President Obama does indeed have “zero options” in dealing with the Russian Federation’s incursion into Ukraine—but not in the way that most political commentators have portrayed the situation. Rather than being powerless to effectively retaliate against what his administration is calling the “military intervention” in Crimea, President Obama has a relatively uncontroversial list of measures that he will, and has, set in motion as the crisis continues. While the far-right fringe has attempted to use events in Crimea to accuse President Obama of not being tough enough on Russia in other matters of foreign policy, the Obama administration’s conduct of this particular crisis seems to have a large measure of bipartisan support.
Indeed, many of the actions Marco Rubio (R–FL), the “crown prince” of the Tea Party movement, advocated in an article written for Politico on Saturday night have been undertaken by President Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry (JE ’66) is due to arrive in Kiev tomorrow. The White House issued a joint statement with the other members of the G-7 (excluding Russia) condemning the “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Military relations with Russia, including exercises, talks, and conferences have been suspended, along with upcoming trade and investment meetings. The United Nations Security Council was convened to address the incident earlier this morning.
It appears that the only actions enumerated in Rubio’s article that have not yet been set in motion are the admission of Georgia into NATO and the punishment of Russian officials by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and their use of the US banking system—in other words, unrealistic chest-beating that would impede productive debate if actually implemented and was proposed only as a cheap attempt to gain political points.
The proverbial ball is in Russia’s court. Economic and diplomatic sanctions will continue to mount if the situation in Crimea does not deescalate, and I don’t believe anyone with knowledge of the current crisis thinks that President Putin would have engaged in such a decisive way without a clear endgame in mind. It will be the Obama administration’s job in the coming days to react in a measured, but firm way to any Russian action, and to lead the international effort to force a peaceful settlement using economic and political pressure.