Protests and unrest continue to grip Ukraine as citizens voice their strong opposition to policies pursued by President Viktor Yanukovych. These policies have drawn the nation of 45 million closer with the Russian Federation while simultaneously stifling democracy and economic freedom within the country.
As Americans read and watch scenes of barricades and tent cities in Kyiv and cities across Ukraine, it’s important to recognize that the absence of American leadership in the world is doing nothing to help the current plight of the Ukrainian people.
Lack of U.S. leadership on the global stage, a strategy of disengagement termed “leading from behind” by some, has created a vacuum that has all too often filled by actors who do not share the same belief in freedom. A recent study detailing the decline of freedom in the world specifically cites the weak approach of Obama’s policies toward advancing freedom as a major factor in its continued slide.
Closer to Ukraine, the Administration’s disastrous “Russian reset” ignored reality and left the Administration with nothing to show for its wishful thinking five years later, a fact the President tacitly admitted when he abruptly canceled a planned trip to St. Petersburg in September.
In Eastern Europe, the U.S. has been almost entirely absent. Lackluster American participation in the 2013 NATO Steadfast Jazz exercise sent a broad signal that transatlantic relations and American engagement in the region are not a top priority for the Administration.
Such a signal is dangerous. Neither allies nor potential adversaries know where the U.S. stands anymore. Our friends in the region deserve a stronger signal that the U.S. remains committed to the future of millions of people in Eastern Europe and that we can still be counted on to advance freedom in the world.
Robust American global leadership contributes to freedom and stability. Hapless, uninspired leadership coupled with a policy of disengagement in Eastern Europe have made the world less safe and dimmed the light of freedom for millions. The world would undoubtedly benefit from a change in American policy in the region, and the people of Ukraine would feel a little less like they are the ones who have been left out in the cold.