Condoleezza Rice pushes for a tough response to Russia over Ukraine:
The immediate concern must be to show Russia that further moves will not be tolerated and that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is sacrosanct. Diplomatic isolation, asset freezes and travel bans against oligarchs are appropriate. The announcement of air defense exercises with the Baltic states and the movement of a U.S. destroyer to the Black Sea bolster our allies, as does economic help for Ukraine’s embattled leaders, who must put aside their internal divisions and govern their country. …
The events in Ukraine should be a wake-up call to those on both sides of the aisle who believe that the United States should eschew the responsibilities of leadership. If it is not heeded, dictators and extremists across the globe will be emboldened.
Responding to Rice, Larison tears up this notion that American inaction emboldens our rivals:
What Rice et al. perceive as “inaction” in Syria, Russia and Iran likely perceive as ongoing interference and hostility to their interests. The crisis in Ukraine also looks very different to Moscow than it does to the Westerners that have been agitating for an even larger and more active U.S. role.
Western hawks were frustrated by how slow their governments were to throw their full support behind the protesters, and as usual wanted the U.S. and EU to take a much more adversarial and combative approach with Russia because they see Western governments as being far more passive than they want. However, Moscow doesn’t perceive the U.S. role in Ukraine to be a limited or benign one, and the toppling of Yanukovych has been fitted into their view that the protests were a Western-backed plot from the beginning. The idea that Russia would have responded less aggressively to the change in government if the U.S. had been giving the opposition even more encouragement and support is dangerously delusional, but that is what one has to believe in order to argue that the U.S. “emboldened” Moscow in Ukraine.
Drum also doubts Putin was encouraged by American weakness:
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.
Amid the saber-rattling, Adam Gopnik emphasizes the importance of preventing a war:
[W]e should be doing what sane states should always be doing: searching for the most plausible war-avoiding, nonviolent arrangement, even at the cost of looking wishy-washy. … The parallel with the failure of appeasement in the thirties is false, because that circumstance was so particular to its moment. The underlying truth then was that there was no point in appeasing Hitler because there was no possibility of appeasing him. The German Army was the most powerful force in Europe, indeed, in the world, and Hitler had long before decided on a general European war. He wanted one, and for him it was only a question, at best, of delaying it until his odds were marginally better. If Putin wants a general European war, we will know it when he invades a NATO nation. There is no shortage of real trip wires in the region, and no need to discover new ones.
Paul Miller pans the flawed approaches of both the liberal internationalists and the Cold Warriors, and suggests a third way:
The middle course would acknowledge that there are limits to what America can achieve: It cannot stop Russia from believing Crimea is vitally important to Russian security, and it cannot fight a cost-effective war with a nuclear power. The United States should realistically accept some form of Russian presence or influence in the peninsula and not turn this into a litmus test of American credibility.
At the same time, the United States should ask what is right for the Ukrainians, not just for Americans. It should not cynically abandon all Ukraine to Russia’s despotism. That may mean sustaining a large flow of aid to democratic dissidents in a Russian-dominated Ukraine, strengthening U.S. security assurances to the government if it manages to keep Russia at bay, or even bringing Ukraine fully into the orbit of Western institutions while letting Crimea secede or join the Russian Federation.