- - Thursday, September 4, 2014

We live in a dangerous and chaotic time, when terrorism is rapidly spreading across the globe, Russian troops occupy Ukraine, and America has lost its influence abroad.

President Obama’s handling of foreign policy is coming under increasing criticism at home, from friends and foes alike, for its timidity, impotence and bungling.

As the months race by, Russian President Vladimir Putin has daringly stepped up his invasion of eastern Ukraine, after seizing and annexing the Crimean Peninsula, threatening at one point to take over the country entirely.

The former communist KGB agent casually told his top advisers he could take over Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, in two weeks, if he wanted to.

Does Mr. Obama and the West need further proof of his maniacal ambitions to rebuild a Greater Russia by taking territory from the surrounding independent countries that were once part of what President Reagan called “the evil empire”?

His cross-border military invasion has triggered the worst national security crisis in Europe since the Cold War. Mr. Obama has responded with economic sanctions that were so weak that they further emboldened Mr. Putin’s high-wire act. The White House’s tepid response confirmed what Mr. Putin had long thought: that he faced an inexperienced, foreign-policy lightweight who had lost the respect of America’s now-confused and divided European allies.

This week, Mr. Obama flew to the Baltic states, in advance of a meeting with European leaders, where they feared their tiny countries, with sizable Russian populations, were next on Mr. Putin’s list.

If they expected tough talk from Mr. Obama, whose style is to speak softly and carry no stick, they were sorely disappointed.

Instead, at a news conference in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, Mr. Obama delivered an overly cautious statement, which sent a pliant message that he doesn’t fully understand what is at stake there.

Mr. Putin, on the other hand, was running rings around the president, announcing a dubious plan to end the conflict that would hold on to the Russian rebels’ territorial gains in southeastern Ukraine.

At a news conference, Mr. Putin said that he and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had reached a settlement on a peace deal. “Our views are very close,” he said. It isn’t true, but the gesture was designed to blunt the upcoming meeting of Western allies, while appearing as a man who only desired peace. Sure.

Instead of poking holes in Mr. Putin’s preposterous, all-for-me deal, Mr. Obama sought to emphasize the positive, while telling the Russian bully that only a full military withdrawal would yield a peace agreement.

“There’s an opportunity here,” he told reporters. “But no realistic political settlement can be achieved if, effectively, Russia says, ‘We are going to continue to send tanks and troops and arms and advisers under the guise of separatists who are not homegrown, and the only possible settlement is if Ukraine cedes its territory or its sovereignty or its ability to make its own decisions about its security and its economic future.’”

Mr. Putin is playing a high-stakes game of seizing as much territory as he can, then calling for a time out as he plots his next military move. Meantime, the West has still not put together any plan to punish him economically or otherwise for his invasion of a sovereign country.

If Mr. Obama has a plan, he hasn’t let anyone know what it is. His unsatisfactory remarks Wednesday were, to say the least, underwhelming. Clearly, Mr. Putin has concluded that he holds all the high cards in this game and that Mr. Obama has an empty hand.

Story Continues →