Washington (CNN) - As the Ukrainian military readied for a possible widespread Russian incursion into its Crimea region, Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama to take action to prevent the situation from descending into chaos.
In a statement released Saturday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he is "deeply concerned" Russia's presence in Ukraine could expand if the President does not outline consequences for President Vladimir Putin's regime.
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"President Obama said that Russia would face 'costs' if it intervened militarily in Ukraine," McCain said. "It is now essential for the President to articulate exactly what those costs will be and to take steps urgently to impose them."
On Saturday, Obama spoke by phone with Putin for 90 minutes, and expressed "his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a statement released by the White House.
Putin requested and received unanimous approval from Russia's upper house of Parliament to send Russian military forces into Crimea to secure the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel he says have been threatened.
Despite a flurry of activity Saturday in Washington, including a confab of the President's national security team, the White House remained mum on how the United States intended to respond to the situation.
A member of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain called Russia's actions an "ongoing military intervention" that would only worsen in severity so long as the President and the international community sit on the sidelines.
"Every moment the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine," McCain said.
McCain, the President's former Republican rival in the 2008 presidential election, has routinely criticized the Obama administration's foreign policy, painting the White House as rudderless in their dealings with other nations.
In a February interview with a Phoenix radio station, the Arizona senator branded Obama as "the most naive president in history," sentiments he echoed Saturday.
"None of us should be under any illusion about what President Putin is capable of doing in Ukraine," McCain said.
President's foreign policy a favorite GOP target
McCain's pronouncement was one of a growing number of GOP statements demanding the White House act on Ukraine, but only the latest in a long line of Republicans taking aim at the president's foreign policy.
Now in his sixth year as commander in chief, the President has tried, mostly to no avail, to quiet a constant din of skeptics questioning his overseas priorities. His moves to end the war in Iraq and draw down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan reflect the Obama administration's evolving policy goals.
But the White House's handling last year of Syria's spiraling civil war renewed questions over whether Washington had abdicated its leadership role in world affairs and Obama was content to "lead from behind."
At January's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry protested that reports of America's demise as a foreign policy power were greatly exaggerated.
"I am perplexed by claims that I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world - this myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down," Kerry said. "I want to make it clear today that nothing could be further from the truth."
But a September CNN/ORC reflects a disconnect between the administration's words and the public's perceptions; only four in 10 Americans approved of the President's handling of foreign policy, the lowest level ever recorded on that issue in CNN polling.
According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday, Obama's ratings on foreign affairs have yet to recover in the face of a new crisis. The survey found 39% of Americans currently approve of his approach to foreign policy.
Rubio: Time to punish Russia
The President's vulnerability on the issue has sparked a flurry of criticism, including from a potential Republican 2016 presidential contender. In an op-ed published Saturday morning in Politico, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, enumerated eight steps he believes Obama "must take to punish Russia" for encroaching on Ukraine's sovereign territory. Rubio framed the ongoing crisis as "a critical moment in world history."
"The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake," Rubio said in the piece. "If Putin's illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs."
"The President must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can't be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves," Rubio wrote.
Though Rubio and other 2016 hopefuls might use Ukraine's plight to bolster their foreign policy bona fides, their calls for decisive action have limited real world recourse.
As the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle escalates, the United States and its European allies have limited options - short of engaging the military - for impacting the situation on the ground in Ukraine.
The lack of avenues available to the administration did not silence the GOP's rancor.
Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, said Obama must "lead a meaningful, unified response" to the crisis, something he has thus far failed to do.
"The Russian government has felt free to intervene militarily in Ukraine because the United States," Corker said in a statement, "along with Europe, has failed to make clear there would be serious, potentially irreparable consequences to such action."
Corker said Congress would consider targeted sanctions against Russia but pressed again for immediate action from the White House.
"The United States and our European allies should immediately bring to bear all elements of our collective economic strength to stop Russian advances in Ukraine," he said.
Warning about standing on the sideline
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, R-California, painted the administration's hesitance to intervene in even starker terms.
"History judges perpetrators of these actions poorly, as it does those who stand idly by," McKeon said in a statement. "Our response should demonstrate the U.S. stands by its friends against bullies."
