The president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council challenges critics of President Barack Obama’s Ukraine policy by saying, “What are you going to do, send the 101st Airborne into Crimea?” Not exactly subtle. And rather silly, considering that no one has proposed such a thing.
The alternative to passivity is not war but a serious foreign policy. For the last five years, Obama’s fruitless accommodationism has invited the kind of aggressiveness demonstrated by Iran in Syria, China in the East China Sea and Russia in Ukraine. But what’s done is done. What is to be done now?
We have three objectives. In ascending order of difficulty: Reassure NATO. Deter further Russian incursion into Ukraine. Reverse the annexation of Crimea.
We’re already sending U.S. aircraft to patrol the airspace of the Baltic states. That’s not enough.
. Send the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Baltics to arrange joint maneuvers.
. Same for the four NATO countries bordering Ukraine — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
. Urgently revive missile defense agreements concluded with Poland and the Czech Republic before Obama canceled them unilaterally to appease Russia.
Deter Russia in Ukraine:
. Extend the Black Sea maneuvers in which the USS Truxtun is currently engaged with Romania and Bulgaria. These were previously scheduled.
. Declare that any further Russian military incursion beyond Crimea will lead to a rapid and favorable response from NATO to any request from Kiev for weapons.
This is no land-war strategy. This is the “tripwire” strategy successful for half a century in Germany and Korea. Any Russian push into western Ukraine would then engage a thin tripwire of NATO trainer/advisers. That is something the most rabid Soviet expansionist never risked. Nor would Putin.
Reverse the annexation of Crimea:
In the short run, likely impossible. There are no military cards to play, Russia holding all of them. Ukraine’s forces are very weak. The steps must be diplomatic and economic.
First, Crimean secession under Russian occupation must lead to Russia’s immediate expulsion from the G-8.
Any real effect of economic sanctions will require broader action and for that we need European cooperation. The ultimate sanction is to cut off Russian oligarchs, companies and banks from the Western financial system. That’s the economic “nuclear option” that brought Iran to its knees and to the negotiating table. It would have a devastating effect on Putin’s economy.
For serious sanctions to become possible, Europe must first be weaned off Russian gas. Obama should order the Energy Department to expedite authorization for roughly 25 liquid natural gas export facilities.
Second, call for urgent bipartisan consultation with congressional leaders for an emergency increase in defense spending.
Obama is not the first president to conduct a weak foreign policy. Jimmy Carter was similarly inclined — until Russia invaded Afghanistan, at which point the scales fell from Carter’s eyes. He responded boldly: imposing the grain embargo on the Soviets, boycotting the Moscow Olympics, increasing defense spending and ostentatiously sending a machine gun-toting Zbigniew Brzezinski to the Khyber Pass, symbolizing the massive military aid we began sending the mujahedeen, whose insurgency so bled the Russians over the next decade that they not only lost Afghanistan but were fatally weakened as a global imperial power.
Invasion woke Carter from his illusions. Will it wake Obama?