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Showdown with Putin: who’s afraid of Obama?

Showdown with Putin: who’s afraid of Obama?

NOTE: for previous coverage of the situation in Ukraine/Crimea, you can follow this live coverage post.

Putin is no doubt quaking in his boots at this warning issued by President Obama:

“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” Obama said in a hastily arranged public statement from the White House briefing room.

“Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” the president warned.

Costs…costs…what could they be?

Here are some possibilities:

It was unclear what sort of action Obama might take or what limited approach would deter the Russians.

The United States is consulting with its European allies on next steps, a senior administration official told Yahoo News. One option: Boycott the Group of Eight summit due to be held in June in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Another option: Reject Russian efforts to promote trade with the United States. Putin sent a team of officials to Washington this week for just that purpose.

And Russia will face other possible costs, such as a worsening of its already shaky international reputation, and a drop in the value of its currency, the ruble, making imports more expensive and reducing the relative value of its exports.

It’s not as though previous presidents would have gone to war over Putin’s actions. But Obama’s warnings on this—or anything except his phone and his pen—have an especially hollow ring.

I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, which happened when I was young. It came about in part because Khrushchev was emboldened by what he perceived as JFK’s youth and naivete; in other words, Kennedy’s weakness. Khrushchev had taken Kennedy’s measure at a previous summit, and found him wanting in cojones:

By all accounts, including Kennedy’s own, the meetings were a disaster. Khrushchev berated, belittled, and bullied Kennedy on subjects ranging from Communist ideology to the balance of power between the Soviet and Western blocs, to Laos, to “wars of national liberation,” to nuclear testing. He threw down the gauntlet on Berlin in particular, all but threatening war.

“I never met a man like this,” Kennedy subsequently commented to Time’s Hugh Sidey. “[I] talked about how a nuclear exchange would kill 70 million people in ten minutes, and he just looked at me as if to say ‘So what?'” In The Fifty-Year Wound, Cold War historian Derek Leebaert drily observes of Khrushchev in Vienna, “Having worked for Stalin had its uses.”…

Immediately following the final session on June 4 Kennedy sat for a previously scheduled interview with New York Times columnist James Reston at the American embassy. Kennedy was reeling from his meetings with Khrushchev, famously describing the meetings as the “roughest thing in my life.” Reston reported that Kennedy said just enough for Reston to conclude that Khrushchev “had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs” and that he had “decided that he was dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated and blackmailed.” Kennedy said to Reston that Khrushchev had “just beat [the] hell out of me” and that he had presented Kennedy with a terrible problem: “If he thinks I’m inexperienced and have no guts, until we remove those ideas we won’t get anywhere with him. So we have to act.”

Kennedy may have been young and inexperienced enough to have given the wily old Soviet leader an impression of weakness, but Kennedy was not so young and inexperienced that he didn’t understand how dangerous that was. He went about trying to correct the impression as best he could. One of the ways he did this (especially interesting in light of Obama’s recent request for large military cuts) was to seek “congressional approval for an additional $3.25 billion in defense spending, the doubling and tripling of draft calls, calling up reserves, raising the Army’s total authorized strength, increasing active duty numbers in the Navy and Air Force, reconditioning planes and ships in mothballs, and a civil defense program to minimize the number of Americans that would be killed in a nuclear attack.”

As might be expected, Khrushchev decided to call the young leader’s bluff, and erected the Berlin Wall and then resumed atmospheric nuclear tests. The Cuban Missile Crisis followed, and there it was Khrushchev who ended up backing down. Some people are also of the opinion that Kennedy’s intervention in Vietnam was part of a pattern designed to prove to the Soviets that he was willing to fight.

The whole thing began with a perception of Kennedy’s weakness at the summit. But early on, Obama had not appeared to have learned anything from that piece of history:

In Portland on May 18 [2008], Obama cited John F. Kennedy’s 1961 summit with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna among the series of negotiations that led to America’s triumph over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The Vienna summit, however, disproves Obama’s assertion regarding the unvarying value of meetings between enemy heads of state about as decisively as any historical episode can refute a thesis. In addition to poor judgment, Obama has demonstrated that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The situation now is different than in the Cold War, but not all that different. And telegraphing weakness and naivete is never a good idea—especially when dealing with the Russians, but anywhere on the geopolitical stage.

Speaking of not knowing what he’s talking about:

Here was Romney’s original statement, prior to the debate:

And here’s Romney’s response to Obama during the debate:

And then there’s a little thing called the Budapest Memorandum. The Daily Mail calls it a “forgotten treaty,” and my guess is that it will remain forgotten. It has become more and more clear that our agreements have become worthless and meaningless under this president. And by the way, that memorandum was signed by Bill Clinton, back in the days.

