Minority of One blog

Is U.S. credibility at stake in Ukraine?

Ukraine crisis

Pro-Russian protesters take photos of Ukrainian soldiers sitting on their armored vehicle in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on April 16. (Konstantin Ivanov, EPA / April 16, 2014)

The Russian aggression against Ukraine seems unsurprising to critics of President Obama, including the crusading editorial board of The Washington Post. An editorial this week blamed the unrest in Donetsk and other eastern cities on the administration's alleged failure to act, and raised a familiar charge. Unless the president does something soon, the United States will "lose what little credibility it retains on Ukraine."

If lack of credibility means the world doesn't believe we'll use military force or make serious economic sacrifices to stop the Russians, we do lack credibility. But that's not because Obama or his secretary of state is weak or confused. It's because we lack any firm commitment to protect Ukraine or any strong interest in blocking the Russians.

Pundits often talk about American credibility as though it can be built up and held in reserve for any need, like a savings account. But Obama's determination to exit Iraq didn't keep him from mounting a surge in Afghanistan or using U.S. air power in Libya. If the Russians think his retreat in Syria or his relative inaction on Ukraine mean he wouldn't use military force to respond to an attack on a NATO ally, they'd be nuts. And Vladimir Putin, whatever his shortcomings, is not nuts.

When the U.S. has powerful reasons to use military force, particularly when it has longstanding commitments to allies, other nations won't doubt our resolve. In other cases, they will , and rightly so -- no matter how hard the president works to preserve his credibility.

CHICAGO

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