Vladimir Putin wants to be Russia's Ronald Reagan.
It's morning in Moscow, a vibrant new dawn of growth, pride and prestige—that was the Russian President's message Tuesday as he announced the annexation of Crimea.
But is it midnight in America?
President Barack Obama wanders in the dark over what to do, trapped by his own philosophy and the results of his own policies. His most emphatic act has been to restrict visas on 11 people out of 145-million Russians. That wasn't a sanction; it was full employment for comedy writers.
The contrast is vivid.
"Joy in the streets of Moscow," declared ABC News' Martha Radditz. "Thousands strong bellowing the Russian anthem, welcoming Crimea back to fatherland Russia. ... their leader, Vladimir Putin, basking in his moment . . . blasting the United States." He accuses us of hypocrisy for intervening in other nations such as Iraq and for supporting a secession vote in Bosnia while opposing it in Crimea.
Putin's soaring popularity in Russia is far more pronounced than his disrepute in Washington. He's not loved everywhere, but universally he commands respect. In global politics, that's enough.
By contrast, under Obama, America is slipping in respect, in military power and in economic power.
As they watch events in the Ukraine and remember the events in Georgia, nervous leaders among other parts of the former Soviet Union wonder if they will be next in Putin's divide-and-conquer chess moves. And they find America an unreliable partner under current leadership
America's moves are tentative. Vice-President Joe Biden says the USA "may" rotate ships and other forces into the Baltic region to reassure former Soviet satellites such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—which are now part of NATO.
President Barack Obama pledged on Monday to uphold America's NATO commitments but his weak words were out-shouted by Putin's strong actions. Snickers say that increasing sanctions might only mean denying visas to a few dozen people, not just 11.
Biden is visiting our NATO allies, telling them that Russia's actions came as a surprise. In response, they are giving him an earful to take back to Obama.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski told Biden bluntly that Putin's moves shouldn't have been surprising, because Russia for years has been boosting its military spending. (Funds came from major exploitation of oil and gas resources. A natural gas stranglehold also gives Russia power over Europe. Several nations have asked us to send them our surplus natural gas; the U.S. should do so.)
Estonia's President, Toomas Ilves, called events a wake-up call, "We need and must conduct a review of the entire range of NATO-Russia relations." Estonia has a higher percentage of ethnic Russians than Ukraine—a special reason for the former Soviet republic to fear that Putin could use that excuse for actions against Estonia like he did against Ukraine.
In typical fashion, Obama wants to deflect criticism from his own failures by asking what others would do instead. The problem is that immediate options are limited by how the President has weakened us: Hobbling our economy. Restricting our ability to counter Russia's oil and gas economic leverage with our own. And down-sizing our military. Under his plan announced last month, Obama would reduce our Army to its pre-World War 2 level, even though our population is now 180-million people greater.
Reversing those trends won't swing the balance of power back to America immediately. But gradually it will.
What must be done immediately is to counter Obama's false narrative about our national condition. A few examples:
Never again should we permit anyone to be ridiculed as Obama derided Mitt Romney for telling the truth about our down-sized military and about the Russian threat.
In the Presidential debates, Obama smugly told Romney, "A few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia ... the 1980's are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War's been over for 20 years."
At the Democrat National Convention, now-Secretary of State John Kerry smarmed, "Mitt Romney . . . blurted out the preposterous notion that Russia is our 'number one geopolitical foe.' Folks, Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching 'Rocky IV.'"
Never again should a President be allowed to cover-up events like the Benghazi attacks to conceal his own national security failures.
And never again should we accept the notion that a President has total control over our military and foreign policy. The President's military authority is mentioned in only one sentence of the Constitution. Congress' military authority extends over six clauses.
Fortunately, we are not engaged in active hostilities with Russia, so nobody should be reluctant to openly criticize Obama's approach. This is not a situation where disagreements stop at the water's edge. It's time for robust, outspoken, public challenges to what even liberals have labeled Obama's "fantasy" foreign policy.
Russia may be enjoying sunshine and we may be mired in momentary darkness. But this can be changed. We knew Ronald Reagan--and Vladimir Putin is no Ronald Reagan. But Reagan taught us that we can overcome dire circumstances, such as he inherited from Jimmy Carter. For, after all, we are Americans.
Ernest Istook is in recovery from serving 14 years as a U.S. Congressman from Oklahoma.