Hawks: Ukraine is President Obama’s fault
By: Philip Ewing
March 3, 2014 03:22 PM EST
President Barack Obama might as well have invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, conservatives charge, after years of what they call foreign affairs accommodation at best — and weakness, at worst — that has put the administration on defense against domestic critics amid the deepening Ukrainian crisis.
Salvo after salvo is landing from Republican hawks who say Putin’s incursion into the Ukraine is the result of Obama’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia and give far too much ground to a ruler widely despised among U.S. conservatives. In a broader sense, when America absents itself from the world stage, they argue, aggressors feel free to step out of line.
The crisis is “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where no one believes in America’s strength anymore,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on Sunday that he believed Obama was playing marbles, while Putin played chess. Other Republicans, whose frustrations have been simmering since Obama decided last year not to authorize an attack on Syria, say Obama’s previous threat about a “red line,” which resulted in no major consequences when crossed, amounted to a green light for tyrants and despots to do as they will.
On Monday, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, faulted Obama for cuts to defense spending — the latest to be included in the president’s budget set for delivery to Congress on Tuesday — which Inhofe said had amounted to a clear message.
Obama’s “disarming of America over the past five years limits our options in Ukraine today,” Inhofe said. “I just returned from Georgia in January, and they fear Russia will further invade their territory next. Throughout this administration, I have also warned that if the United States does not maintain a ready and capable military, we would surrender our global influence and leave a vacuum that will be filled by Russia. I warned this day was coming, and it is here.”
The attacks aren’t just coming from the president’s Republican critics. The Washington Post scorched the administration with an editorial over the weekend headlined: “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.”
A senior administration official was asked on a conference call with reporters on Sunday what conclusions the world should draw given that on Friday, Obama warned Putin directly not to intervene in Ukraine — and then Putin did it anyway.
“The premise of your question is that he is strong and the president of the United States is weak, when, in fact, he is not acting from a position of strength right now,” the senior official said. “He is acting from a position of having lost the government that they backed in Kiev and made a play to move into Crimea, a piece of Ukraine, and being met with international condemnation.”
A second senior administration official said Putin’s incursion confirmed that he’s simply a strong man with no ability to use the many other tools of the 21st-century international system — diplomacy, persuasion, culture and others.
“This chapter has proven decisively that when it comes to soft power, the power of attraction, Vladimir Putin has no game,” the second senior official said. “So, he’s left with hard power. And it’s a very dangerous game to play in Ukraine because the Ukrainian people are not going to stand for it, and nor is the international community.”
The “danger” the administration describes, however, is not of a military response, which officials have all but ruled out. Instead. Instead, Washington and its allies want to isolate Moscow and punish Putin and his associates with diplomacy and potential economic sanctions.
“We have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion,” the leaders of the G-7 countries said Sunday.
That’s all well and good, reporters said, but what evidence does the administration have that Putin is listening or that he cares about what officials called Washington’s “menu” of options?
The first senior administration official could not resist a sarcastic allusion to President George W. Bush’s 2001 meeting with Putin, in which he said he’d gotten a “sense of his soul.”
“We in this administration have made it a practice to not look into Vladimir Putin’s soul, so I can’t speak for him,” the administration official said Sunday. “What I can say is that we’re not just speaking from the United States; we’re speaking from the entire world. And what you see is, I think, a very clear message that nobody is going to accept the legitimacy of this action in Ukraine.”
But to critics who believe the Ukrainian crisis represents Obama’s chickens coming home to roost, these kinds of answers are a thin gruel.
“The world does not expect the United States just ‘to stand with the international community,’ as the president said,” said former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They expect the United States to lead. Weak statements, history has proven, only invite aggression.”
Nonsense, says the administration. Putin is the one who has violated international law. Putin is the one ignoring his neighbors and the world. And Putin is the one who is responsible for this crisis.
“I do think it’s a bit strange to lift up this action, this outrageous action that President Putin has taken, as some great show of strength by him,” the first senior administration official said. “It’s a show of weakness in the sense that they have lost the government that they backed in Kiev and have now had to resort to the type of intervention that is going to lead them to be severely isolated within the international community and, frankly, is not going to achieve the objective of unringing the bell that we heard in Kiev when the Ukrainian people were able to take control of their own future.”