The Republican critique of President Obama’s foreign policy is the same critique the GOP offers of every Democratic president or presidential nominee: He’s a wimp. They’ve trotted it out against every leading Democrat in recent memory, from Dukakis to Clinton to Gore to even John Kerry, who had volunteered to serve and fight in Vietnam and won the Purple Heart in doing so.
In fact, as someone who was raised in the military and taught to respect military service, I have never been more appalled by anything in my professional career than I was while covering the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, when supposedly patriotic, flag-waving attendees wore bandages to mock Kerry’s service.
Yesterday, while campaigning in Iowa, House Speaker John Boehner trotted out that meme once again:
“Does anybody think that Vladimir Putin would have gone into Crimea had George W. Bush been president of the United States?” Boehner asked the crowd. “No! Even Putin is smart enough to know that Bush would have punched him in the nose in about 10 seconds!”
Let us count the inanities packed into those 41 words:
1.) This would be the same George W. Bush who told the world that he had peered into Putin’s eyes and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
2.) This would be the same George W. Bush who did almost nothing but issue mild protests when Putin invaded the nation of Georgia in 2008. Certainly, no fists flew; a fist may have been feebly shaken, but that’s about it.
3.) In 2001, when China forced down a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane, holding its 24 crew members hostage for 10 days, Bush responded with a letter that expressed American sorrow for the incident and by paying the Chinese for the feeding of the captured crew and return of the plane, which had been dismantled and thoroughly dissected by the Chinese. One can only imagine the howling from the right had Obama handled a comparable situation in the same fashion.
4.) Bush’s reputation for toughness depends almost entirely on his disastrous decision to invade Iraq, a decision that was poorly thought-through and poorly executed and that continues to dog American foreign policy to this day. It remains the single biggest foreign-policy mistake in this nation’s history.
5.) Rather than “punch Putin in the nose in 10 seconds,” Obama has led a highly successful effort to impose economic sanctions on Russia. As the chart to the left illustrates, the Russian ruble is in collapse against the dollar, its stock market is in sharp decline, tens of thousands of educated Russians are leaving the country, its sovereign debt has been sharply downgraded, foreign investment is nonexistent, and inflation is running at 8 percent with food shortages appearing.
In short, and despite the crush that some American conservatives have on the bare-chested one, Putin’s foreign-policy adventurism has proved a disaster for his country. And the supposedly “wimpy” Obama had a lot to do with it. The Russian leader underestimated the willingness of the West to respond to his aggression, and he is paying a high price for that error.