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Obama’s Real Foreign Policy Dilemma

Walter Russell Mead reads Leslie Gelb’s bizarre demand to make empty military threats against Russia as a sign that Obama is losing the support of Democratic foreign policy professionals:

It’s clear that the Democratic establishment is increasingly worried. Their fear is not only that poor foreign policy choices will create crises for this President, but also that decades of building democratic credibility on foreign policy will have been lost unless the White House changes direction.

The only thing that Gelb’s argument tells us is that we should not be listening to him for policy recommendations regarding Russia and Ukraine. Anyone that thinks that the U.S. response to the annexation of Crimea needs to include threatening the use of force ought to be laughed out of the room rather than being treated as someone whose opinion should be heeded. Let’s recall what Gelb thinks the U.S. should seriously consider doing:

The boldest and riskiest course would be to dispatch 50 or 60 of the incredibly potent F-22s to Poland plus Patriot batteries and appropriate ground support and protection. Russian generals and even Putin surely know that the F-22s could smash the far inferior Russian air force and then punish Russian armies invading eastern Ukraine or elsewhere in the region.

There’s no sense at all in making this move unless Obama unambiguously resolves to use the F-22s. The worst thing to do is bluff. Nor would the dangers end there even if Obama were not bluffing; Putin might think he was bluffing anyway and start a war. With all these complications and risks, the Obama team still should give this option a serious look [bold mine-DL]—and let Russia and our NATO partners know this tough course is under serious consideration.

If Obama has “lost” Gelb because he hasn’t been as completely irresponsible in his handling of the crisis as Gelb might want, that is a mark in the president’s favor. The public isn’t very impressed with Obama’s response, but then that is because the administration has been taking a much harder line and involving the U.S. to a much greater degree than most Americans want. The political problem for Obama in this case, as it was on Syria last year, is that he risks losing the public’s trust in his foreign policy judgment whenever he is inclined to side with pundits and supposed experts against the preferences of a large majority of Americans. As it is, Obama is already on the wrong side of public opinion on Ukraine, and this will only get worse if he follows advice from the likes of Mead and Gelb that is both politically tone-dead and wrong on the merits.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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