Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has characterized President Obama’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “weak and indecisive”, and has said that by not taking a tougher line against Vladimir Putin, the president was “inviting aggression.”
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union program, Senator Graham claimed that President Obama invited derision every time he tried to stand up to aggressive and expansionist regimes like that of President Putin:
[box type=”shadow”]”Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression. President Obama needs to do something.”[/box]
What is not clear is what exactly Senator Graham wants that “something” to be. Hawkish Republicans no doubt believe that the reserve strength of anti-Russian sentiment in the US will help portray President Obama’s measured response as weak, as the website PoliticusUSA noted:
[box type=”shadow”]”Republicans like Sen. Graham can almost taste the blood that a new military conflict would spill. They are aroused by the idea that their Cold War fantasies of war with Russia could finally be realized.”[/box]
However the US public is war-weary following over a decade of engagement in Afghanistan, and a long and difficult occupation of post-Saddam Iraq. While senior Republicans like John McCain have also called for a more robust American response to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the reality is that the United States and its European allies have limited options.
It is inconceivable that there will be a military response from the West. Secretary of State John Kerry and the British Foreign Secretary William Hague have both ruled out military support for the fledgling government in Kiev. Britain and the US, along with Russia, are bound to respect and guarantee Ukraine’s borders and territorial integrity following the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. However this document does not specify the form that this guarantee would take, and certainly does not bind the US or Britain to military support for Ukraine. Ukraine is also not a member of NATO, meaning that members of the Alliance are not legally bound to defend her.
President Obama has chosen diplomacy as the best way to resolve this crisis. An international coalition is already being marshaled to isolate Russia diplomatically and economically, largely based around the US and the European Union. Secretary of State John Kerry has already warned that not only could Western leaders boycott the upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi, Russia, but that Russia could be expelled from the organization following what Secretary Kerry called “an incredible act of aggression.” Economic sanctions could also be brought against senior Russian officials, such as freezing their assets or issuing travel restrictions. This choice of soft-power and engagement could already be bearing signs of fruition: the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has convinced President Putin to allow a fact-finding mission to begin a political dialogue between the two sides, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Senators McCain and Graham appear more concerned with America’s global image and prestige than with the security and peace of Europe that has been so painstakingly knit together since the end of the Cold War. Fortunately, President Obama appears to have learned the lessons from history. There will be no poorly planned rush to war in Eastern Europe. The president does not see the US Armed Forces as a political tool to improve his image on the international stage. That type of chauvinism is the reserve of authoritarian rulers like President Putin.