Yesterday Trump faulted Obama for “allowing” Russia to annex Crimea:
“It was President Obama that allowed it to happen,” he said.
Trump has said something like this before more than once. Earlier this year, he complained that Obama was “the one that let Crimea get away” and suggested that “I may have had a much different attitude.” The following week, Trump said, “President Obama lost Crimea, because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama.” The assumption that Russian actions hinge on their leader’s attitude towards ours is bizarre and ignores that Russia has agency and interests that have nothing to do with us or our presidents. Trump has repeated this often enough that it is worth spending a little time to pick apart this silly talking point.
Most reports on Trump’s remarks have focused on his choice to blame Obama for the annexation, but that is not nearly as important as the implication of Trump’s statement that he seems to think it is up to the American president to “allow” or “disallow” the actions of other major nuclear-armed powers. Saying that Obama “allowed” the annexation of Crimea presupposes that there was something that Obama could or should have done to prevent or reverse it. Short of starting a shooting war with Russia and presumably causing WWIII, there was nothing Obama could have done, and it is a measure of Trump’s ignorance and his belligerent instincts that he thinks otherwise. Whether Russia controls Crimea or not is hardly a vital interest of the U.S., and it certainly isn’t worth risking a war. If Trump believes otherwise, he is even more reckless and irresponsible than we thought.
Trump talks about “losing” Crimea as if it were ours to lose. The language of “losing Crimea” is itself a throwback to the dumbest Cold War-era rhetoric that promoted the fantasy that it was within America’s power to “keep” or “lose” entire countries. That sort of thinking is delusional, and it’s very dangerous if this is how the president looks at international crises. Obama didn’t “lose” Crimea, and it was never the responsibility of the U.S. government to stop what Russia did. Russia’s action was aggressive and illegal, but the U.S. was under no obligation to risk a war with a nuclear-armed state to undo it. The fact that Trump keeps harping about the “loss” of a part of a country that isn’t even allied to the U.S. shows just how far removed he is from a genuine America First foreign policy.