Speaking to NATO in Belgium today about Russia’s takeover of Crimea, 52-year-old President Barack Obama called the event a “moment of testing,” referring to U.S. and NATO’s stand on Russian expansion. Once called the Truman Doctrine about holding the line against Soviet expansion, Obama took appeasement to new heights telling the Europe’s post-WW II military defense shield that there’s nothing that can be done to rid Crimea of Russia. “We must never forget that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom,” said Obama, referring to the continent and Great Britain’s struggle against Nazism, then a 50-plus-year-long Cold War where the U.S. battled the Soviet Union for global supremacy. Watching Russia seize Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkasia in 2008 and now Crimea in 2014 indicates that the Russian Bear continues to intimidate its neighbors and former satellites.
Obama overreacted March 24 to a question by ABC’s Jonathan Karal at the Hague, Netherlands, asking whether or not 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was right about calling Russia the U.S.’s biggest threat. Romney stated in 2012 that Russia was the U.S.’s biggest “geopolitical foe,” not radical Islam responsible for Sept. 11 and other terrorist attacks on the U.S. and its allies. While Obama’s foreign policy has been based on a cooperative relationship with Russia, he’s watched Russia President Vladimir Putin take more bold steps, including his recent move to annex Crimea. “The truth of the matter is that America has got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors—no out of strength, but out of weakness,” Obama responded to Karl’s suggestion that Russia, not America, has grown stronger in recent years.
Obama faces his real true foreign policy leadership test regarding Putin’s expansion into Crimea. Russian expansion post-WW II was misinterpreted as “defensive” in nature, trying to prevent Russia from the carnage experienced in WW II battling Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. When Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and other European powers signed the Munich Agreement Sept. 30, 1938, it ceded Czechoslovakia to Germany, giving Hitler free rein to begin knocking off Eastern and Western Europe. Obama’s response to Putin’s March 1 seizure of Crimea shows frightening similarity to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. “I come here today to say we must never take for granted the progress that has been won here in Europe and advanced around the world,” Obama told NATO, yet unwilling to commit U.S. troops if Putin continues his advance.
It goes without out saying that pacifism struck Europe and the U.K. before WW II. Today’s European Union, sated by enviable economic prosperity on the continent, has no stomach for standing up to Putin. Karl struck a raw nerve when he insinuated to Obama that the U.S. had become a paper tiger when it came to containing Russian expansion in the former Soviet states. “If the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together we well ensure that this isolation deepens,” Obama told NATO. Evicting Russia from the G8 doesn’t offer enough incentives for Putin to reverse course and get out of Crimea. G20 countries like India, Brazil and China, have rallied behind Putin, rejecting the West’s attempt to isolate Russia. Obama admitted to NATO that there’s no military solution to getting Russia out of Crimea. Brussels also agreed that there’s no military option.
Dependent on Russian natural gas and petroleum, the EU stands to paralyze itself adopting punitive sanctions against Europe. While there’s no dependency on the U.S., NATO can’t cut the umbilical cord with Russia without pinching its energy resources. On the other hand, Russia trades about $160 billion a year largely in energy with the EU. Boycotting Russian natural gas and oil would have a crippling effect on the Russian economy. While China and India promise to make up the slack, Putin values his lucrative relationship with the EU. Brussels isn’t ready to implement more dramatic sanctions over Crimea because it recognizes Putin’s dilemma with a U.S and EU.-backed anti-Russian revolution in Kiev Feb. 22. Obama has watched his approval ratings sink to new lows over Obamacare, but, more recently, over the Ukrainian crisis, losing Crimea to Moscow with impunity.
Obama’s U.S. critics have been given plenty to red meat with his admission that there’s no military option in the Ukraine. While no one wants a shooting war with Russia, Putin’s brazen takeover of Crimea shows the same of kind of boldness seen when Nazi’s beat up its East and West European neighbors. Reluctant to stop Putin on Ukraine, there’s more nervousness in the Baltic States and former Soviet republics. Calling Russia a “regional power” threatening its neighbors “not out of strength, but out of weakness” doesn’t add up to NATO that’s watched a more ready and militarily superior army intimidate the Ukraine and other former Soviet states. “The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn’t free,” said Obama, while admitting that the U.S. isn’t prepared to do the heavy lifting. Putin figured out that pacifism in the U.S. and EU gives him free rein.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.