Memo to the White House: Stop talking and act

Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin was fingered for supplying the missiles that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, President Obama said, “(the) costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.” The Russian president probably felt the same way about this White House threat as he did about February’s redline language from Obama: “There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” the American president thundered.

Months after Putin intervened militarily, Obama has yet to act forcefully even in the face of a downed passenger jet.

The White House seems like the only place in the world these days that takes Obama’s threats seriously.  Putin clearly isn’t feeling any pressure to stop his offensive maneuverings in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.  In fact, Putin’s unfettered offensive to reclaim Russia’s lost empire has convinced him that the European Union and the United States are unwilling to stop him.  If President Obama was serious, his threats to impose costs on Putin’s dangerous gambit would have already been put into action.

Instead, the only thing left to hear is more of the President’s phony rhetoric that Americans are tired of war.  The “no War” Obama doctrine is a straw man argument.  Who is actually calling for war with Russia? The Obama doctrine only persuades Putin that he need never fear the U.S. military -- the world’s most powerful deterrent.

Even if Obama would never start a war with Russia, he should stop swearing off military action in public.  Instead, President Obama, through his inexhaustible number of speeches and statements, should rhetorically leave military action on the table.  He should also start engaging in muscular diplomacy.  Here are ten steps that Obama can take immediately:

  1. Offer advice and training to Ukraine, and sell it the lethal weapons required to contend with Russian armored personnel carriers, tanks and missiles. This will cost more than the pathetic $5 million in non-lethal aid Obama announced in June.
  2. Restart the original missile defense shield programs the U.S. had promised Poland and the Czech Republic before Obama abandoned them in a good-will gesture to President Medvedev and Putin in 2009.
  3. Expand Radio Free Europe’s outreach and intensity by surging the funding for independent media in Eastern Europe and thereby fighting the information war the West is losing to Putin.
  4. Recall the current acting U.S. Ambassador to Russia, the Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney, to Washington, D.C., for immediate consultations.
  5. Make clear to Congress that his nominee for U.S. ambassador to Russia announced just two weeks ago should be an immediate priority.  Obama’s recklessness in leaving the job vacant for the past five months has sent the wrong signal to the world.
  6. Convene a diplomatic summit in Eastern Europe for all Western government ambassadors to push for freedom of the press, capitalism and human rights. 
  7. Work with Congress and the European Union to come up with economic incentives for France to cancel the Mistral Warships it built for Russian purchase. Give Francois Hollande the encouragement he needs to make a bold move.
  8. Work with Congress to change U.S. laws governing gas exports to Europe.  Offer Europe an energy alternative as quickly as possible.
  9. Increase U.S. banking sanctions on all of the Russian businessmen close to Putin, including all government officials; freeze their assets (property and cash), too.
  10.  Declare that the “Russian Reset” is officially, in fact and in deed, no longer administration policy toward Russia.  Admit that the reset not only didn’t work, but made the situation worse.

Implemented immediately, these diplomatic moves would send a strong and powerful message to our friends in the region that the U.S. is committed to combat the Russian offense.