- - Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Obama administration has gotten America into quite a conundrum when it comes to the Russian Federation and its wily leader, Vladimir Putin, who are aggressively pushing back against NATO encroachment on former Soviet and Warsaw Pact territory.

Kaliningrad, Moscow’s enclave in the heart of the alliance’s northern tier, is weaponized to the hilt, with possibly even nuclear weapons. The Black Sea is becoming a conflict zone, with Russia paranoid and angry about U.S. Navy patrols. The Middle East is becoming a Russian-Iranian sandbox, with Mr. Putin dictating the facts on the ground to Israel and other U.S. allies. Russian subs are aggressively patrolling U.S. shores again, and Russian weapons development and modernization are in full swing.

Luckily, however, the Obama administration is focused on the dangers of climate change.

President Obama has a pattern when dealing with foreign threats or adversaries. His initial tactic is to downplay and disrespect said threat. The misguided dismissal of Islamic State as the “JV team” comes to mind. We’ve written before about Mr. Obama’s derogatory tone toward Russia and Mr. Putin, decrying Mr. Putin’s “slouch” and taunting that “Russia doesn’t make anything” and that its economy is foundering.

Obviously, these comments are not helpful when you are attempting to find common ground or a new “detente” with a nuclear-armed power such as Russia.

After the disrespect, Mr. Obama then tends to ignore the threat — after he has undercut any ability to deter or manage a future flare-up with said adversary.

The Obama administration removed all U.S. armor from Europe several years ago. Now U.S. officials are having to rush equipment and personnel back into Eastern Europe, in hopes of rebuilding some kind of minimal deterrent to Moscow. I would love someone to do a basic economic cost-benefit analysis of these missteps.

American commanders in theater have repeatedly warned that Russia could overrun the Baltics in three days. I am sure this was also the case when Mr. Obama removed our tanks from the conflict zone. This show of weakness only emboldened the Kremlin — in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine and in other former Soviet territories.

The new American president will face a staggeringly difficult situation in Europe. The European Union is breaking apart, pushed along by Russian intelligence operatives taking advantage of the disastrous immigration policies of Brussels.

In the long run, this may have a positive effect economically, but in the short run, the crush of migrants will cause pain for the West and provide yet another opportunity for the Kremlin to draw more former satellites into its orbit.

And Donald Trump is right: The Europeans are not paying for their own defense.

The next occupant of the White House will have to show leadership in economic and national security matters. She — or, one hopes, he — will have to be strong enough to deter Russia from further territorial and geopolitical gains. Savvy and unpredictable, Mr. Putin will push until he hits a wall. (And that doesn’t even take into account the global fight against terrorism and the Islamic State, or the open challenges to U.S. power from Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang.)

The problem posed by Russia can no longer be wished away. The U.S. must help the Europeans find their way forward and rebuild their political will and economic might. At the moment, they are lost. The only way forward is to restructure, something Mr. Trump understands better than anyone.

It will take skill and bravado to take on our adversaries, even as America must rebuild her military and economic power. Mr. Putin is often said to have played a weak hand well. Our current president, by contrast, has folded and isn’t even in the game. It will be a huge challenge for the next American president to play the cards he’s dealt better than Putin. Mr. Trump is the only one showing he has the ability to do so.

L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

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