Gates's Lame Defense of Obama on Crimea

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered a weak defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on the Crimea on Fox News Sunday, telling host Chris Wallace that the Crimea was “gone” and that “some of the domestic criticism ought to be toned down while he’s trying to handle this crisis.” Noting that Russia had invaded Georgia while George W. Bush was president, Gates said there was not much Obama could have done.

It is one thing to recognize that not everything bad that happens in the world is America’s fault, in contrast to the so-called “realists” who inspired Obama’s weak foreign policy. It is quite another thing to suggest that there is nothing we can do–or to absolve an administration that has done everything possible to weaken its stance towards Russia in particular. If yielding to Russia was an accident by Bush, it has been deliberate under Obama.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney pointed out Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation: “There are military options that don’t involve putting groups on the ground in Crimea.” These include restarting the missile defense program that Obama scrapped in 2009–without warning our Polish or Czech allies, among other options that fall well short of armed conflict with Russia but that send a signal that we are prepared to stop Putin’s advance.

President Obama refuses to consider more than the most perfunctory display of military strength. His overall policy remains “leading from behind,” deferring to the “international community” and other such abstract notions, rather than to American interests, alliances and principles. It is worth noting that the Georgia invasion happened on Gates’s watch in 2008. Perhaps there is a bit of self-interest at stake in his latest remarks.