What is U.S. policy toward the Ukraine crisis?
On the day that Russia openly invaded Ukraine, President Barack Obama held a press conference in which he touted the growing economy and spoke at length about the Islamic State and the crisis in Syria-Iraq. But, his position on Ukraine was “our commitment is unwavering to our NATO allies.”
Ukraine is not a part of NATO, so what does this all mean?
Indeed, what does the past year of feckless American foot-dragging really mean on Ukraine? What is Obama’s true position? Here are a three logical alternatives, none of which is accurate.
President Barack Obama listens in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine, before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Ukraine is none of our business
This does not appear to be his position, although he clearly wishes the problem would go away. True, President Obama came into office determined to radically reduce America’s strategic footprint around the world.
However, as Ukraine borders our NATO allies and this is a clear violation of international law by a belligerent major power (Russia), the administration does not appear to be saying “none of our business.”
Russia’s actions offend our values, but it is not in American interests to help Ukraine
Again, this does not seem to be Obama’s true position. Although Russia’s aggrandizement clearly offends America’s sensibilities, Obama has not said it is contrary to U.S. interests to help Ukraine. This has been the quiet position of European countries who need Russian hydrocarbons, especially during winter, but this has not been the express U.S. position.
Ukraine’s plight is tragic: it violates our ideals and our interests, but there are no good options for U.S. involvement
This argument would be compelling, if it had been made. But, Obama has not made this argument!
So, what is Obama’s position on Ukraine?
There really isn’t one, at least in terms of American leadership. This comports with Hillary Clinton’s jibe that this administration lacks a foreign policy paradigm: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
Pro-Russian militants take the military oath of allegiance to the so-called People's Republik of Donetsk during the ceremony in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on June 21, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops in central Russia on 'full combat alert,' the defence minister said on Saturday, a day after the Kremlin confirmed it was beefing up its military presence at the border with Ukraine. AFP PHOTO/ ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY
By explicitly supporting “our NATO allies,” Obama is saying at least two things. The first, “we are going to let Europe lead on this one.” This is the same Europe that spent last year in gross financial crisis and which is led by Germany, a country that refused to let its troops draw their weapons against the bad guys in Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine Germany, Italy, Spain, and other countries standing up to Vladmir Putin.
A second thing that Obama is signaling, once again, is a lack of resolve and U.S. leadership in a time of crisis. For the past five years Putin has consistently outmaneuvered and humiliated Obama on the international stage, from slights like stopping American adoption of unwanted Russian children to the Edward Snowden affair to Obama pulling support for missile defense in Eastern Europe. Putin supports Bashar al Assad in Syria and rogue elements on the borders of Georgia and Ukraine. Obama fumbles, Putin scores again and the Ukraine situation is clearly another example of a tired, weak president trying to figure out what to do.
The tragedy goes beyond Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. Friends around the world must wonder if America will ever be a trusted strategic leader. Will America come to the aid of a beleaguered Taiwan? South Korea? Japan? The Philippines? Would Obama really send troops to save a few million citizens in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania from Russian domination, regardless of the NATO charter?
If he acts, will it be quick and ineffective, leaving more instability in its wake (e.g. Libya)? The Vladimir Putins of the world must be rejoicing that the Obama presidency has two and a half years left.
Eric Patterson is Dean of Regent University's Robertson School of Government and the author or editor of 11 books, including "Ending Wars Well" (Yale UP, 2012) and "Politics in a Religious World" (Continuum, 2011). Contact: email@example.com.
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