The Budapest Memorandum was “part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.” We promised to defend Ukraine if it were invaded by Russia, and Ukraine promised not to pursue nuclear arms. But one way to get out of that promise is to say the current action is not an invasion; it’s an “uncontested arrival.”

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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Obama, once again, teaching a master class on how NOT to conduct a foreign policy: “Vacillation, dithering, fecklessness and empty ultimatums 101.”

Putin has tagged him (correctly) as a naive, craven, grandstanding dupe. “This isn’t some Cold War chessboard,” states Obama, in his classic pompous lecturing style, with his singular mixture of breezy arrogance and astounding naivete masquerading as expertise. Obama, always the self-perceived “smartest man in the room.”

Really, that’s Obama’s astute assessment? Here’a clue — Putin thinks that it is, he is a Cold War relic who has no qualms about attempting to restore Russian hegemony over former Soviet Republics, and, until Obama realizes that, Putin will always be able to hustle him at will, and will always be two steps ahead of him. Amateur hour in the White House, going on year 5.

    ConradCA in reply to guyjones. | March 1, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    Your mistaken if you think Obama needs to realize Putin is serious in order to change and confront him. Obama wants to weaken the USA and he is happy to let our enemies walk all over our allies. He only cares about himself and his ideology. His fundamental change or destruction of our country so he can build his progressive fascist utopia. A utopia where the government controls every aspect of society and the progressive fascists rule a one party state.

POTUS = Poltroon of The United States.

The only thing that might scare Putin is if Obama threatened to move in with him and bring Michelle until this whole mess is straightened out. (sarc tag)

Putin has already met Obama on the field of wits and knows Obama is defenseless. Though I bet Putin is telling jokes and saying was that a line that Obama just drew?

I wish someone had left Obama a job manual for when he took over as president.. evidently he has no clue that the job entails more than parties, vacations, photo ops, acting superior, spying on people, punishing people who can’t get back at you, covering your behind when you leave people to die so you can get some sleep for a fund raiser, more empty talk and fund raising, and being worshipped as the one by those who don’t know better and those who should know better.

So far the part about kick starting the economy, protecting America (including keeping the bomb out of Iran’s hands), balancing the budget, increasing good jobs, honoring our military, caring for the helpless, getting rid of cronyism, being transparent, helping our allies, not spying on people (worse than Nixon ever did), respecting the people’s money (no overspending on him and Michelle or paying off contributors with $$$ or ambassadorships), and not using Federal agencies to punish those who disagree with him or dare to saying anything … he missed all of those instructions.

I did a rough calculation as to when we can expect the back lash for all this mess to occur and came up with 2018. No wonder the left is working hard at the common core, immigration, and endless freebies trying to build some sort of sustainable power base for when this happens.

My calculation could be far off but I based it on the fact that all things cool and hip become stale and embarrassing as time progresses. The 60s and 70s became the backlash of the 80s and early 90s. It is looking more like the 70s everyday (or the 30s).

Henry Hawkins | March 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm

My God, I believe Obama is gonna do it, he’s actually gonna do it – he’s gonna taunt Putin a second time.

I’m tired of everyone saying Obama makes foolish statements due to his supposed naivete in both domestic and foreign policy. IMO our Commie prez knows exactly what he’s doing.

    redc1c4 in reply to Joy. | March 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    likely true, but one should also remember to never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.

Cost? Yes Buubka, we add many zeroes to ticket prize to spaze-station.

The American public needs to be afraid of obama because the Republican leadership is.

For at least forty years, “consulting with European allies” has been code for “take no action whatever”.

Putin knows the code words as well as anybody, so he’s just been given the “all clear” so far as the US is concerned.

To Obama, this isn’t a failure. He’s just not interested in international affairs.

BannedbytheGuardian | March 1, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Regarding the Bay of Pigs , there has been a few mentions on conservative american boards that the US did install warheads in Turkey triggering the Soviet response . These were recalled as part of the deal. It hAs taken 50 years to wear off the Kennedy gloss.

The difference here is that Putin is capable of strategical thought waves & Obama has Asbergers .
Whereas Putin was attending Sochi & even visiting America House plus planning the Ukraine reaction , Obama was on his of his social crusades. What is it this time around?

Putin saw through the Kyiv situation & devised a response that completely took Obama by surprise .
Or perhaps he saw the American goalie move the goalposts at the hockey match & thought – hey i can do that too.

