Obama’s Response to Russia Begins to Unfold

As near as I can tell, every single Ukraine hawk agrees that we shouldn’t even think about a direct military response to Putin’s incursion into Crimea. Every single one. Instead they want a diplomatic response: economic sanctions, aid to Ukraine, asset freezes, visa restr—

Oh wait. What’s this?

The United States prepared Monday to impose sanctions on high-level Russian officials involved in the military occupation of Crimea, as the escalating crisis in Ukraine prompted turmoil in global markets, pounding the Russian ruble and driving up energy prices….If Moscow does not reverse course, officials said they would ban visas and freeze assets of select Russian officials in the chain of command as well as target state-run financial institutions.

Hey, it looks like the weakling-in-chief is doing exactly what the hawks have been clamoring for him to do. But how about those economic sanctions?

U.S. sanctions would mean little to Moscow as U.S. trade accounts for less than 2% of the Russian economy. “Our levers of influence here are particularly limited here,” says a House Democratic aide. “The administration is working on lining up support in Europe. But that’s the big question: how proactive, how robust are they willing to be.”

And, um, how do the Europeans feel about this?

German officials emphasized the need for diplomacy, while Dutch diplomats ruled out sanctions for now. A British document photographed by a journalist said the government of Prime Minister David Cameron would not support trade sanctions or block Russian money from the British market….“It’s particularly important for the United States to bring Europe along,” said Julianne Smith, a former national security aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “To the extent that the United States tries to put economic pressure on Russian industry, they won’t feel the impact as much as they would if we had Europe standing with us. That’s easier said than done.”

Look: it’s obvious that none of this stuff can be done overnight. So maybe the peanut gallery on the right should hold off on the sophomoric name calling for another day or two. Obama is already working on the unilateral actions that are open to him, and other, broader sanctions simply won’t have any serious effect unless and until the Europeans go along. No president can make that happen with a snap of his fingers.

Right now, the catcalls from the right are little more than transparent political opportunism. Obama’s “weakness” didn’t provoke Putin’s military incursion into Crimea. If anything, it was provoked by Putin’s feeling that the West was gaining influence in Ukraine and he was losing it. Nor is Obama refusing to respond decisively. He is refusing to give in to hysteria, but he plainly intends to make Putin pay a price for his adventurism. The fact that this can’t be done instantly is just a feature of the world, not a sign of fecklessness on Obama’s part. It’s time for everyone to stand down a bit and see how he plays his hand.

UPDATE: Turns out that Michael Cohen already said all this and more here. It’s worth a read.


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