Putin Thinks We’re Weak

But What Should Our Policy Be?

Posted: March 29, 2014

As we continue to ponder Vladimir Putin’s Crimean holiday, two questions present themselves: What does President Obama’s rather languid response to the Russian incursion say about the United States’ current standing in the world? And what, precisely, should the United States do about it?

Mr. Obama has, as The Wall Street Journal accurately headlined, sounded an “uncertain trumpet” in response to Mr. Putin’s calculated aggression. The president has repeatedly given the Russian bully-boy every opportunity to mend his suspicious ways. For example, he has said “sanctions will expand” if Russia “stays on its current course.”

Duly translated, this means: “Mr. Putin, you can have Crimea, but don’t even think about going further into Ukraine.” Taking stock of Mr. Putin, we suspect he views this tepid response as abject weakness, and thus he’ll test these waters again if the spirit moves him. Though man and moment may be different, isn’t this how Hitler began sating his revanchist dreams? We wonder if the likes of Neville Chamberlain considered Germany, smarting from its defeat in the Great War, just a “regional power,” as Mr. Obama has labeled Russia. Does anyone pay heed to history anymore?

This current episode, still to fully play out, reveals that America, under this president, is deemed weak. Which leads to our second question: What can, or should, be done to rectify this? Here’s where the equation gets dicey, and the horn section gets out of sync. As Mr. Obama sounds his tinny trumpet, Vice President Biden is blowing a different horn entirely, as is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Though Mr. Obama has affirmed his commitment to NATO, Mr. Biden has been downright bullish about Article V, the mutual defense portion of the treaty, calling it “iron-clad.” Mr. McCain, meanwhile, is talking about fast-tracking Ukraine into NATO, which would make the United States liable for its defense, should Mr. Putin cast further covetous eyes.

With commitments elsewhere — Korea and Japan, for example, not to mention our ties to Israel — is Washington serious about adding Ukraine and, perhaps, Georgia to this list? A firm, robust foreign policy grounded in geopolitical reality and the lessons of history is not just desired, but needed. Foolhardiness is not.