Sen. John McCain of Arizona, writing in a NY Times op-ed, blames Pres. Obama for Russia’s military aggression towards Ukraine. Because the U.S. has recently scaled-back its military ambitions (except for “targeted killings” via drones), McCain says that our “credibility” has been harmed around the world:
“For five years, Americans have been told that “the tide of war is receding,” that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values. This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative . . . What is most troubling about Mr. Putin’s aggression in Crimea is that it reflects a growing disregard for America’s credibility in the world. That has emboldened other aggressive actors — from Chinese nationalists to Al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian theocrats.”
So Sen. McCain wants the Obama administration and NATO to get tough with Russia but not to the point of military action. Except, that is, for “increasing NATO’s military presence and exercises on its eastern frontier” as well as to “support and resupply” Ukrainian soldiers. McCain writes that Ukrainians “refuse to accept the dismemberment of their country. So should we.” Diplomatic and economic refusal is one thing, but a military response from Ukraine is likely to lead to a broader war which would do great harm to the country and might trigger a NATO response. We’ve had enough drawing of red lines, haven’t we?
The U.S. is already dispatching twelve F-16 fighter jets to Poland as a signal of support for our NATO allies near Ukraine. What is likely to provoke further Russian incursions into Ukraine is not perceived “weakness” from NATO but a provocative military build up or action on the part of Ukrainians or NATO. The more weapons and military aid there is in and around Ukraine the more likely it is that Putin will act further to “defend” Russian interests. Wars generally happen little by little, and we must take great care not to increase the possibility of war in Ukraine.
So far, Pres. Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry have shown the proper levels of resolve and restraint. Let’s hope it continues. Our credibility as a peace-promoting democracy is at stake again.