Let's Please Put the Myth of the Iron-Willed Putin to Rest Once and For All

| Sun Mar. 9, 2014 12:16 PM EDT

Here is Doyle McManus today:

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, one of his selling points was the promise of a more modest foreign policy than that of his predecessor. And when Obama won reelection 16 months ago, he renewed that pledge....Mitt Romney warned at the time that Obama wasn't being tough enough on Vladimir Putin, but the president scoffed at the idea that Russia was a serious geopolitical threat.

It's not quite fair to accuse Obama of direct responsibility for Putin's occupation of Crimea, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other hawkish critics have. After all, Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, and no one accused Bush of excessive diffidence in defending American interests.

But it's still worth asking: Has Obama's downsizing of U.S. foreign policy gone too far?

This stuff is driving me crazy. Later in the piece, McManus mentions Obama's Middle East policy, and I suppose that's fair game: Obama really has downsized our military footprint there. Personally, I'm just fine with a president who conducts foreign policy in the interests of the United States, regardless of whether Israel and Saudi Arabia approve, but I suppose your mileage may vary. Feel free to argue about it.

But it's nuts to talk about Ukraine the same way. Putin didn't invade Crimea because the decadent West was aimlessly sunning itself on a warm beach somewhere. He invaded Crimea because America and the EU had been vigorously promoting their interests in a country with deep historical ties to Russia. He invaded because his hand-picked Ukrainian prime minister was losing, and the West was winning. He invaded because he felt that he had been outplayed by an aggressive geopolitical opponent and had run out of other options.

None of this justifies Putin's actions. But to suggest that he was motivated by weakness in US foreign policy is flatly crazy. He was motivated by fear; by shock over the speed of events in Kiev; by a sense of betrayal when the February 21 agreement collapsed; by nationalistic fervor; by domestic political considerations; by provocative actions from the new Ukrainian parliament; by an increasing insularity among his inner circle; and by just plain panic.

The one thing he wasn't motivated by was US weakness. Can we at least get that much straight?

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