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

 

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?

 

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.