President Barack Obama’s response last week to a question about foreign policy weakness showed the president at his worst: defensive, irritable, contradictory and at times detached from reality. It began with a complaint about negative coverage on Fox News, when, in fact, it was The New York Times front page that featured Obama’s foreign policy failures, most recently the inability to conclude a trade agreement with Japan and the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East negotiations.
Add to this the collapse of not one but two Geneva conferences on Syria, American helplessness in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Saudi king’s humiliating dismissal of Obama within two hours of talks — no dinner — after Obama made a special 2,300-mile diversion from Europe to see him, and you have an impressive litany of serial embarrassments.
Obama’s first rhetorical defense, as usual, was to attack a straw man: “Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force?”
Everybody? Wasn’t it you, Mr. President, who decided to attack Libya under the grand Obama doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (helpless civilians) — every syllable of which you totally contradicted as 150,000 were being slaughtered in Syria?
And wasn’t attacking Syria for having crossed your own chemical-weapons red line also your idea? Before, of course, you retreated abjectly, thereby marginalizing yourself and exposing the United States to general ridicule.
Everybody eager to use military force? Name a single Republican (or Democratic) leader who has called for sending troops into Ukraine.
The critique by John McCain and others is that when the Ukrainians last month came asking for weapons to defend themselves, Obama turned them down. The Pentagon offered instead MREs, ready-to-eat burgers to defend against 40,000 well-armed Russians.
Obama retorted testily: Does anyone think Ukrainian weaponry would deter Russia, as opposed to Obama’s diplomatic and economic pressure? Why, averred Obama, “in Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community. Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.”
That’s a deterrent? Fear of criticism? Empty words?
To think this will stop Putin, liberator of Crimea, champion of “New Russia,” is delusional.
As for the allegedly mobilized international community, it has done nothing.
As for Obama’s vaunted economic sanctions, when he finally got around to applying Round 2, the markets were so impressed by their weakness that the ruble
1 percent and the Moscow stock exchange 2 percent.
Behind all this U.S. action, explained The New York Times in a recent leak calculated to counteract the impression of a foreign policy of clueless ad hocism, is a major strategic idea: containment.
A rather odd claim when a brazenly uncontained Russia swallows a major neighbor one piece at a time — as America stands by. After all, how did real containment begin? In March 1947, with Greece in danger of collapse from a Soviet-backed insurgency and Turkey under direct Russian pressure, President Truman went to Congress for major and immediate economic and military aid to both countries.
That means weaponry, Mr. President. It was the beginning of the Truman Doctrine.
No one is claiming that arming Ukraine would have definitively deterred Putin’s current actions. But the possibility of a bloody and prolonged Ukrainian resistance to infiltration or invasion would surely alter Putin’s calculus more than Obama’s toothless sanctions or empty diplomatic gestures, like the preposterous Geneva agreement that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.