Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
6 months ago

Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine

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.


"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.


Filed under: Bob Corker • Buck Mckeon • House Republicans • John McCain • Tom Cotton • Ukraine
soundoff (642 Responses)
  1. emmettmoore

    Fox News is demanding we launch the nukes.

    March 1, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  2. mikew03

    No action short of NATO military intervention will dissuade Putin. Revoking visas and recalling ambassadors? Please. What would you have Obama do? Start World War III?

    March 1, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  3. RamboJohnJ

    We seriously need to send as many US soldiers over there to die immediately... Who cares? We have plenty of them available and we can't be cutting that military budget now!! Cut some school kids programs if we have to because we need that 130 billion dollar fighter jet to fight these Commies! and...well you know that's where the appropriations lie for most politicians...

    And you know.. so the GOP and patriots like Ted Nugent can thump their chests and chant USA! USA! USA!

    March 1, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  4. Jl Taylor

    The decision by Russian government to send additional troops to the Ukraine was made based on what think is in their best interest. We must now with cool heads decide what it means to our country. The Chicken Hawks of the Republican
    party only see this as another chance to show much they hate President Obama. I truly believe that a country of 45 million people should be able to put up a real fight if they are willing and turn this into a nightmare for Putin.
    Remember Afghanstian.

    March 1, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  5. Tommy Rot

    McCain and the other Republican Chicken Hawks want us to start a shooting war with Russia. Well, they had better get ready for about 50 to 100 million casualties and a country no longer viable or fit to live in because that is what will happen if we force Russia into a war. There is going to be nations invading other nations as long as there are nations, but the United States does not have to be the Lone Ranger and ride in to rescue the vanquished every time. We have tried that too may times already in the last eighty + years.

    March 1, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Time for the Germans, Poles and Baltic Peoples to all go and grab the Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad piece of Russian territory.

    March 1, 2014 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  7. Bryan

    When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, Bush didn't do anything. I don't expect Obama to do anything. What can he do? Carter didn't do anything when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan neither did Eisenhower when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956. They've got nukes. The only possible thing is sanctions and not letting Russia into the WTO, not to mention figuring out how to help Ukraine fund their government and get gas without having to rely on Gazprom, which is pretty much Putin's gas company.

    March 1, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  8. Chris-E...al

    0bama really ?He cant keep the cobb webs knockd off at home ! Much less abroad ! uummm

    March 1, 2014 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  9. Tommy Rot

    Quick draw McGraw, [Mccain] is loose again and on his high horse. It is time to head for the hills.

    March 1, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  10. JMT

    What would the GOP have us do? Start a war? The war to end all wars? It seems that the borders of Ukraine are fluid at best with mostly Russians living in the East and the South. Maybe we should stay out of the business of starting or ending wars. We always pay too big of a price for all of them.

    March 1, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  11. Hiram3

    The Ukrainian situation is being aggravated by the most incompetent President in this nation's history (except fro Carter). Obama has a record of ultimatums not back up by action ! The only thing Putin, the Russian thug, understands is force – anything less will be laughed off. My God, how the American people now miss President Reagan !!

    March 1, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  12. J. Gordon

    Obama has brought this upon himself with his threats of serious consequences to Russia. Such threats provide and especially humiliating backdrop for Putin's military moves that the US is pretty much powerless over, at least in the short term.
    What ever happened to "Walk softly, and carry a big stick" diplomacy. Now, it's "I'll huff and I'll puff, and by the way has anyone seen my stick".

    March 1, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  13. Guest

    Action does not necessarily have to be military in nature.. The UN is going to be neutered (as usual) but the US could move to impose sanctions, push to return to the G-7, and lots of other foreign policy tools. Putin has clearly calculated that no matter what he does, we will not take any action. He will grow bolder over time. First Georgia, now Ukraine. A pattern is definitely emerging and inaction only encourages it.

    The last time anything like this happened, Europe was turning German-speaking areas over to Hitler. It's called "Appeasement" and it's been proven to be a disastrous strategy. Just ask Chamberlain.

    March 1, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  14. Whazat

    The hawkish right would have us do exactly what? Nuke Russia? Put our Atlantic Fleet in the Black Sea? Send in the Marines? Refuse to attend the Winter Olympics–oops, too late for that.

    As noted in another post herein, this is not a US problem, it is a European and/or UN problem and the solution, if any, must begin there. If all the European NATO members decide to act militarily then yes, we must honor our commitments in that regard. We cannot afford another unilateral embroilment in the affairs of other sovereign nations.

    March 1, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  15. JW

    Let's just... try every peaceful resource we can before nukes start flying, ok, GOP war mongers? You may believe that nukes flying will bring about the second coming of Christ and all of you go to heaven so you have nothing to live for, but us rational thinkers would like to try something peaceful first before two countries with the ability to blow up the world start locking horns. We know you never met a war you didn't like, but since you're not in power right now, just sit back and let grown ups talk for a bit. You can't trust the free world and the billions of lives on the planet to people who think hurrying up the apocalypse so that you can meet Christ is a good thing.

    March 1, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  16. timothy heck

    we need to fly seals to the capital of Ukraine and tell Putin 100,000 more will arrive if he does not withdraw in one weeks time.

    March 1, 2014 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  17. TheMovieFan

    Republicans should shut their holes and support their president.

    March 1, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  18. Maria

    What do the GOP what for god sake, go to war?

    March 1, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  19. Nada

    Neocon McCain does not represent the whole GOP. The are not all war mongers.

    March 1, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  20. Greenspam

    Republicans want Obama to get into a quagmire and then they can blame Dems for the 2014 election. Simple.

    March 1, 2014 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  21. LouAlexander

    It is easy to stand on the sidelines and throw stones. Making tough decisions that can change the lives of millions is not so easy.

    March 1, 2014 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  22. cnickthomas

    What would these Republican's have the US do? Start a war with Russia? I know their the war party and have never met a war they did not like, but enough is enough. Tired of my tax dollars going to fight endless wars. We need to fight poverty and the loss of jobs here in the US., not wars overseas that get us nowhere. Look at the trillion dollar war in Iraq. Look what a mess we made over there. Blew it up and built it back only to loose it to the radicals and destabilize the region. Time to stop being the policeman of the world and concern ourselves with the problems we have over here. What say you?

    March 1, 2014 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  23. SeattleReign

    Oh, you mean if he chooses an action on the Ukraine, they would support it? LOLOL. That's rich. No matter what he does, it will not meet with their pea brained approval. We need to stay the hell out of other people's civil wars. And Putin is acting true to form. He wants to return to the "glory" days of the U.S.S.R.

    March 1, 2014 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  24. shannonminn

    I am always amazed that somebody like McCain is so eager to push us toward confrontation or get us involved in somebody elses war. You would think somebody like him would be antiwar. Other than diplomacy, we should have no other role in this. Our soldiers have fought enough wars in the last 20 years.

    March 1, 2014 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  25. Mark P

    Maybe McCain can fly the first US jet over Crimea, so he can get shot down there, too.

    March 1, 2014 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
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