Obama didn't build that

Since the crisis in Ukraine took center stage in the news a little over a month ago, we could have added to the list of death and taxes another absolute certainty of life: that Republicans would blame the whole thing on Obama.

We’ve heard the usual accusations from John McCain and Lindsey Graham that all the world’s problems are due to Obama not being hawkish enough. We’ve witnessed Mitt Romney strutting around the talk show circuit crowing that he was “right” about Putin and Obama was wrong. We’ve heard that America is less respected in the world since Obama became President. (Which is why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the sole but important accomplishment of not being George W. Bush. Good call, guys.) Maybe my favorite was the statement by one of America’s most respected former Secretaries of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that a trained monkey could do better on foreign policy than Obama. (The snarky sarcasm in that last sentence makes me feel a bit guilty. Guess I should repent.)

Sen. Dick Durbin has reminded Romney and other Republicans that they have short, selective memories. In that spirit, and to have a little fun, I’m going to paraphrase one of the Republican’s most notorious mis-quotes of the President to point out a few facts.

I’ve always felt that a robust foreign policy should include a credible threat of military force toward the world’s evil doers. However, this is a double-edged sword; actually using military force in protracted wars sours the American public on military intervention, making future threats less credible. The world’s bad guys, which include Assad in Syria, the ayatollahs in Iran, and Comrade Putin, know any threat of U.S. military force is mere posturing, thanks to Americans being war weary from the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama didn’t build that.

Contributing to the reticence of Americans and the citizens of our NATO allies toward military intervention is the global economic crisis. The huge debt accumulated from the unfunded military adventures during the Bush administration, combined with the Great Recession, means we simply cannot afford another Iraq or Afghanistan. Economic hard times in Europe have caused our allies to slash military spending. We are simply not in the same place economically to pursue military intervention today as we were at the end of the Clinton years, when the debt was coming down and the economy was growing.

Obama didn’t build that.

As respected historian and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich has eloquently written the last several years, the world is a different place than it was when the Cold War ended over two decades ago. Dana Millibank summarized the situation nicely in his recent column, “The World Is Just Not That Into Us.” Following the economic model perfected by America, many of the world’s developing countries’ economies are rapidly expanding. (Shouldn’t we be happy about that?) This gives these new nations growing influence on the global stage. Simply stated, America can no longer snap her fingers and force the world to bend to her will. As the developing countries close the economic gap with the current crop of rich countries, a trend which cannot be stopped, the influence of the U.S. on global affairs will inevitably wane. You can jeer or cheer those facts, but they're still facts.

Obama didn’t build that.

Finally, wise Americans for years have warned us of the importance of finding alternatives to fossil fuels. One of the main reasons for this is to end the influence of petro dictators on global affairs. Putin is one of those petro dictators, and the stranglehold he has over Europe’s energy supplies enables him to thumb his nose at world opinion and do whatever he pleases. It places huge constraints on the level of economic sanctions America can get our allies in Europe to agree to.

Obama didn’t build that.

Americans need to have some patience. Putin may appear to be winning this battle, but I agree with Tom Friedman that we need to look at the long view. Ukrainians are looking at her eastern European neighbors like Poland, Romania and the Baltic States, and comparing how those nations are doing with Russia, Belarus and themselves – and the club they want to join becomes pretty clear. It may take years, but when the oil and gas wells start to run dry, Russians will come to the same conclusion.

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