Is Obama wrong on Ukraine?
“What Would America Fight For?” That question shouts from the cover of this week's Economist. It is, asserts the magazine, “the question haunting its allies.”
While most agree that America would fight to defend her treaty allies and to protect vital interests if imperiled, the question is raised by President Obama's reticence in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria.
Asked in Manila how he answers critics who say his foreign policy appears to be one of “weakness,” the president, stung, replied:
“Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. And the question ... I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? ...
“(M)any who were proponents of ... a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven't really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.”
One senator Obama surely had in mind was Lindsey Graham, who told “Face the Nation” this weekend, “I would sanction the energy economy of Russia, the banking sector of Russia, and try to drive the Russian economy into the ground.”
But if you sanction her energy sector, Russia might retaliate by cutting off gas to Europe and Ukraine, causing a recession in the EU and a collapse in Kiev, requiring a massive bailout.
And would driving “the Russian economy into the ground” cause the Russian people to rise up and overthrow Putin? Did such sanctions produce regime change in Cuba, North Korea or Iran?
Was Ronald Reagan a wimp for not imposing sanctions on Warsaw when Solidarity was crushed? Or was he a wise president who knew America would ultimately prevail in the Cold War?
But Sen. Graham was only warming up, “I would help arm the Ukrainian people ... so they could defend themselves.”
But would it affect the outcome of a Ukraine-Russia war? No. Which is probably why Ike never considered sending weapons to the Hungarian rebels and LBJ never considered sending arms to the Czechs when Leonid Brezhnev's tanks crushed the Prague Spring.
Would U.S. military transports landing in Kiev, with mortars, mines and artillery pieces, be more likely to frighten Putin into paralysis or provoke him into seizing Eastern Ukraine before the U.S. could make a NATO ally of Kiev?
Suppose Russia responded by sending “defensive” weapons, S-300 surface-to-air missiles, to Damascus and Tehran?
It is something of a paradox that while most Americans want us to stay out of Syria, Crimea and Ukraine, Obama, who has done as the people wished, is regarded as weak in foreign policy.
Undeniably, Sens. Graham and John McCain speak for a goodly slice of the Beltway elite that believes the Iraq war was the right thing to do and that now wants to confront Russia, overthrow Bashar al Assad, and bomb Iran if she does not give up uranium enrichment. Yet most Americans want no part of this agenda.
Yet, as 2016 nears, Hillary Clinton is not only more hawkish than Obama, she is more hawkish than her potential GOP rivals. Other than Rand Paul, there appears to be no one in the Republican field who does not subscribe to the McCain-Graham line. No wonder the neocons are already piling on the junior senator from Kentucky.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”