Michael Gerson

In this conflict of strategies, the West is far more powerful -- economically, militarily and ideologically. But it is not acting like it. European governments have struggled to produce relatively minor sanctions against Russia. The Obama administration (according to The Wall Street Journal) turned away Ukraine's request for emergency military assistance. (Refusing such an appeal makes little sense, even if you don't intend to fulfill it. Better to plant doubts in Putin's mind than remove them.) And the U.S. Senate, paralyzed by GOP obstruction, delayed other forms of aid to Ukraine.

Will the end of illusions result in a shift in policy? There are signs that European governments are steeling themselves for more costly actions. (Germany, after all, knows something about the practice of exploiting ethnic identity to dismember neighboring nations.) But there is little hope that the Europeans will move decisively without bold American leadership -- today one of the rarest of global commodities.

If Putin persists in confrontation, long-term military assistance to the Ukrainian government would be needed -- if it still exists. Imposing serious oil and gas sanctions on Russia would begin a race: Will Europe run out of energy before Russia runs out of money? The reinforcement of neighboring NATO states and joint military exercises would send a signal, but also raise risks of accidental confrontation. All these actions are costly and difficult. And the sort of thing made unavoidable by Putin's continued aggression.

In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- another end of illusions -- President Jimmy Carter recalled the U.S. ambassador, imposed a grain embargo, shut off technology transfers, accelerated the delivery of arms to Pakistan, began aid to Afghan insurgents, pledged to defend Middle Eastern oil supplies and proposed long-term defense spending increases.

This is now the state of Obama's foreign policy: He must rise to Carter-era levels of resolve.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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