Obama presents false choice on Ukraine

President Obama declared today that the U.S. will not take military action in Ukraine. I think most of us had worked that out.

“What we are going to do,” Obama declared “is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message.” The clear message will be this — please, please don’t invade more territory.

In ruling out military action, Obama explained that “the Ukrainians don’t want [an actual war with Russia], nobody would want that.” But if Russia continues to devour their country, the Ukrainians are no less likely to want a war than any of Russia’s other neighbors or former client states would be under similar circumstances.

Accordingly, Obama’s statement can be read by Russia as ruling out any U.S. military to stop any future aggression within the former Soviet Union and perhaps within its entire former sphere of influence. Perhaps Obama would have been better advised not to have made this statement.

The other problem with the statement is that, to use Obama’s former pet phrase, it presents us with a false choice. America’s options aren’t limited to taking military action and “mobilizing diplomatic resources to send a clear message.”

We could, for example, provide weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. Ukraine could then decide whether to use them in the event of further Russian aggression. Ukraine has, in fact, requested weapons and ammunition, but Obama turned down the request.

I suspect we have not supplied Ukraine with weapons because we want to diminish the prospect of Ukrainian resistance in the event Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine (which Russia seems at least as likely as not to do). Ukrainian resistance is not in Obama’s interest, as he likely sees it, because the resulting bloodbath would further embarrass his administration.

Am I giving Obama too much credit for thinking ahead when I wonder whether, in exchange for some sort of pledge not to completely torpedo talks with Iran, Obama has already told Putin we will neither act militarily against Russian aggression nor arm the Ukrainians?

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