Calling Putin a would-be empire builder whose actions are a "throwback" to the Cold War, McKeon continued, saying Russia's military maneuvering has "violated the freedom of all Ukrainians."
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, gave perhaps the most cutting critique of the Obama administration's response.
"Emboldened by President Obama's trembling inaction, Vladimir Putin has invaded the Crimea region of Ukraine," Cotton, who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement.
Cotton, the GOP challenger for incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor's senate seat, sketched out a series of potential actions President Obama could take against Russia should they not withdraw from the Crimea: revoking travel visas, freezing assets of senior Russian officials, rescheduling the G-8 summit in Sochi, suspending Russia from the forum of governments, and recalling the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
"Putin must be punished for his outlaw actions and the Russian people and elites must recognize they will pay a price for them," Cotton said.
Still, the Arkansas lawmaker believes the fate of Ukraine hangs in the balance.
"The hours ahead will decide whether this invasion of Crimea is repelled or expanded to the whole of Ukraine, and whether the West finally confronts Putin or again blinks in disgrace," he said.
Here we go again! We haven't started a war in a decade now and are unwinding $3trillion worth of losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need a war or sign of Obama weakness to take our minds off poverty, health care, oppression of the middle class and greed at the top. Wave the flag and Americans go dumb and attack any enemy we can find. Putin is trying to reestablish the USSR, so we have to do something. Let's study the problem first. Is this kind of like the US annexing Texas or only Putin's first move? We'll see. The neocons will go crazy this week whatever the news.
Out of all of the vitriol directed at Obama from the Republicans, no one, not one – has suggested what to do. We sure aren't going to go to war over there so what can the US do? Even a nut job like McCain wouldn't send in troops (at least I hope not).
Where was the most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history during the National Security meeting today???
He still is in Texas!
Russia has a large but primitive economy based on energy exports. If the USA opens the currently restricted export of domestic oil and gas, Europe can minimize Russian imports and send the Putin economy down the toilet..
"McCain's pronouncement was the first in a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers demanding the White House act."
Oh, those teapublicans would just love the President to fall into that trap wouldn't they? McCain will harp on this until we can't take it anymore, he's a war addict and he'll try and use it against the President politcally. Where is Europe in all of this?
Great, just what we needed just in time for more budget cuts on those struggling in this country just to stay alive. Maybe McCain and company can fund and go fight this one out of their rich ranks (maybe even take some of the congressional chickenhawks with you that voted against benefits for vets just to see what it is like to lose a limb or two). I have had enough of being the world's policeman and having every cent I own owed for paying for this idiocy.
Yah the GOP wants to send our young men in to die so their war machine buddies can make more money on their blood.
"why we should care about the Ukraine at all" – this kind of question was asked when Hitler was invading the Chech republic and Poland. In the end, the world paid dearly.
To stuff it: stuff it. The last time we let Repubs be in charge we ended up in 2 wars we should not have been in. Other than McCain none of the Repubs in the article ever shot anything other than a duck. Repubs had 8 years and they blew it.
We prefer Pres Obama, plus I am sure you Repubs want to forget it, but Obama continued looking for bin laden and made the decision to get him.
When the Egyptian Military responded to the millions of Egyptian marching in the streets of Cairo demanding the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, McCain called it a coup.
When 40-50 k ppl do the same in Kiev and the president is forced to flee McCain Call it a revolution and warn Russia.
What a fool and a hypocrit!
Putin is leveraging the support of nearly the entire population of his country in what every Russian would call a just and well deserved action. After the successful Olympics and what was perceived as Western Ukrainian nationalist revolt sponsored by the West, he and his party enjoy the widest support ever. The population of Russia expects Putin to act no less than Mr McCain & co expect president Obama to act. The difference is that GOP wants Obama to do something literally on the other side of the world while Russians have to act in their doorstep. At the same time, it is incredible to see how Western media makes a coordinated effort to deliver this one-sided and biased coverage of the events.
