If the use of force to counter Russian moves in Europe were the right test of United States policy, every president since Harry Truman would have flunked it, says Brookings Institution analyst William A. Galston:
I am old enough to remember John Foster Dulles’s incessant calls for the “liberation of captive peoples.” When the Hungarians naïvely took him at his word in 1956, the Eisenhower administration stood idly by, as the Johnson administration did 12 years later when Russia suppressed the Prague Spring. When Russia took military action against Georgia in 2008, no senior member of the Bush administration advocated a military response.
So let’s get to the real discussion, the former Clinton administration official writes for the Wall Street Journal:
President Obama’s first task in the coming weeks is to coordinate the strongest possible global response to what Vladimir Putin has done in Crimea. This won’t be easy. …. This will require more than tactical steps. President Obama should clearly articulate and forcefully defend the basic principles of international order. There is much chatter in foreign-policy circles these days about a “post-Westphalian” world in which the concept of national sovereignty—its origin usually ascribed to the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648—is no longer important. But states remain the basis of international order. The Ukrainian crisis reminds us, and Mr. Obama should remind the world, that sovereignty, self-determination and territorial integrity are more than diplomatic cant. They are the essential attributes of statehood.
As the Washington Post notes, the urge to concentrate on what Mr. Obama calls “nation-building at home” is nothing new, as former ambassador Stephen Sestanovich recounts in his illuminating history of U.S. foreign policy, Maximalist:
There were similar retrenchments after the Korea and Vietnam wars and when the Soviet Union crumbled. But the United States discovered each time that the world became a more dangerous place without its leadership and that disorder in the world could threaten U.S. prosperity. Each period of retrenchment was followed by more active (though not always wiser) policy. Today Mr. Obama has plenty of company in his impulse, within both parties and as reflected by public opinion. But he’s also in part responsible for the national mood: If a president doesn’t make the case for global engagement, no one else effectively can.