- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2014

With the help of an impatient news media, a global taste for drama and Russia’s provocative posturing in the Ukraine, the White House is now wedged in the put up or shut up position. Are we in a Cold War now? A Cool War? Maybe it’s just tepid.

War and the rumors of war, like relationships, are complicated these days. Choices are many. Threats of economic sanctions, stern warnings and the withdrawal of diplomatic officials may or may not dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin. Blunt force is effective, but not always efficient.

The mere suggestion of blunt force and dire consequences, however, has been helpful in the past. Recall that strategic deterrence and the old Strategic Air Command’s “peace through strength” motto persevered in difficult decades, back when Russia was the Soviet Union. But wait. There’s already some strategic deterrence afoot. Consider that when Mr. Putin simply parks a warship in Cuba or assembles black-clad, unidentified troops somewhere, he gets much press, and worries challengers plenty. The Russian president is tactically image-minded: Mr. Putin shaped the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, which proved to be both global spectacle and handy political vehicle.

Another factor. A little saber rattling goes a long way: It is instantly magnified in the press, and even more so on social media. Why, imagine if Hollywood were to craft a buzzworthy, tweetable message that America’s arsenal and resolve are fully intact. So uh, look out.

Putin has been very lucky both in his domestic and foreign endeavors, in part because of objective factors — when he took over as acting president in 1999, a barrel of crude averaged around $17 a barrel — and in large measure because his opponents, at home and abroad, were politically or economically handicapped,” points out Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, in an op-ed for CNN.

“As a result, Putin has trusted his luck and his smarts while counting on his opponents’ weaknesses. This means he has operated in accordance with Napoleon’s principle: On s’engage and puis on voit, which I would translate as ‘First get into a fight, and then decide what to do.’”

Journalists and pundits are already busy crafting the narrative of a possible war, a dress rehearsal, a quagmire, or spat. A sampling of headlines in the last 24 hours: “Who blinks first?” (Reuters); “Make Russia pay? It’s not so simple” (New York Times); “Diplomatic language on Ukraine is short of specifics” (CNN); “Ruble set to weaken” (Businessweek); “Muscovites rally for and against Russia’s move into Ukraine” (Wall Street Journal); “Ukraine’s lesson for Russia” (The Daily Beast); “Ukraine is hopeless but not serious” (PJ Media); and “Why Russia no longer fears the West” (Politico).

JUST SO-SO ON THE THREAT METER

A Gallup poll released Friday reveals that Americans rank Russian military power eighth on a list of nine threats to the vital interests of the U.S., behind international terrorism, Iran’s nuclear weapons and “Islamic fundamentalism,” among other things.

“Russia’s military power is viewed as less of a threat, though the belief that it is a critical threat has been rising over the past decade. Americans are nearly twice as likely to view Russia’s military power as a critical threat now (32 percent) as they were 10 years ago, when 18 percent of Americans said Russian military power was a critical threat, 50 percent said it was important but not critical, and 29 percent said it was not important,” says Gallup analyst Art Swift.

He adds, “Predicting the future is always difficult. Unforeseen crises often occur, while feared, expected events often never materialize.”

CPAC STARTS WITH A PRAYER

Snow has not deterred the Conservative Political Action Conference, now 72 hours away. Indeed, the bodacious three-day CPAC begins each day with a solemn prayer, the presentation of colors and the national anthem, the 12-hour days played out at a dramatic resort on the banks of the Potomac River, just eight miles south of the White House.

The 200 speakers are heavy with conservative icons, outspoken lawmakers and officials, strategists, entrepreneurs, creatives, authors and eager activists, including the young and very hungry.

CPAC’s got some intriguing topics on the agenda. Here’s just three, among dozens: “Falling in Love with America Again” (Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint); “What we can all do to save America’s future” (author Ben Carson); “Conservatives are alive in Hollywood” (filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, actor Fred Thompson).

SCOTT’S MOMENT

New numbers from a Winthrop University poll of 901 likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina have reassuring results for Sen. Tim Scott, who was appointed to the office 15 months ago after then-Sen. Jim DeMint left office to become president of the Heritage Foundation.

Among the findings: 73 percent approve of Mr. Scott’s job performance, 75 percent say he shares their values and interests, while 66 percent say he shares the values of South Carolina’s black population.

BIG EASY FLOATS AN IDEA

“Not a valid user name,” “Loading, loading, loading,” “Keep your plan,” “Keep your doctor,” “$25,000 deductible,” “Dr. Prez,” “Death panel,” and “User error.”

— Mottos among three anti-Obamacare Mardi Gras floats appearing in the upcoming New Orleans Mardi Gras, as tracked by both the Gateway Pundit and by Breitbart.com contributor Warner Todd Huston.

Mr. Huston called it “rueful, dark Cajun humor.”

RECALLING BREITBART

The second anniversary of the passing of media maven, futurist and provocateur Andrew Breitbart has prompted those left in charge of his journalistic empire to declare good news. His “vision and mission are thriving,” say Larry Solov, Stephen K. Bannon, Alex Marlow and Jon Kahn — all senior editorial and management officials at Breitbart.com, now comprised of 10 media entities covering politics, journalism, business and more.

“He was a new media pioneer. But perhaps he is best remembered as a fighter. He fought alongside us. He fought when we couldn’t. Justice. Accountability. Freedom. An even playing field. Those were the fights of his life,” the four say in a joint statement.

“Progress is being made. New media is growing and thriving, reaching more people in more countries all over the globe, breaking stories and fighting battles minute to minute, if not second to second. Meanwhile, the corrupt media establishment is struggling to modernize and maintain credibility with the public. Just as Andrew had envisioned,” the authors note, adding, “The two years since his death seem like only yesterday — and a century ago. And so it is. To the memory of this great man we dedicate the work ongoing.”

POLL DU JOUR

33 percent of Americans say finding and picking up a penny is good luck; 34 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of Democrats agree.

24 percent of Americans say it’s bad luck for a groom to see a bride before the wedding; 21 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats agree.

23 percent say seven is a lucky number; 20 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats agree.

20 percent say walking under a ladder is unlucky; 20 percent of Republicans and 22 percent of Democrats agree.

13 percent say a black cat crossing your path is bad luck; 10 percent of Republicans and 16 percent of Democrats agree.

12 percent say 13 is an unlucky number; 12 percent of Republicans and 16 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Harris Poll of 2.236 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 15-20 and released Friday.

Big ideas and small talk to jharper@washington times.com

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