Crimea, and another stunning US intelligence failure.

Incredibly, US intelligence thought Russia wouldn’t occupy (or make an unopposed arrival) Crimea.

U.S. intelligence estimates conclude that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. This, despite the launch of a massive, new Russian military exercise near Ukraine’s border and moves from armed men to seize two key airports in the country’s Crimea region.

The latest developments led Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov Friday to accuse Russia of invading the Russian majority province of Crimea after armed militias took control of the civilian airport in Simferopol, the region’s capital and the military airport in Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. Russian authorities meanwhile have denied any responsibility for the seizure of the two airports in the region.

Really? When the “cease fire” in Kiev between the Yanukovych regime and the protesters was announced, the first thing most people noticed was that it was due to expire the day the Winter Olympics ended. Smart money around the blogs was that as soon as the spotlight was off Sochi, Russian forces would intervene, in one manner or another.

Given the large ethnic Russian population in Crimea, and the critical Russian bases on the peninsula, the only question was (and still is) will the Russians be content with just Crimea, or will they attempt to retake all of Ukraine?

Actually, make no doubt, Russia will attempt to retake all of Ukraine. We doubt they will do so through military occupation (though a ginned up emergency is hardly out of the question), but though economic and political coercion. Russia (especially Putin, but a goodly percentage of the  man-on-the-street population as well) simply cannot conceive of a Ukraine that falls outside the Russian sphere of influence.

How is it that our intelligence community has such an incredibly poor grasp of history and culture that they cannot see that which is plainly before them? What was to stop Russia from entering Crimea? The Russians knew that they would be, if not welcomed with open arms, almost certainly unopposed. Heck, the Russians already occupied Crimea, with military installations shared with the Ukrainians. What possible downside did Russia see? None.

We’ve been pretty unimpressed with the Obama administration’s response, but frankly, we see little that the US could do to prevent any such Russian response. Having said that, the inability of the US intelligence community to see the obvious is deeply troubling.

In Case You Missed It…

While President Obama is busy pissing off long time allies like the French and Germans* both through policies that offend them, attempting to align more closely with autocratic Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and spying on just about everybody, you might have missed another Obama “success” story.

Since World War II the US and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia have had a steady, if not always strong, alignment. And that alignment is in danger of rupture.

Saudi Arabia often strikes us more as  a “frenemy” than an ally. We all know that 15 of 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals, as was, of course, Osama bin Laden. And Saudi subjects finance radical madrasses worldwide, preaching a vision of Islam that sneers at the mores and values of our Western culture and heritage.

But the Saudi royal family, despite appearing to be an absolute monarchy, is in a difficult position. As much as they try to moderate and modernize their culture, any shift to a more liberal** stance risks seeing them overthrown by their own radical elements. The family has to walk a tightrope between maintaining relations with the West, and not inviting internal revolt.

Saudi Arabia’s single biggest external security issue is Iran. The incredibly deep schism between Sunni and Shia means Iran is an even greater threat to the kingdom than any possible internal unrest. And the specter of a nuclear armed Iran is the nightmare fuel for Saudi foreign ministry types.

Sadly, Obama seems to take at face value the extraordinarily meager crumbs of reconciliation the new Iranian president Rouhani.  This is incredibly naive, even for this feckless administration. The Iranians are clearly trying to buy time to further their nuclear weapons program. Toning down the rhetoric is an easy way to do it. That our own government can’t see that is astonishing.  Further, even in the incredible case that President Rouhani actually did wish to change the relationship between the US and Iran, such a policy decision is out of his hands. The president of Iran can do pretty much anything he wants, policy-wise, so long as it is exactly what the Supreme Ruling Council wants.

Michael Totten has a terrific post that showcases the fruits of our amatuer foreign policy, a policy so bad that it is driving Saudi Arabia away from the US, and into the arms of… who knows? He goes off the rails a bit there, but the diagnosis is spot on.

Personally, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if China was quick to make friends.

*To be honest, I’m not a bit dismayed to hear we’re spying on them. We’re supposed to spy on everybody but our own citizens.

**Not in the American political sense