As Russian President Vladimir Putin deploys his military forces to Ukraine, the Obama administration continues to wonder just what the benighted dictator is thinking. Understanding that the best strategy for countering military action is undoubtedly faculty lounge-style condescension, the Obama administration has responded with its full array of resources: scorn, sneering, and bemusement.
On Monday, President Obama announced that Russia was “on the wrong side of history,” adding that the actions of the Kremlin violate international law. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated on Sunday, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country.” National Security Advisor Susan Rice stated, “It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.” When questioned by NBC’s David Gregory whether Putin might in fact see the global situation in a “Cold War context,” Rice shot back, “He may, but if he does, that’s a pretty dated perspective.” To prove just how dated that perspective was, the United States announced on Monday that it would not be sending a presidential delegation to the Paralympics in Sochi, a move that will undoubtedly give Putin the chills.
Meanwhile, the tanks roll through the Crimea.
So, why exactly does Putin think he can get away with rolling tanks into Crimea without serious American response? History.
The Reset Button. In 2008, Putin’s Russia invaded neighboring Georgia after Georgia threatened military action against one of its provinces, the disputed territory of Abkhazia. Russia quickly poured troops into Abkhazia, and the United States responded with tepid language asking Russia to “reconsider some provocative steps.” Meanwhile, Russia began placing more and more troops in South Ossetia, another disputed territory under the control of Georgia. In August 2008, Georgia sent troops into both territories. That prompted a full-scale Russian invasion, with Russia bulldozing all the way to the Georgian capital. Russia now claims that both territories are independent countries – read, in the Russian sphere of influence. George W. Bush, in an eerie precursor to John Kerry’s “21st century” nonsense, state, “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” The Bush administration merely sent humanitarian supplies to Georgia.
In January 2009, Barack Obama took office. He promptly sent his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Geneva to hand her counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, a “reset button.” The button read “overcharge” – perhaps a more appropriate label – but the purpose was clear: the United States was going to be more solicitous of the Russian government. Clinton said, “I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: ‘We want to reset our relationship, and so we will do it together…'”
In other words, in the immediate aftermath of a botched US attempt to stop Russian aggression, the new administration made clear to Putin that it viewed even the Bush administration’s limited and futile attempts a bridge too far.
That impression was reinforced by the Obama administration’s quick decision to kill a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, frightening our allies and pleasing Putin. The Russians spat in the Obama administration’s face, recognizing that the decision was “obviously a positive sign for us,” but refusing to recognize any sort of softening of Moscow’s relationship. Our allies in Eastern Europe, including Poland and the Czech Republic, were rightly perturbed.
“Flexibility.” In March 2012, as Obama ran a hard re-election campaign against Mitt Romney, he sat down with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. With the microphones still hot, Obama stated, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama said of Putin. Medvedev said, “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…” Obama continued, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Medvedev responded: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”
Obama spent the remainder of the campaign mocking Romney for calling Russia America’s top geopolitical foe.
Syria. With his re-election effort complete, Obama moved quickly to create space for the Russians in the Middle East. After foolishly drawing a “red line” with regard to Syrian use of weapons of mass destruction, Obama blinked, calling in Congress for approval on the use of military force. When Kerry went on national television and implied that a deal could be in the offing if Assad disarmed, Putin saw his opportunity, and proposed a faux deal offering just that.
The final deal, which left Syrian dictator and Russian ally Bashar Assad in power, was supposed to disarm Assad; thus far, Assad has remained armed. The Obama administration continues to cling to the pathetic and desperate hope that the Russians will somehow save their bacon; in September, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that Russian credibility, not US credibility, was on the line in disarming Syria. “Russia, as we saw just now in Geneva, has put its prestige and credibility on the line in backing this proposal,” Carney announced, attempting to keep a straight face.
The Russian Parliament is still laughing at us over that one.
Iran. Russia has been Iran’s strongest ally in crafting its nuclear weapons program. So when the Obama administration cut a deal with the Iranians over their nuclear program – a deal that would lower sanctions based on the promise that Iran will not continue forward with its nuclear program – the Russians celebrated. And no wonder. In February, Iran said Russia would build a nuclear reactor for it in exchange for oil – up to 500,000 barrels of oil per day “for goods in the deal that would undermine Western efforts to maintain economic pressure on Tehran while global powers seek to curb its nuclear program,” Reuters reported.
The Hollowing of American Capacity. The Obama administration began with an apology tour in which President Obama expressed his heartfelt belief that American influence in the world should diminish in favor of a multilateral internationalism. At home, Obama quickly went to work implementing that vision, unilaterally slashing nuclear weaponry in order to “move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” and slashing the military to the tune of 30%.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has pushed hard against the development of new energy resources in the United States. The greatest threat to Russian economic growth is the rise of alternative forms of energy, including fracking; the environmental policy of the Obama administration has kept the Russians at the forefront of the energy market. Christopher Dickey of the Daily Beast writes, “the fracking revolution in the United States threatens Russian dominance on several fronts.” The good news for Putin is that Obama is counter-revolutionary.
So why is Putin drinking Obama’s milkshake? Because he’s not blind. He recognizes American weakness when he sees it, and he has a history of exploiting that weakness. He saw President Bush’s foolhardy trust in him as a weak point; Obama has turned that weak point into a full-blown American foreign policy. No wonder Putin is pushing the envelope. After all, he’s likely to get away with it.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.