It’s been amusing to see Barack Obama’s defenders climb on very high horses indeed to condemn criticism of his handling of Russia over the last five years and the passivity that may or may not have led to the crisis in Ukraine. Those of us who didn’t just spring to life in January 2009 certainly recall plenty of vitriol aimed at Obama’s predecessor for his foreign policy — including by certain members of the Senate who insisted that Bush had already lost in Iraq and that his “surge” policy should be stopped. One of those, who’s rumored to aim at the top job in 2016, even declared such dissent “patriotic,” at least until it was aimed at her. Good times, good times.
Today’s Washington Post/ABC poll shows that plenty of people are unhappy with Obama’s performance on Russia and Ukraine, which prompts this question — when did America get so darned unpatriotic, anyway?
A bipartisan majority of Americans support hitting Russia with sanctions for its actions involving Ukraine, but the public splits on President Obama’s handling of the issue in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
A solid 56 percent supports a coordinated effort of U.S. and European sanctions against Russia, which continues to strengthen its grip over the Crimean peninsula. Nearly as many strongly support sanctions (28 percent) as oppose them altogether (31 percent).
But Obama, who ordered sanctions Thursday against individuals aiding the takeover, receives lukewarm 42 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval marks, with a substantial 15 percent holding no opinion.
Overall, Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement in supporting sanctions, and familiar discord about Obama. Just over six in 10 of partisans in both camps support sanctioning Russia. And in an unheard of alignment of the far left and far right, 68 percent of liberal Democrats support sanctions, as do 69 percent of conservative Republicans.
That’s really no big surprise. Now that we’re where we’re at, there aren’t too many options left on the table. No one wants to go to war to keep Crimea Ukrainian, not even the Ukrainians. They’re more concerned about keeping Russia from annexing everything east of the Dnieper now, and trying mightily to prevent giving Vladimir Putin a pretext for doing so. Few want to just allow Putin free reign over the former Soviet republics with no consequences, either, so sanctions are about the only option we have. That’s not a partisan calculation, it’s reality.
The problem for Obama is how we ended up with so few options to stop Putin in the first place. That is why the approval rating for his handling of the situation is so low, compared to the support of the options Obama is now applying. It’s not about the last couple of weeks — it’s about the clueless handling of the relationship from the beginning, starting with the “reset” button that blamed Bush for chilly relations with Russia after the invasion of Georgia.
The chart supplied by the Post demonstrates the problem for Obama:
Even though Obama now follows popular opinion on the policy, he’s falling way below the line on his own performance. Forget Republicans and Democrats for the moment — look at independents, who support Obama’s policy response (53%), yet Obama can’t even get to 40% with independents on his own performance (37%, and only 10% “strongly”). That 16-point disconnect is the difference between policy in the moment, and policy over time.
By the way, Obama had better hope that Europe sticks with the sanctions. If the EU bails on penalizing Putin, the approval for those policies drop to 40% overall, and only 33% among independents.
Meanwhile, the Baltic states are getting nervous, but Germany has reassured them that Europe will come to their aid:
The three ex-Soviet Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia can count on the security provided by their membership of NATO and the EU, Germany said Tuesday amid East-West tensions over the crisis in Ukraine.
“I am here to say that the Baltic states will not be left alone. This is a joint problem for NATO and the EU,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Tallinn, Estonia, ahead of talks in neighbouring Latvia and Lithuania.
Russia’s moves to absorb Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula have rattled nerves in all three Baltic states that joined NATO and the EU to guarantee their security a decade ago after breaking free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.
So far, they’re on board with sanctions. So far:
In an official translation from German to English, Steinmeier added: “If there is no change in Russian tactics until the weekend, the EU foreign ministers will decide about further measures at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.”
The top German diplomat did not elaborate but France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday that sanctions against Moscow could come as early as this week if Moscow does not respond to Western proposals to solve the crisis in Ukraine.
Fabius said the sanctions would involve “freezing personal assets of Russians or Ukrainians and sanctions on travel, regarding visas.”