The Republicans have done everything in their power to weaken and destroy the Obama presidency and the world view of this president. Now, they have the gall to call on him to do something about Ukraine. How about working on meaningful legislation or at least proposing a plan of action you brilliant Republicans. Oh, I forgot you are too busy destroying the United States of America for the sole purpose of making a black presidency a failed presidency. At least prior versions of the Republican Party stood for small government, a strong military, and strengthening business. This bunch of idiots are incapable of governing. They seek to call government broken and ineffective by breaking the government and being ineffective. If you want the president to do something, propose a plan of action or just shut up.
We need to do something. It makes us look like panzie's if we don't bush would have troops on the way. I will voluntarily go fight with no military training
Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't - Wish the GOP would help create a solution instead of bark nonsense.
GOP are morons. This same thing happened with Georgia four years ago. I didn't hear GOP yelling about how Bush was standing idle. Making our president look weak for political gain. They should be sick of themselves. In actuality there are limited options here short of war.
I guess that we are supposed to just attack Russia because of what again? We are supposed to use what again...oh yell, force, as in military force, as in our troops being deployed to do what again? I'm sorry, but the GOP is just an big smoke screen for cowards. The UN has to lead this charge, not the USA, didn't we learn this lesson under past administration? This go in alone mentality will sure not be in this country’s best interest. Oh by the way, why didn't these same lawmakers vote to intervene in Syria when we had proof of peoples being killed? Just like I thought, anything that they can use to try insult this president is what they will use. One more thing, why is the UK so important to us that we must lead the charge again?
As was correctly pointed out in this article, it'd easy for the GOP to scream "do something!" but in reality there is not much that can be done. Putin already knows what the costs will be – loss of some trade, various sanctions, etc, and he's made the decision to go. How many Americans want the U.S. to face Russia in a war? Here's a hint – these are not Iraqi or Afghan troops, or North Koreans with 1960s weaponry. We would lose as many as they do. Recalling our ambassador? That's the diplomatic equivalent of writing an angry letter – nothing more.
The U.S.'s best approach is to rally the international community to isolate Russia until they get in line. Putin want's to be a world leader, but he's trying the "conqueror" approach rather than the economic one.
McCain and the same GOP were bangin on the war drums when we invaded Iraq. Not the Iraq war but the shock and awe when they blindsided a poor country that wasnt even hiding Bin Laden....US citizens, military and economy are still suffering from that go round.
John McCain still has to give a speech in which he doesn't call on the US to bomb another country. He's a geriatric fool who brought Sarah Palin in the race and shot himself in the foot. I really dont care what he has to say. As for the rest of God's Own Party: What is Obama supposed to do? The Crimea is Russian, always has been. it was handed to Ukraine around 1960 to govern but it's a vital interest to Russia. We have no leverage there. Obama is just ridiculing the US like with Syria. As a kid I already learned that unless you're willing to back up your words with fists, you shut up so you dont make a fool out of yourself.
Obama: "Putin, you go to the corner and sit in time out!"
Then why doesn't the GOP controlled House get back to work and pass a resolution or the Right to Wage War against Russia???? No they will just heckle and do nothing as is their moto! Where is the GOP Leadership?????????? Nowhere, where is the Right Wing Hawks willing to shed American Blood. Oh, they cut the Defense budget and stripped the Military of Manpower because we can't pay for it.....Wow! The GOP are making fools of themselves Daily, this is no different! Even if President Obama wanted to commit to Military Force the GOP would then say NO!
The right is already pounding the war drums, calling Obama weak, and demanding we launch the nukes yesterday. Please Mr. President, do not allow the "Chicken Hawks" on the right talk us into a war that will destroy everyone.
No action short of NATO initiating military action will dissuade Putin from this. Revoking visas and recalling ambassadors? Please. What would you have Obama do, start World War III?
The first thing we should do is stop the billion dollar order of helicopters we were going to buy for the Afghanistan Military Why should we have given Russia this work in the first place when we could have put our own people to work at Sikorsky aircraft in the US. So we need to stop this at once.
The same GOP politicians who tried to destroy our country & President now want him to support thier call for action? The same GOP who cut military retirement pay and classified military retirees as "takers," part of the "47%," because they don't want the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes? Now they want to send the troops to war again? How useless can you get!