Other than finger-wagging, the administration seems to be doing precious little in the wake of the invasion and annexation of Crimea. Vice President Biden was sent to Eastern Europe to make platitudinous promises of mutual defense. He says, “I want to make it clear: We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression. As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.” What does that even mean at this stage? The administration is not arming Ukraine to protect it from further aggression, it has yet to kick Russia out of international institutions and has made no move to flood the European market with liquefied natural gas, which would be reassuring to allies and undermine Russia’s economy.
Biden was not alone in the empty-rhetoric sweepstakes. The New York Times reports, “The NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Wednesday that Russia’s military intervention was the ‘gravest threat’ to European security since the end of the Cold War. ‘This is a wake-up call, for the Euro-Atlantic community, for NATO and for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace,’ Mr. Rasmussen said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday afternoon.” But has President Obama woken up — this happened on his watch, after all — or is he busying himself with his NCAA Tournament bracket, Obamacare and saving the Senate?
Biden promised that the United States would come to the aid of Baltic countries under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, but then we had an agreement to protect Ukraine as well. (The Budapest Memorandum will become the answer to a trivia question one day.) There is no catch phrase (“A nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” “We have Israel’s back,” “Bashar al-Assad must go”) that has meaning any longer, not with this president.
The State Department spokesperson sounded like a parody of a State Department spokesperson: “Obviously, there are a range of options under consideration. I’m not going to get into what we are or aren’t considering. You saw seven government officials sanctioned just a couple of days ago. The question at this point is not if we will do more sanctions; it’s when.” How about now?
The irony is that Obama has destroyed just about every liberal nostrum in the left-wing, anti-Bush playbook. “Multilateralism” is an empty promise, the Ukrainians found out. “Smart power” or “soft power” has not been employed to push back on Russia, to press Arab countries toward democracy or to adhere to Iran sanctions (which the administration grudgingly signed onto in the past and now flat-out opposes). Nonproliferation? Tell that to the Persian Gulf countries that watch Iran get closer to a nuclear capability and Assad suffer no adverse consequences from use of WMDs. Anyone want to follow Ukraine, which in 1994 gave up its nukes in exchange for promises of its independence and geographic integrity?
U.S. power — soft, hard and in between — and the will to use it in defense of U.S. interests are indispensable to our continued security and that of our allies. There is no respite from history or end of wars. Unlike former president Jimmy Carter, Obama doesn’t seem to have recognized anything is amiss even after the invasion of a sovereign country.
Members of Congress are not powerless, and if the GOP takes the Senate (and thereby is no longer hampered by Sen. Harry Reid) it can do a great deal to strengthen the United States’ hand. It can pass sanctions against Iran. It can revisit our defense budget and offer to reinstall missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. It can pass legislation to use our domestic energy supply strategically to become energy self-sufficient, provide economic protection to allies and do damage to aggressive states such as Russia. It can provide appropriate levels of financial support to besieged allies. Would the president veto such measures? Perhaps. But frankly, if he loses the Senate and the international scene continues to deteriorate even Democrats may override him, for the sake of their own careers and for the country’s national security. The president is bereft of ideas and of will; others will need to step forward.