If Crimea was not lost prior to the referendum, Crimea is certainly lost now. Annexed swiftly by Russia last week, attention turns now to how the international community responds. Republicans here in the United States responded in a myriad of ways. Many called President Obama weak; Senator Ted Cruz said Putin concluded he could act with impunity based on President Obama’s (non)responses to Syria and Benghazi. Meanwhile, former Representative Ron Paul penned an op-ed piece in the USA Today entitled “Crimea secedes. So what?” and argued “Why does the U.S. care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?”
Ignoring the clear contradiction-Senator Cruz apparently cared very much that Obama let a small piece of land thousands of miles slip away-here is why Crimea does matter, why President Obama “let” Crimea get away, and why the US Congress is making the entire country and global system look weak. First, Putin caught Ukraine in a moment of weakness when Ukraine’s government collapsed in the face of protests and Ukrainian President Yanukovich fled to Russia. Meanwhile, Russia whipped up nationalism through its repressive and one-sided media and a successful Winter Olympics, managing to raise his approval record to 72% in recent polls. In the international system might makes right, and Putin’s power grab again reminds us that at the national stage a weak country is at the mercy of a stronger one, especially if that country is right next door to Putin’s.
The second point is that President Obama cannot respond forcefully. Lest anyone forget about the Cold War, Russia has hundreds if not thousands of nuclear weapons. Russia heats Europe with its gas and oil. Those economic and military constraints are, therefore, simply too great to let the United States respond with military force. Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s prediction that Russia poses the greatest threat to the world order is proven true (although plenty of other threats like terrorism remain), but even if Mr. Romney had been president it is hard to envision a different outcome for the reasons listed above. Russia’s 2008 incursion into Georgia reinforces that point, lest anyone forget that war-happy President Bush was equally restrained in his response.
To Representative Paul’s point, we should care deeply about Crimea because Russia contravened international law and threatens peace. If we learn anything from the 20th century it is that Hitler’s own annexations and an initial policy of appeasement prove that the international community needs to draw clear red lines, that the United States is an indispensable nation for peace and defense, and that Putin must buy into-and not contravene-the existing world order to maximize prosperity for everyone. A policy of isolationism, like the one Representative Paul promotes, removes the world’s most important actor from the world stage and in that vacuum invites World War. Such a scenario cannot happen.
Towards that end the US Congress must work to impose strong sanctions and promote financial mechanisms bolstering Eastern Europe’s political and economic infrastructure in the strongest possible terms. Recent bickering between the parties must end and the focus must be squarely on resolving the international crisis at hand. The Republicans in the House complaining about a rule change allowing the IMF to move funds from one account to its general account in a effort to boost lending to Ukraine is absurd. So too is the House Republicans’ rider that sanctions on Russia are essentially contingent on stopping the IRS from scrutinizing tax-exempt groups.The bickering ironically makes the USA look weak, democracy dysfunctional, and prevents the USA from acting decisively at a time when decisive action and leadership is needed the most.
The USA Today, inquisitor.com, Wall Street Journal, and newsmax.com contributed to this post.