The New York Times describes Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea dramatically: “If there had been any doubt before Tuesday, Mr. Putin made clear that within what he considers his sphere of interest he would not be cowed by international pressure. And the speed of his moves in Crimea, redrawing an international border that has been recognized as part of an independent Ukraine since 1991, has been breathtaking.” This is a humiliation for the West and a collapse of 22 years of American foreign policy in which the former states of the Soviet Union were allowed to reclaim their place in a whole and free Europe.
White House spinners (past and present) and their media handmaidens have already begun making excuses and attacking critics, who for years have criticized the president’s handling of Russia.
“You can’t criticize the president without offering an alternative!” Who made that rule? The president, after five years of serial errors (pulling anti-missile defenses from Eastern Europe, ignoring Russian arms violations, off-loading the Syria stand-off to Moscow, turning Russia’s internal repression, failing to check Russian support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and slashing defense spending), can hardly put the onus on critics to figure a way out of the mess. In any event, these same critics have been suggesting much stronger sanctions and actions (ranging from expulsion from international bodies to flooding Europe with liquefied natural gas to sink Putin’s gas monopoly). It’s pathetic, when you think about it, that the president’s answer to an international debacle is to claim that critics have no answers. It’s almost as if someone else is president.
“You should blame Putin!” Of course we should. But just as President George W. Bush was held responsible for how he reacted to foreign threats and Jimmy Carter was judged by his pre- and post-Afghanistan invasion policies, this president, too, must be held accountable for how he handles our enemies. It does not bode well for, say Iran policy, that his response to a horrible outcome (Iran going nuclear) is to blame Iran. Of course our enemies are to blame for aggression; and Obama is to blame for five years of incoherent and weak foreign policy in which he announced to the world a decade of war was ending.
Indeed, there has been virtually no accounting of the results of President Obama’s policies. Consider Syria. The scene is gruesome:
Day after day, the Syrian civil war has ground down a cultural and political center of the Middle East, turning it into a stage for disaster and cruelty on a nearly incomprehensible scale. Families are brutalized by their government and by jihadists claiming to be their saviors as nearly half of Syrians — many of them children — have been driven from their homes. . . . The government bombards neighborhoods with explosive barrels, missiles, heavy artillery and, the United States says, chemical weapons, then it sends in its allies in Hezbollah and other militias to wage street warfare. It jails and tortures peaceful activists, and uses starvation as a weapon, blockading opposition areas where trapped children shrivel and die.
Yet in his State of the Union just a few months ago, Obama took credit for Syrian policy, a great success in his telling. (“American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.”) The president has ignored years of criticism that counseled more robust action before Syria descended into hell; he ignored the critics, including some in his administration. Is his answer now actually that there is nothing he could have done in the past four years to head off this tragedy?
Neither the president nor Hillary Clinton (a central figure in the “Russian reset policy” and in Iran engagement) cops to bad judgment, passivity or indifference. They’ve not admitted that any policy was flawed or that any assumption was incorrect. Instead they whine (this is hard!), attack or ridicule critics or claim it’s someone else’s fault. When exactly do they accept responsibility for their role in the dismemberment of Ukraine, in a prolonged civil war that has killed 150,000 or so and an emboldened Iran on the precipice of a nuclear capability?