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By Greg Smith

The Russian incursion into Ukraine is a good time for the U.S. to better explore the use of a softer power – strategy – to shape world events for the better. Washington needs to get this right quickly or it may soon have greater problems with China, Iran and North Korea – and even Saudi Arabia.

The time line of events indicates this was probably not a snap decision by Vladimir Putin. November 30, 2013 saw pro-Western demonstrations in Kiev met with violence by riot police, which has not abated in three months. Two days later Kiev’s city hall was overrun by protesters, and on Feb. 20 government forces began to murder protesters. Russia responded with only words through these events. Putin is well aware that President Carter cancelled American athletes participation in the 1980 Olympics held in Moscow; the last time Russia hosted the games.

Suddenly, Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych flees to Russia a day and a half before the Olympics end, at which time Putin has a free hand to act without tarnishing his pet project, the Sochi games. The day after the games end Putin’s pool boy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev begins the drumbeat of war by questioning the new government in Kiev. The rest is recent history. It may be coincidence, but who would question whether Putin is willing to orchestrate events to suit his purposes?

President Obama’s response to watching Russian troops rolling into a Central European country is being heavily scrutinized in Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran. But the most peril lies in the impression it leaves in Riyadh, Tokyo, Manila, Taipai, Canberra, Paris and London — indeed inside every government that relies on the U.S. — and on whom the U.S. rely — for some level of security cooperation.

As you read there must be arguments in Beijing that there will be no better time to cross the Taiwan Straight, which would back Washington into a choice between a major war or irrelevance.

The best example is the Saudi Arabians, who according to BBC News may have nuclear weapons on order from Pakistan. The Saudis were disappointed to say the least at the Obama administration’s response to and handling of the civil war in Syria and openly questioned whether they could count on the U.S. having the willingness to prevent Iran, the Kingdom’s arch enemy, from acquiring nuclear weapons.

If Saudi leaders had been on the fence, what must they be thinking now, and if they acquire nuclear weapons, will they think twice about using them because they have faith in the U.S.?  ©

Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political strategist who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at www.betterfatthanfascist.com.