Another thought: What the hell is the point of having a grand military alliance such as NATO if its members can’t even issue a timely, coordinated statement aimed at checking or staving off naked Russian aggression? I know that the Ukraine is not a member state, but, still!

Can you imagine Putin pulling this kind of brazen stunt if Ronald Reagan were in office? It’s unthinkable. He would have seen a quick, clear, unequivocal statement warning Russia to back off, issued either by the White House, or, by NATO, at the U.S.’s urging. Most likely, things wouldn’t have even gotten to this point under Reagan, because, it is Obama’s telegraphed vacillation, dithering and empty pronouncements over the past few years which have enabled Putin’s meddling, and sent him the clear signal that he can get away with such aggressions. The U.S.’s glaring absence of assertive leadership on the world stage has created a power vacuum which Putin and other troublemakers are more than happy to exploit.

NATO should be dissolved, if it’s going to roll out the red carpet for Russian hegemony over Europe and former Soviet republics. I don’t see the point of maintaining this organization if, in a moment of genuine crisis, with Russia ready to seize half of a sovereign country and crush a nascent democratic movement, it stands silent and indifferent.

If Putin is quaking in his boots it’s because he is laughing his ass off.

jeesh, less than a year ago the topic of conversation on the international stage was when will ukraine join the eu. now vlad is impaling little boy barry again.

I said it a year ago, but in private conversation–so I’ll repeat.

Obama is so repulsive to world leaders they will go out of their way to smack him down.

What they wouldn’t normally do, or be inclined to do, they will suddenly find the motivation to do, just to spite the man-child.

Putin could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted in Ukraine. I offer the thesis he is moving so boldly, and will not stop, not so much because he needs/wants more territory or control. No, in this case, it’s personal to Obama–to put him in his place.

Obama makes the world a dangerous place, in and of his own personal arrogance, ineptitude, and his “boy in Mom Jeans” persona that makes many on the world stage just want to smack him. Problem is, when they smack him, they don’t just smack the U.S., they smack the entire free world.

Obama is so repulsive to [Republican] leaders they will go out of their way to smack him down.

What they wouldn’t normally do, or be inclined to do, they will suddenly find the motivation to do, just to spite the man-child.

[Republicans] could do whatever [they] wanted, whenever [they] wanted in [Congress]. I offer the thesis [that Republicans are] moving so boldly, and will not stop, not so much because [they] need/want more …. control. No, in this case, it’s personal for [ Republicans ]to [kick the living sh*&^% out of] Obama–and to [restore our constitutional republic].

I wish, I really wish that where true.

The thing is, you can play that “nothing we can do” meme over and over. It is pretty much what they said during the Benghazi event and on several other occasions (e.g. the Iranian elections). And when you do nothing, the bad guys take a bit more. Nothing, incrementally, is worth war.

And soon we’ll have China gobbling Taiwan. Nothing to do. And Russia taking the rest of Georgia, or Estonia. Nothing to do. Appease appease appease.

But there are things to do. Sure, you cannot fight the Russians directly, but you can go after their interests. Pressure Cuba. Embargo Russian imports. Build an LNG port to ship natural gas to Europe. Bring Georgia and what’s left of Ukraine into NATO. Put anti-missile systems in Poland.

None of which we will do, sleepwalking though history.

Henry Hawkins | March 1, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Obama gets smacked around internationally because he CAN be smacked around internationally. What non-ally national leader out there wouldn’t take the opportunity to smack around a US president? While no president has been strong in all areas, and all US presidents have been personally stronger or weaker on foreign affairs, they’ve all enjoyed a wealth of available top drawer diplomatic talent to guide and advise them. Obama is the first to refuse it, sticking with his Chicago gang and the likes of Clinton, Kerry, Rice, et al.

My belly hurts to recognize we’ve still got years to go with this clown. By late 2016, the leaders of countries like Burundi and the Maldives will being giving Obama Bronx cheers and one-finger salutes at international functions, ceasing only once they’ve made him cry.

Henry Hawkins | March 1, 2014 at 8:58 pm

LOL. I was just scanning a BBC online article about the Russian parliament’s vote on approving military intervention in the Ukraine.

“During the upper house debate, one legislator accused US President Barack Obama of crossing a red line with his comments on Friday that there would be costs if Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine.”

Funny. I wonder if the legislator realized the humor in what he said?

BannedbytheGuardian | March 1, 2014 at 9:49 pm

What did Reagan do after 230 marines were blown up in beirut. ? Nothing. Even the French fought back. Hence we have Hizbollahh.

There is only one person afraid of Barack Obama: his name is John Boehner.

I wish the people of this country would treat Barack with the same level of contempt Putin shows every time Obama opens his pie hole.

