- - Monday, March 17, 2014

Barack Obama’s chickens are roosting in Crimea, and the noisy flapping is likely to expand soon.

The president, if he’s paying close attention, is learning the expensive lesson that wishing does not make it so. Hoping for the best is not a strategy for the great power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin won his “referendum,” with his army playing poll watchers, and took Crimea away from Ukraine with only cries and a whimper. Mr. Obama says this is “unacceptable” and warns that he will “continue to make clear to Russia that further provocations will achieve nothing except to further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world.”

Mr. Putin, from his point of view, is entitled to his big horse laugh. Russia’s “embrace” of Crimea may not be “acceptable” to Mr. Obama and his men, but it is entirely “acceptable” to Mr. Putin, and that’s the only approval he wants or needs.


President Obama’s assertion that “provocations will achieve nothing” is obviously wrong. The Russian provocations have achieved a lot. Mr. Putin now has Crimea, and Mr. Obama has the makings of a cheese omelet all over his face.

Mr. Obama signed an executive order Monday to freeze the assets in the United States of seven Russian officials. Now they can’t get to their money. Not only that, but the president is dispatching the vice president to Europe to confer with “international allies.”

These are the “consequences” that Mr. Obama has been threatening for two weeks. This president really knows how to hurt a guy.

Mr. Obama and the West invited this humiliation, working on the strategy that words are action, leaving Mr. Putin to demonstrate that some acts have no consequences. Secretary of State John F. Kerry inadvertently summed up the difference between East and West when he declared March 2 that “you just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

Even then the Russians were maneuvering for the takeover in Crimea. He was right, of course; only bad people invade other people’s countries. But the world is full of bad people, and this is what this administration resolutely refuses to understand.

Mr. Obama imagines that when he draws a red line the bad people in the world will respect it, and when the bad people treat his red line as if it were no more than a schoolgirl’s hopscotch diagram on the sidewalk he is mightily surprised by the consequences.

Mr. Putin and the Russians have clearly been taking Mr. Obama’s measure over the past months, with a probe here and a feint there. They’re obviously satisfied that when they push, Mr. Obama retreats.

Other bad people are watching, too. Bashar Assad learned that nothing happens when he crushes the opposition in Syria.

Iran continues to work on its nuclear weapon — this, too, was “unacceptable” back in the day. Iran continues to arm terrorist militias in north and south, maneuvering to get a stranglehold on Israel. China furiously expands its military, sending warships ever farther into the Pacific, and seizing small islands to provoke Japan and test the American response. It’s all of a piece.

If NATO wants to mean anything, it should deploy military forces to Poland and the Baltic states, and the United States should send military aid to Ukraine while there is still time to discourage the Russian appetite for a new Cold War.

This should have been done months ago, and Mr. Obama would not be in this predicament, a predicament he may not yet recognize. He must put away his teleprompter and join the rest of us in the real world.