Michael Barone

These responses are, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in the Wall Street Journal on March 25, "anemic." Unsettling possibilities loom. Putin is massing troops near eastern Ukraine and might attack in the name of protecting ethnic Russians there. And there are large Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia.

In the Netherlands, Obama suggested he'd impose tougher sanctions on Russian businesses if Putin moved further into Ukraine. But he conceded there would be no military response to the seizure of Crimea.

The contagion may spread further. China, long opposed to outside interference in nations' internal affairs, has made it clear it does not oppose Russia's move across a recognized international border. Since Richard Nixon's opening to China, American administrations have tried to capitalize on tensions between China and Russia. Now these two once-Communist powers seem to be coming together.

And China has been asserting sovereignty over disputed islands in the East and South China Seas long claimed by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. That follows its earlier declaration of an air defense identification zone jutting out far from its recognized territorial waters.

All this follows from what Gates calls "the fecklessness of the West in Syria" -- flexibility in action. Gates argues that Putin's actions "require from Western leaders strategic thinking, bold leadership and steely resolve -- now."

Gates suggests that Obama reinstate the defense budget he proposed last year, without the sequester-required cuts in this year's budget that would shrink the Army's manpower to 1940 levels and the Navy to 1917 levels.

But that would require difficult negotiations with Republicans on a range of budget issues. Obama has made no serious attempts to negotiate such issues, as President Bill Clinton did with Newt Gingrich, since he raised the ante and broke up the "grand bargain" negotiations in August 2011.

The problem with flexibility and erasing red lines is that it leaves you with little flexibility and tempts others to cross red lines you don't dare erase. "After my election" turns out to be a dangerous time.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM


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