There are no good alternatives, however, to U.S. leadership in a crisis of this magnitude. Yet here we have the vice president of the United States hurrying to Europe trying to reassure skeptical NATO allies — whom we are bound by treaty obligation to defend from attack — that they can rely on us should Putin decide he would like to acquire parts of their countries. NATO’s charter asserts an attack on one member is an attack on all members. For over 60 years, every member of the alliance had confidence in that guarantee. Now, not so much.

That’s what comes of five-plus years of a mostly rhetorical foreign policy, where the president seeks to woo the world with words, but where deeds rarely follow and wishful thinking passes for strategy. Now, as the president threatens a tough response to Putin’s aggression and then announces a modest sanctions regime barely worth the trouble, while administration officials warn that more threats and tougher sanctions will be forthcoming unless Putin gives back that which has cost him almost nothing to take, no one, friend or foe, seems to accord it much weight.

The president who ran for the office boasting he would restore seriousness and realism to American foreign policy has conducted the least serious and most unrealistic foreign policy in living memory. His pronouncements barely make an impression even on cable news anymore and are mocked by apparatchiks from Damascus to Moscow.