GOP leaders took giddy delight in mocking President Obama's 90-minute phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was Obama's frontal effort to get Putin to stand down from his assault on the Ukraine. They called his talk with Putin weak, soft, and even cowardly. The GOP smears of Obama on his handling of the Ukrainian crisis are a virtual repeat of the same smears it has repeated time and again against him on the issues of national security and foreign policy. The GOP trotted out the script of Obama as an alleged foreign policy green horn and bungler the moment he declared his presidential candidacy in 2007.
It pounded him mercilessly as soft on the war on terrorism and the military and who when the first time a crisis arose would jeopardize America's security with his supposed weak kneed approach to a foreign policy. GOP presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents. GOP presidential candidate John McCain tried it against Obama in 2008 presidential election, and since then has continued to lambast him on every foreign policy issue as weak and indecisive.
The GOP strategists believed that the soft-on-terrorism, rank amateur on foreign policy smear would work especially well on Obama. He was a liberal Democrat, untested in foreign policy matters, had made conciliatory remarks about Islam, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq War, and unstated, he was African-American. This supposedly made him vulnerable to the sneaky and borderline racial suspicions among many that question the patriotism of blacks.
In quick succession, the GOP has dusted off the script on every foreign policy crisis that's popped up since Obama entered the White House. The list is endless: Somalia, Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran and, of course, Benghazi. In each instance, just change the names and the rap is till the same, he's weak, indecisive, and soft, and always the charge is that his alleged weakness somehow puts the nation at mortal risk. As in every one of the crisis's that Obama allegedly bungled and jeopardized the nation's security, the unreconstructed cold war hawks and professional GOP Obama bashers flatly declare that the U.S. must get tough, firm, and resolute up to and including a military and even nuclear a saber rattle against a perceived American foreign enemy.
The Ukraine is no different. Obama is being plastered from the right for not taking any of a hodgepodge of actions. Boycott the Sochi summit, suspend trade talks with Russia, demand that the major industrial nations make Russia a rogue state among nations and of course, slap any and every other imaginable economic and travel sanction on Russia.
Even if Obama took one, two or all of these proposed tough guy measures against Putin's regime it wouldn't do a fig to stop Russia's aggression. Yet, that aggression, as politically and morally odious as it is, hardly poses any direct threat to national security that Obama's foes claim. The real peril is to Russia's security. Continued military action in the Ukraine there would hopelessly embroil Russia in an unsustainable, and ultimately self-defeating military, economic and political quagmire. The demand that Obama talk and act even tougher with Putin also ignores two other hard realities. One is that the Ukraine is a regional crisis and the Crimea a scant few decades ago was a part of Russia. The area has deep ethnic, economic, and political ties with Russia and by no stretch could be considered a vital cog in the U.S. strategic, military, or geopolitical interests and security. The other is that America's Western allies do a lot of business with Russia and lean heavily on it for its oil and natural gas.
Obama's correct and really only sensible option is to try through negotiation to give Putin a viable face saving way out of the box he's recklessly and to his peril put Russia in. No matter how loud the war hawks scream about Obama's actions, he has little choice but to try and help craft a solution through diplomacy. This hardly shows weakness, but recognition that the U.S.'s options are few.
But then this is an election year and the GOP hopes again that by slapping the age old tag of Obama as weak, soft and an appeaser it will gain some footing with voters. There's little evidence so far that this is a priority issue, let alone fear, of any significant percent of American voters. Still, the Ukraine is yet another foreign policy crisis that the GOP can try and spin as a life-or-death threat to American interests and one that's supposedly being botched by another Democratic president. There's nothing new and certainly nothing truthful to this smear.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson