WASHINGTON — Three crises, one president, many bewildered friends.
The first crisis, barely noticed here, is Ukraine’s sudden turn away from Europe and back to the Russian embrace.
After years of negotiations for a major trading agreement with the European Union, Ukraine succumbed to characteristically blunt and brutal economic threats from Russia and abruptly walked away. Ukraine is instead considering joining the Moscow-centered Customs Union with Russia’s fellow dictatorships Belarus and Kazakhstan.
This is no trivial matter. Ukraine is not just the largest country in Europe, it’s the linchpin for Vladimir Putin’s dream of a renewed imperial Russia, hegemonic in its neighborhood and rolling back the quarter-century advancement of the “Europe whole and free” bequeathed by America’s victory in the Cold War.
The U.S. response? Almost imperceptible. As with Iran’s ruthlessly crushed Green Revolution of 2009, the hundreds of thousands of protesters who’ve turned out to reverse this betrayal of Ukrainian independence have found no voice in Washington. Can’t this administration even rhetorically support those seeking a democratic future, as we did during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004?
A Washington Post headline explains: “With Russia in mind, U.S. takes cautious approach on Ukraine unrest.” We must not offend Putin. We must not jeopardize Obama’s precious “reset,” a farce that has yielded nothing but the well-earned distrust of allies like Poland and the Czech Republic whom we wantonly undercut in a vain effort to appease Russia on missile defense.
The second crisis is the Middle East — the collapse of confidence of U.S. allies as America romances Iran.
The Gulf Arabs are stunned at their double abandonment. In the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the U.S. has overthrown seven years of Security Council resolutions prohibiting uranium enrichment and effectively recognized Iran as a threshold nuclear state. This follows our near-abandonment of the Syrian revolution and de facto recognition of both the Assad regime and Iran’s “Shiite Crescent” of client states stretching to the Mediterranean.
Equally dumbfounded are the Israelis, now trapped by an agreement designed less to stop the Iranian nuclear program than to prevent the Israeli Air Force from stopping the Iranian nuclear program.
Neither Arab nor Israeli can quite fathom Obama’s naiveté in imagining some strategic condominium with a regime that defines its very purpose as overthrowing American power and expelling it from the region.
Better diplomacy than war, say Obama’s apologists, an adolescent response implying that all diplomacy is the same, as if a diplomacy of capitulation is no different from a diplomacy of pressure.
What to do? Apply pressure. Congress should immediately pass punishing new sanctions to be implemented exactly six months hence — when the current interim accord is supposed to end — if the Iranians have not lived up to the agreement and refuse to negotiate a final deal that fully liquidates their nuclear weapons program.
The third crisis is unfolding over the East China Sea, where, in open challenge to Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” China has brazenly declared a huge expansion of its airspace into waters claimed by Japan and South Korea.
Obama’s first response — sending B-52s through that airspace without acknowledging the Chinese — was quick and firm. Japan and South Korea followed suit. But when Japan then told its civilian carriers not to comply with Chinese demands for identification, Washington told U.S. air carriers to submit.
Which, of course, left the Japanese hanging. It got worse. During Vice President Biden’s visit to China, the administration buckled. Rather than insisting on a withdrawal of China’s outrageous claim, we began urging mere non-enforcement.
Again leaving our friends stunned. They need an ally, not an intermediary. Here is the U.S. again going over the heads of allies to accommodate a common adversary. We should be declaring the Chinese claim null and void, ordering our commercial airlines to join Japan in acting accordingly, and supplying them with joint military escorts if necessary.
This would not be an exercise in belligerence but a demonstration that if other countries unilaterally overturn the status quo, they will meet a firm, united, multilateral response from the West.
Led by us. From in front.
No one’s asking for a JFK-like commitment to “bear any burden” to “assure the ... success of liberty.” Or a Reaganesque tearing down of walls. Or even a Clintonian assertion of America as the indispensable nation. America’s allies are seeking simply a reconsideration of the policy of retreat that marks this administration’s response to red-line challenges all over the world — and leaves them naked.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.