The next 3 years of Tyrant Obama’s reign are going to be dangerous for world peace. Our enemies will take advantage of the Tyrant’s incompetence and anti-American attitude. China has started it’s expansion. So has Russia. Obama has enabled Iran’s development of the bomb by killing off the sanction. Then there is North Korea who could contribute to the war against the USA and our allies.

I’m amazed people think a) Ronald Reagan would’ve courted WWIII over Ukraine, b) Ronald Reagan would have just issued a bold statement and the Soviets/Russians would have just backed off and run with their tails between their legs at the prospect of an armed US intervention on the weak wide open doorstep to Russian soil that Hitler used to nearly destroy and enslave them decades ago.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to JBourque. | March 2, 2014 at 10:31 am

    It is Putin’s accurate assessment that Obama is weak that enables aggression. Did the USSR consider Reagan weak?

    It is Obama’s abandonment of traditional allies that contributes to Putin’s accurate assessment that Europe is without US support. Did Europe think it had no support from the US under Reagan?

    Did Reagan seek a playground-level ‘reset’ with the USSR upon entering office? Would Reagan have caved on missile deployments in Poland? Would Reagan have issued false ‘red lines’ concerning Soviet client states?

    One can’t compare what Reagan might have done because the scenario under Reagan would be entirely different than the one Obama forced on himself with inept foreign policy.

      See, here’s the thing. Reagan was sane. There are potentially not sane US presidents who have not been elected who might risk war in this scenario, but I can’t see that Reagan would have. Ukraine, to put it mildly, is not a traditional ally. The idea that the US could intimidate Russia away from intervention in a historical part of Russia proper, on Russia’s very doorstep, its equivalent of Windsor, Ontario or Tijuana, Mexico, seems… far fetched.

      I see why it’s hard for people to grasp this, but this has not one single thing to do with Obama personally. For that matter, I hope no one’s shocked that the EU isn’t rushing to militarily protect a non-member… one about to go bankrupt in spectacular fashion, with no help of meaningful size yet even promised.

        Henry Hawkins in reply to JBourque. | March 2, 2014 at 1:57 pm

        Ah, condescension. You have grasp others don’t? Gimme a break. Canada just withdrew its Russian ambassador. Obama has done absolutely nothing, will do nothing. This Ukraine problem is not the disease, it’s a symptom of weak foreign policy, a weakness not shared by Reagan. Grasp that.

    guyjones in reply to JBourque. | March 2, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Respectfully, I disagree. It is axiomatic that a President who telegraphs weakness and indecisiveness will create a power vacuum that will be exploited by the troublemakers of the world. On the contrary, resolute leadership by Western democracies often prevents wars, while appeasement, dithering and empty ultimatums encourage them. And, the language employed by world leaders in diplomacy matters, just as their reputation matters. Putin has examined Obama, found him to be an egotistical blowhard whose pronouncements with respect to foreign affairs are as vacuous as they are insincere, and, he has made the calculated assessment that he can do as he pleases on the world stage.

    See, here’s the thing — Reagan never would have let things deteriorate to this point in the first place, where Russia felt completely unabashed at its military waltzing into a sovereign nation and annexing a huge chunk of territory. And, again, a strong and timely statement from NATO right when the revolt toppled the former president, combined with symbolic military deployments and a confident statement from the U.S. regarding helping propping up Ukraine’s finances, would definitely have given Russia pause. It’s the same rationale regarding a military alliance, or a deterrent. A deterrent only works if the enemy believes that there is resolute leadership on the other side willing to employ it. You can have the strongest military alliance in the world on paper, but, if the member states that comprise it are all feckless, appeasing and indifferent, then this is nothing more than a charade, and it will be perceived as such.

Who’s afraid of Obama?

Outside the United States, nobody.

His bullying is only against the People of the United States. Ironic and sad.

Mister Natural | March 2, 2014 at 1:37 am

maybe we could boycott the olympics in sochi!
what’s that?
never mind

It is better to be feared than loved, Machiavelli noted. But the worst is to be disrespected and discounted altogether. Obama’s weakness has destroyed his credibility and diminished American influence – which only encourages bad actors like Putin.

This farce of an Administration cannot end too soon.

    This is a fair point. I’ve written above I don’t think any US president would have intimidated Russia and made it stop here, but what about the next time and the next place? Obama’s established a pattern of weakness.

    But, that’s not new. A lot of this has nothing to do with what he’s doing now and a lot to do with what he set in motion before re-election.

Captain Keogh | March 3, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Obama has been tested and been found wanting – time and time again.