President Obama ended a quick trip through Europe with a “CBS Evening News” interview in Rome, where he shared his latest thinking on the ongoing crisis in Crimea. It was one of the poorest performances by a world statesman since Neville Chamberlain’s press comments after returning from Munich in 1938.
Obama’s odd remarks included some amateur psychoanalysis of the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin. The president conjectured, “[t]here’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he [Putin] wants to, in some fashion, reverse that or make up for that.” The problem, as the president explained it, is that Putin doesn’t understand how the world is supposed to work—an assessment that offers cold comfort to Ukrainians, a people with tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on their border.
The president has an easy answer for that as well: Putin should just pull some troops out of Crimea. It is hard to think of a more useless a suggestion for the “leader “ of the Free World to make. Putin may or may not decide to send his troops to take more than Crimea—but right now he very much wants everyone in the world to know he “can” send them if he wants to.
Given the Transatlantic Community’s tepid reaction to the invasion of a nation on its border, Moscow’s decision to keep a large army in Crimea seems like a smart move. It cows the Ukrainians; it may scare the West from taking bolder sanctions; and it is a bargaining chip to gain further concessions. All Obama did in suggesting Putin pull back is to demonstrate what a strong hand the troop presence gives Moscow.
It is also possible Putin may go big and just take more territory. Obama ought to focus more on that reality, rather than hoping Putin just goes back to playing nice.
Our president continues to downplay the seriousness of the collapse of his “Russian reset” policy. The invasion of the Ukraine doesn’t mean we are going back to the Cold War. However, the U.S. isn’t returning to “normal” relations with Russia either.
Obama is in for something much worse.