Obama’s Ukraine policy: Scream loudly, carry no stick

Story highlights

Gingrich, Graham: U.S. has protested but hasn't gone beyond symbolic measures

They say Obama's meeting with Ukrainian leader and Kerry's condemnation aren't sufficient

Authors: U.S. should have accepted Ukraine's emergency request for military aid

They say it is crucial to send a message that the U.S. will respond strongly to aggression

Editor’s Note: Sen. Lindsey Graham is a Republican from South Carolina. Newt Gingrich is a co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays. A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

CNN  — 

America’s response to the most dangerous security crisis Europe has faced in decades has been all speeches and symbolism with no actions of substance.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama hosted Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the new interim Ukrainian Prime Minister, for lunch at the White House, supposedly a thumb in the eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a sign of America’s commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty.

On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. will take “very serious” steps if Russia does not back down by Monday from its attempt to annex Crimea.

Lindsey Graham
Newt Gingrich

But while the White House was serving lunch and the State Department was issuing stern warnings, the President was also refusing to lift a finger to actually deter Putin’s aggression. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration, “wary of inflaming tensions with Russia,” has refused to act on Ukraine’s emergency request for military aid, including arms and ammunition, except to send military rations.

Officials in Kiev estimate that Putin has amassed 80,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, and we are worried about “inflaming tensions”? When will the administration put its might where its mouth is: When Kiev is in flames? Or never?

As for Yatsenyuk, whose visit symbolized our solidarity, well Obama hopes you had a nice dessert, because we’re not going to give your country the weapons it needs to defend itself.

Theodore Roosevelt is famous for a foreign policy he summarized as “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Obama’s foreign policy is closer to “scream loudly and carry no stick.”

It’s no wonder Putin has concluded that he’s unlikely to face serious consequences for his imperial adventure. The U.S. did nothing when he invaded Georgia in 2008. More recently, we did nothing after the Syrian regime violated the “red line” Obama had established regarding the use of chemical weapons there. (Recall Kerry’s offhand reference to inspections became the pretext a day later for backing off the pledge.)

Putin doesn’t take the words of Obama or Kerry seriously because their words aren’t serious. The speeches are gestures – much like the President’s Wednesday luncheon – and their relationship to action is nonexistent, as the administration’s refusal of Ukraine’s aid request makes quite clear.

The fact is anything short of providing arms and intelligence to the sovereign Ukrainian government is unlikely to deter Putin. Clearly, we do not need American boots on the ground in Ukraine, a step we would both oppose. But if the U.S. wants to stop Russia’s dangerous incursion into Eastern Europe, we have to raise the cost. Not just talk about potentially raising the cost at some point in the future once Russia has swallowed half of Ukraine and stationed tens of thousands of troops there.

Unless the President is willing to back up his words with military aid, he’s not serious about stopping Putin’s armed aggression.

In addition, the President should immediately issue an executive order approving the export of American natural gas to 20 countries that are awaiting bureaucratic approval. The highest priority should go to approving exports to Europe, where in many places, Russia has a near-monopoly on natural gas.

Furthermore, the President should issue an executive order approving 24 pending liquefied natural gas facilities that have been delayed by bureaucratic red tape.

This would be a serious blow to the Russian economy that would impose a real cost on Putin’s foray into Ukraine. National emergencies justify actions that would not be taken in quiet times. A Russian invasion of Ukraine will create conditions that the President himself in his first executive order about sanctions called a national emergency.

No one should doubt the seriousness of the events in Eastern Europe.

Russia is threatening to forcibly take over the territory of a sovereign state. Taking over Crimea, which was historically Russian and has a substantial Russian majority, has already been described by Obama and Kerry as unacceptable and very dangerous. Russian occupation of the rest of Ukraine would be a vastly more threatening and more aggressive action.

The situation calls for more than talk. If Putin discovers that once again the West will do nothing to stop his aggression, he might be reckless enough to test our resolve in Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia – NATO members that we are bound to protect with military force. Trouble there could “reset” us right back to direct warfare with Russia. That would be a disaster and very, very dangerous.

It’s past time for the United States to help Ukraine.

Indeed, passivity is the path most likely to lead to war. The Obama administration should grant the request for military aid immediately – before it’s too late for deterrence.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.