective."
"It won't change his calculus in the short term, but it was still the right and necessary thing to do. Longer term, Putin can't buck the trend of the Russian economy, which is not a good one."
"While it may not succeed in leading to an immediate diplomatic solution, it is a necessary step to take as there are two things Putin respects—force and $$—and not necessarily in that order."
"It might help only if we exhibit greater clarity in exactly what we expect the Russians to do."
"There is an extensive analytical literature on when and why economic sanctions actually work. No one in the administration seems to have looked at it. The sanctions are mostly to give the illusion of action."
"Putin is clearly not impressed with the will of the West to prevail in a conflict over an area that is not of vital interest to Western Europe or the United States. Sanctions take years to work—and Putin is smarter than to allow the conflict to drag on that long."
"They are political eyewash. The I-bankers and Realtors of London will lobby against any serious E.U. participation, and Merkel will not risk her 30 percent supply of Russian gas. Enough with the unserious incrementalism."
"Sanctions or no, eventually there will be some political resolution. The admin—and the media?—will say it was because of the sanctions, but that seems very unlikely."
"It's going to take a lot more pressure than this to change Putin's calculus."
"Putin and the the Russian oligarchy believe they can absorb financial sanctions because they do not believe that the Europeans will risk breaking deep economic ties."
"Neither the Russian government nor pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have changed behavior in response to sanctions. Even panic-prone short-money investors were unfazed by the U.S. announcement on Monday it would impose additional sanctions, and the price of the Moscow Stock Exchange actually went up."
"Yes, at some point, as long as the NATO and E.U. alliances remain united and determined to ensure the sanctions are real.''
"The goal is both punitive and aimed at behavior modification. Putin's failure of imagination in not pocketing the Geneva deal raises doubts whether he knows where he's headed."
"But only if pressure in areas of Russian weakness are increased and Russians living in Ukraine are given equal treatment with other Ukrainians."
"Sort of. Sanctions are always a mixed bag. They are effective if done over a long period of time, but not an immediate fix. Still, Putin has only one constituency—his fellow oligarchs. If they are hurting because of him, he's gone."
"Yes, but only in conjunction with stepped-up deployment of U.S. military forces to NATO border countries and increased action by NATO member countries' national security services working bilaterally with border states to blunt Russian covert action; with this firebreak, sanctions will have time to work, and it will take time."
2. Israel called off U.S.-brokered peace talks after the news that Hamas and Fatah would ink a unity agreement. Will Israel and the Palestinians strike a peace deal during Obama's last term?
- No 98%
- Yes 2%
"This should be the rare 0 percent yes, 100 percent no answer. If it isn't, you've got some real dreamers among respondents."
"The notion that now was the right moment to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians was always fanciful. Now hopefully the administration will turn to more immediate problems where U.S. engagement could make a positive difference, such as Syria."
"Until the U.S. cuts off Israel's $4 billion annual welfare payment and imposes harsh Ukraine-style sanctions, they will continue to ignore the peace process, U.N. resolutions, signing the nuclear and chemical weapons treaties, allowing nuclear-arms inspectors, etc, etc. Otherwise it's just the same old Kabuki dance we've seen for nearly half a century of illegal occupation."
"Neither side is eager to make major concessions. Israel has no trust that Hamas would abide by any commitment, or that the alliance between Hamas and Fatah would endure. Most Palestinians oppose peacemaking, egged on by rulers who whip up popular emotions against Israel as a way to deflect attention from their corruption and incompetent governance."
"Israel does not sincerely seek peace with the Palestinians except on terms that would make Palestine a Bantustan."
"Lasting peace must be an outcome of their collective actions in their self-interest. We can't create that if they can't."
"No deal without Obama's personal commitment, and he is not ready or willing to commit—and neither side really trusts him."
"Not unless the administration shows greater willingness than it has so far in expending political capital and showing the Israeli government that it means business."
"It's the Middle East, after all."
"No. Moreover, the probability that talks between the two parties could resume would increase if the Obama administration decides to NOT reengage."
"The political elites of both sides have a vested interest in the continuation of the conflict. Both would be less significant globally if it ended."
"Not a chance. Peace is created when one side wins and the other relents, or when both sides feel vulnerable and agree to compromise. When both sides think they can prevail with other strategies, then the conflict will continue. And this one will—for some time to come."
"Israel has no incentive to."
"Despite the Washington cottage industry surrounding it, the Palestinian issue has become nearly irrelevant to the U.S., the Middle East, and the security of Israel. It would be nice if Mr. Kerry realized that and looked for his Nobel elsewhere, preferably an area like Asia that has direct and immediate correlation with U.S. national interests."
"No, this chimera keeps floating out there, and it is simply not happening in this administration or the next. The differences are too deep within the Palestinians and the Israeli leaderships and culture. The best we can ever hope for is an unsteady "steady" state of occasional outbursts of violence and repression followed by a 'simmering peace.' "
"Peace between Israel and Palestine is a chimera, and increased tension and conflict is the much more likely result; more important to Israel over the summer will be the Syrian conflict's knock-on effect and Iranian nuclear advances."
"Now that the Palestinian Authority has aligned with Hamas, there is absolutely no chance of a peace deal."
"Even Secretary Kerry would now answer this question 'no.' "
"Nobody has ever lost money betting against an Israel-Palestinian agreement."
"But it is always possible that pigs will fly ...."
"Israel also broke with talks over [Palestine Liberation Organization] joining 12 international organizations while PLO broke over failure to release prisoners and building more settlements. Peace will only come when U.S. designs a fair framework and sticks with it."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Michael Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Janine Davidson, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Michael Leiter, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Gary Samore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, James Stavridis, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the May 6, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.