Let’s review what is probably going to be remembered as Barack Obama’s most tone-deaf and imprudent statement amid an ocean of similarly ill-considered assertions in Tuesday’s State of the Union. Not merely the president but everyone who wrote and vetted the 2015 State of the Union address thought it was a great idea to take a victory lap over the White House’s approach to the crisis in Europe precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Second, we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.
That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.
Those five sentences were all that Obama said about the conflict in Eastern Europe. It was a dramatic oversimplification of the new war on the European continent, one which began with the first unilateral annexation of sovereign European territory since Hitler’s German embarked on a similar campaign of territorial expansion. Anyone familiar with the war in Eastern Europe would have recommended this paragraph be scrapped, but the White House determined that it was more important to assure the public of the president’s competence.
It is already backfiring. On Thursday, U.S. Air Force General and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Philip Breedlove, embarrassed the White House – if they still maintain the capacity for that emotion – when he insisted that the fighting in Europe has never been worse.
“Violence has intensified and changed character in Ukraine,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told a news conference at NATO headquarters. He said the fighting has re-escalated to levels seen before the Sept. 5 Minsk cease-fire agreement “and in some cases beyond.”
Questioned by reporters, Breedlove, the alliance’s chief commander in Europe, said he couldn’t confirm Ukrainian authorities’ statements that 9,000 Russian troops had entered the country.
“(But) what we do see is that the Russian-backed forces have renewed capability now to bring pressure on the Ukrainian forces, and have in several places moved the line of contact to the west,” he added.
What’s more, said Breedlove, NATO intelligence has begun to detect “the signatures of air defense systems and electronic warfare systems that have accompanied past Russian troop movements into Ukraine.”
When Obama took full credit for isolating Russia and putting Europe back on a path to peace, he based this claim on the accurate observation that the Russian economy is in a tailspin. It is impossible, however, to know how much of this condition is the result of targeted sanctions on Russia and the collapse of the petrodollar-fueled export-based Russian economy.
Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin helpfully “translated” Obama’s proclamation of victory over the Russian economy, if not the Russian army.
Thank Allah that the Saudis, for who knows what reason, tanked the entire oil market. Maybe they were trying to squeeze Iran and Putin got caught up in it? Who cares? Now I can be the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. We chose sanctions because that’s about as much as we could stomach. It’s only Ukraine. But hey, sometimes you get lucky.
Even writers like The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank observed that Obama’s State of the Union will likely be remembered, if it is remembered at all, “as complacent” on matters relating to foreign affairs. He was specifically talking about Islamist terrorism, another threat that Obama glossed over. But posterity may be more inclined to look poorly on how an American president turned the other way when war between nation states again shattered the European peace.