New "red line": Obama vows there'll be consequences if people "step over the line" in Ukraine

This is so meaningless, both on its own merits and in light of his Syria fiasco last fall, that I’d be inclined not to blog it if I had any better content to give you. In no meaningful sense is it “news” when O issues some pro forma “stern warning,” especially when Putin’s on the other side of it.

But a slow day content-wise has its price.

President Barack Obama condemned the violence in Ukraine on Wednesday, saying that the U.S. holds the government “primarily responsible for ensuring they are handling protesters peacefully” and that “there will be consequences if people step over the line.”

“We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence,” Obama said in Mexico. “We expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful.”

Your guess is as good as mine what “consequences” means. Presumably he’s referring to sanctions — McCain, naturally, is busily drafting a bill right now — but it’s vague enough that Obama will have an easy out if he backs away later and is challenged on it by the press. Ditto for “stepping over the line.” Does that mean violence, which has already occurred, or a certain hazily defined amount of violence that the White House would deem intolerable? If Syria is any indication, the bar for bloodshed that’s so unacceptable that the U.S. would feel obliged to get involved is really, really high. So reluctant is O to get sucked into this, in fact, that it fell to Joe Biden, not Obama himself, to call Putin’s buddy Yanukovych last night to express the White House’s displeasure.

And yes, this is all familiar. Here’s a quickie refresher on the evolution of O’s “red line” for Syria, which began with him warning that he wouldn’t tolerate Assad using or transporting chemical weapons. Once Assad started using chemical weapons, the White House dutifully looked the other way to avoid enforcing the red line for as long as it could, until an attack in August forced O to do something. At that point he (a) falsely claimed that it was the world that set the red line, not him; (b) announced that he intended to strike Syria, before adding that he’d do it only if Congress approved; (c) halfheartedly tried to round up congressional support for an attack before failing at that too; and then (d) accepted Putin’s lame “compromise” to have Assad voluntarily disarm in the interest of saving face. That’s worked out exactly as well in practice as everyone expected it to. That’s the sort of steely resolve and sharp-eyed strategic prowess the Euromaidan protesters in Kiev can count on now.

Here’s the vid via NRO. Putin went easy on him last fall, but after that hockey disappointment today, watch out.

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