I know something is different when I find myself nodding along in agreement while listening to Fox News quote South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
On Sunday, the Republican called out President Barack Obama for being "weak and indecisive" and suggested he "stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators." Graham went on to point out this is not Obama's "strong suit" and even went so far as to suggest that when the president does threaten volatile foreign leaders on television, all it evokes is widespread "eye-rolling."
While I probably would have said it a little more politely, I can't help but recognize the truth in what Graham is saying.
The issue Graham was addressing is the quickly escalating situation on the Crimean peninsula, where Russian forces have been mobilizing and appear – depending on what you read – to be preparing for military action. The upheaval in Ukraine started in November 2013, when the county's now-ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, turned around from pursuing a broad partnership with the EU. Protests to remove Yanukovych turned increasingly violent in the run-up to his ouster, and tensions became even more inflamed when at least 88 people were killed by soldiers while protesting in Kiev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has wasted no time in taking advantage of the precarious situation, and many Western leaders have expressed concerns he will attempt to expand control from the Crimean peninsula into the rest of Ukraine. Losing Eastern Ukraine – where much of the country's industrial enterprise is located – to Putin would be detrimental to its overall economy and would certainly prevent the country from creating a new, corruption-free government.
Unfortunately, the strategy laid out by the Obama administration to address this issue has been as lackluster as his response to the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Sen. Graham has hit the nail on the head: when it comes to foreign policy, Obama fails to put his money where his mouth is, and Putin knows it.
While I was never pro-Syrian intervention, I knew Obama's limp reaction was going to come back to bite us in the future. By drawing "red lines" in his foreign policy only to later default on them, he has sent Putin the message that the U.S. will merely stand by and wag a finger when bullies like him and Bashar al-Assad run around wrecking not only their own countries, but their neighbors' as well. Suspending preparation for the next G-8 summit – which was supposed to be held in Russia – is simply not enough.
If not having the party at his house means he gets to take control of Ukraine, Putin will most certainly take that deal.
While I'm not advocating that we should immediately deploy troops to Ukraine and engage in full-on conflict with Russia, I am concerned Obama's track record of weak foreign policy is bolstering Putin's ego and possibly emboldening other erratic world leaders.
Also disconcerting to me in this vein is the recent wave of ambassador appointees who happen to be big Obama donors but have absolutely zero experience with their selected countries, much less foreign policy. If you are in need of a good laugh, Google a certain Colleen Bell – a soap opera producer who raised more than $800,000 for Obama – and watch her attempt to field questions about American interests in Hungary.
It is essential that Obama recognizes the importance of good, consistent foreign policy and strong representatives in other countries. Whether we like it or not, we often set the tone for the rest of the world when it comes to conflicts such as the one facing Ukraine.
If we continue to sit around wringing our hands and having repetitive press conferences, leaders like Putin will continue to trample on democracy without fear of consequences.
Katie Dean is a junior in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.