… actually, Mitt Romney doesn’t, not explicitly anyway. However, the context of this op-ed from Barack Obama’s 2012 opponent could not be clearer. After Obama and Democrats ridiculed his worldview in that campaign, calling it a relic of the 1980s, Romney warns that what America and the West need now is leadership that anticipates events and sees the world realistically so as to seize opportunities when they arise:
Why, across the world, are America’s hands so tied?
A large part of the answer is our leader’s terrible timing. In virtually every foreign-affairs crisis we have faced these past five years, there was a point when America had good choices and good options. There was a juncture when America had the potential to influence events. But we failed to act at the propitious point; that moment having passed, we were left without acceptable options. In foreign affairs as in life, there is, as Shakespeare had it, “a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
When protests in Ukraine grew and violence ensued, it was surely evident to people in the intelligence community—and to the White House—that President Putin might try to take advantage of the situation to capture Crimea, or more. That was the time to talk with our global allies about punishments and sanctions, to secure their solidarity, and to communicate these to the Russian president. These steps, plus assurances that we would not exclude Russia from its base in Sevastopol or threaten its influence in Kiev, might have dissuaded him from invasion. …
Able leaders anticipate events, prepare for them, and act in time to shape them. My career in business and politics has exposed me to scores of people in leadership positions, only a few of whom actually have these qualities. Some simply cannot envision the future and are thus unpleasantly surprised when it arrives. Some simply hope for the best. Others succumb to analysis paralysis, weighing trends and forecasts and choices beyond the time of opportunity.
The difference is between seeing the world as it is, and living in a “fantasy,” as the Washington Post remarked about Obama’s five years in charge of foreign policy. No comment in this regard was as telling as John Kerry’s absurd riposte about Vladimir Putin acting like a “19th-century” leader rather than one in the 21st century. The only difference until now between the two was a powerful Western military presence, mainly Anglospheric, that imposed a Pax Americana on the world after causing the Soviet Union to collapse. Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Kerry set about dismantling that Pax Americana and now are shocked, shocked to see world leaders acting like they’ve always acted since long before the rise of nation-states.
In my column today at The Week, I argue that the sanctions applied by Obama against Putin still suffer from this fantasy, although his allies are probably not allowing him to go much further anyway:
The statement and sanctions send a clear signal to Russia, but not necessarily a daunting message. While Obama clearly preferred to allow Putin a path to retreat, it was equally clear two weeks ago that Putin didn’t want to retreat. The announcement of the referendum should have prompted these expanded measures immediately, rather than Obama waiting for the fraudulent vote to be taken before imposing penalties for the attempt to legitimize the occupation.
But it’s not just the timing. The target and teeth of these sanctions leave something to be desired, too. Russia essentially invaded Ukraine, and yet still seems to be a member of the G-8. “I think Vladimir Putin must be encouraged by the absolute timidity” of the sanctions, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
That timidity may have more to do with Europe than with the Obama administration, however. The EU trades heavily with Russia and is particularly dependent on natural gas imports from Gazprom. They may be willing to talk tough and impose some personal sanctions in coordination with the U.S., but so far seem unwilling to go much farther. France appears set to go forward with the $1.7 billion sale of two helicopter carriers to Russia, John Fund reported for National Review on Monday. One ship, the Vladivostok, has already completed its sea trials and is ready for delivery, while the second — ironically named Sebastopol after Russia’s Crimean naval base — will be ready by the end of next year. …
Now, Putin is neither Adolf Hitler nor Joseph Stalin. He isn’t doing this out of ideological extremity, or to try and take over the world. Instead, he wants the Russian empire back for its own sake, and to make those republics subject to Moscow once more. That has been obvious since Putin invaded Georgia and “liberated” South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, and then recognized their independence on the same basis that Western nations recognized Kosovo’s similar declaration a few months earlier. It’s no accident that Putin explicitly cited Kosovo to legitimize the Crimean referendum this weekend. Putin plans to use the Western pretexts of self-determination and ethnic identity to reassemble Greater Russia.
The West may have finally awoken to this threat. They still act like they’re sleepwalking, two to three weeks behind developments and under the impression that Putin shares the same concept of 21st-century leadership as they do. Until Putin’s policies produce Western responses that cause widespread economic pain in Russia, the former Soviet republics in Asia and Europe have plenty to fear, and little reason to trust Western strength for their long-term security.
If you want a taste of that sleepwalking abroad, look no further than France. Despite the annexation of Crimea, they’re still not sure whether to complete the sale for those warships:
The E.U. sanctions list targets members of the parliament and mid-level government officials. But the E.U. ambassador to Russia, Vygaudas Usackas, told the Interfax news agency that the sanctions list could soon be expanded. France announced that it may halt the $1.8 billion sale of two Mistral class warships to Russia, the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told France’s TF1 television channel.
The ships were due to be delivered in 2015, to become part of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, based in Crimea.
“If Putin carries on like this, we could consider canceling these sales,” Fabius said.
Maybe they’ll cancel it if the Russian navy shows up in Marseilles, eh? It’s difficult to put all of the blame on Obama for weak Western sanctions when France is still considering whether to sell Putin the noose he’d put around their necks. Still, this is why times like these call for leaders with a clear view of the world and the ability to out-think their opponents. So far, we’re seeing very little evidence of this in the West.