Steve Chapman

The only humor in this situation is the dark sort, which consists of contrasting the hard rhetoric of Obama's critics with their pillow-soft recommendations. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal mocked Obama's stern condemnation of the attack: "That will have the Kremlin quaking."

It argued that, instead, "all trade and banking relationships with Russia ought to be reconsidered." Trade and banking relationships? All of them? Reconsidered? Oooh. That's going to leave a mark.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered eight steps Obama should take to punish Putin, none of which involved the use of military force. He did propose an offer of NATO membership -- not to Ukraine, strangely, but to Georgia.

Putin used force because he thought the fate of Ukraine was too important to leave to Ukrainians. That's not exactly a new policy for the Kremlin. The notion that a great power is entitled to respond militarily to unwelcome events in its backyard has a long pedigree in Washington, too. Ask the Cubans. Or the Nicaraguans. Or the Dominicans.

What was obvious to Putin is also obvious to just about everyone in American politics: A violation of Ukraine is not important enough to the U.S. or its allies to elicit a military response. It didn't matter what Obama did in Syria -- any more than it mattered for Georgia what Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wouldn't have mattered if Obama had not tried to "reset" relations with Russia. It wouldn't have mattered if Palin herself had had her finger on the nuclear button.

What mattered, as University of Chicago defense scholar John Mearsheimer puts it, is that "Ukraine is of enormous strategic importance to Russia" and that "we have hardly any good cards to play." In this scenario, Obama's policies were as irrelevant as Bush's were in 2008.

In Washington, many politicians assume the world revolves around us. The people in power in Moscow have a very different and puzzling trait: They think it revolves around them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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