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Crimea and the Limits of Gestural Foreign Policy

By the end of the week, the Obama administration had begun to do what it had declined, at first, to do after Russia made its “uncontested arrival” in the Crimea. It had provided loan guarantees to Ukraine, and promises of further aid. It had sent Secretary of State John Kerry to stand in solidarity in Maidan Square. And it sailed the USS Truxtun into the Black Sea.

Yet what Russian President Vladimir Putin surely knew was that these were mere gestures. The economic aid came too late to match or beat an offer from Russia late last year that triggered the Ukrainian political crisis. The Secretary of State was unable to exceed the limits of his proudly “21st century” diplomacy. And the Truxtun was only one ship, alone.

The Obama administration may condemn the forthcoming referendum in the Crimea as illegitimate, but it will do little more than that. It is more concerned with domestic politics, and being seen to make some kind of effort, rather than actually doing what might be necessary to defend American interests and the interests of our allies, who are worried about their own security.

Those allies include the new members of NATO in Eastern Europe. And they also include Israel, which know knows–if it did not before–that the Obama administration is not serious about its commitments abroad. Gestures will not prevent Ukraine from losing its southern province. And Israel–which is slightly smaller than the Crimea–has even less room for error.

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