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.
We went into Iraq and Afghanistan. We send drones over Pakistan and we shoot a targets killing Taliban and innocent people as well. I look at the pictures and the people around the Russian troops seem to be relaxed and going about their business. It almost seems Russia is putting a lid on the fighting and riots that have been taken place there so is it really a bad thing that they are there? I love the US, but we can't be telling another super power they can not do something that we do all the time.
All those in favor of a nuclear war over Ukraine say "I", all those who oppose need to tell McCain to shut the ____ up.....meanwhile China sits back with a big bag of popcorn grinning from ear to ear. Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan is not a U.S. problem. I don't know how many Russians live in Ukraine, but if a similar incident happened where thousands of U.S. live were in danger due to an uprising, I'm quite sure we would send in military support/intervention just like Russia is doing.
The President should dispatch two aircraft carriers to the Black Sea. He should indicate that America stands with the Ukraine people and a duly elected Democratic government. We will provide assistance to protect the lives of Russian nationals, which number in the millions, but we will not stand by and let Russia "re-Anex" Ukraine under the guise of protecting Russian speaking citizens...that simply isn't going to be allowed to happen. Let's start with that.
All you hear is WAR from the right! Sick! I guess peace is never the option! Regardless of what we know so far, the only approach to sudden invasion, is slowly making the right decision. What do these morons on the right propose is the best solution? WAR! The only thing a Conservative is good at... Calling a WAR!
Stop trying to police the world. If there is not a direct threat to the US, stay out of it.
Have to agree with the Democrats and BHO on this one. Russia is right next door and has a distinct national interest in keeping Nato away from it's borders. America's history of pre-emptive war and Russia's experience with German invasion is as fresh in their minds as the holocaust is in the collective consciousness of Israel and her supporters.
Our military has been bloodied by two wars and needs to be rebuilt. If we were to get back into the business of fighting big land wars, much reconfiguring would be needed before we were ready to fight a modern well equipped army. Even worse China, India and Russia could easily integrate their forces and we would be in an absolute nightmare.
There is much we can do in terms on non-military alliance with western Ukraine but impotent saber rattling would be very unhelpful.
To the gum flapping, 44 inch waistline political opportunists who are clamoring for military action against Russia enlist, sign up your own sons and daughters as well before run your mouths about confronting Russia militarily on their own border.
we don't need to get involved with Russia's affairs. as for the " most corrupt, incompetent, inept president in history" you must mean Bush or Reagan
Hey Conservatives ...... What in the world does "only decisive action will stop Putin " ????
Just like with Obamacare , all you republicans are good for is making noise . What a party of Midgets you have turned into .
I know is not in your DNA Conservatives , but if you are going to oppose and criticize a policy or a program ..... GIVE AN ALTERNATIVE ...... Prove you can actually think for a change guys !!
With the war in Iraq winded down and were winding down Afghanistan, we cannot and should not go into Ukraine for any reason. Let the the proud European Union deal with it since its in their backyard. This another confirmation that the GOP is a bunch of incompetents.
Asked what the president should do, the GOP's answer was "something". Asked to define what something might be, the answer was "anything". Asked for specifics, they answered " we don't want to speculate as to what might be done or should be done, but we have ideas of what could be done". Asked to clarify, the answer was "something".
Perhaps our legislators should follow the Russian legislators lead and vote to allow military action in the Ukraine. But, I don't suppose they really want to go on the record for that. They rather just chirp "do something".
Last time a looked, Congress can declare war.
And just what would the mighty midgets of the Right want the President to do? "Do something" is hardly constructive and the bright readers will note the GOP provided no actual policy or action the President might entertain- much less why we should care about the Ukraine at all.
He is the commander in chief. He has a national security advisor, a defense secretary, US generals, and the US intelligence network at his disposal. We should care because we have a multi-lateral agreement with Russia that addresses Ukraine sovereignty and freedom from military incursions. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for Russia not utilizing military force inside its country. It was an agreement signed during the Clinton Administration.
There is really nothing the U.S. can do in Ukraine. First, the Ukrainians in the Crimea region which is predominantly Russians had asked for military assistance from Russia. This is after Ukrainian president who was so corrupt left office in a hurry.It sounds like the making of a revolution to me. Crimea would likely vote to join the Russian federation while the rest of Ukraine would remain a sovereign state.
Conservatives .... Grandstanding is not advice .
If you don't like the way Obama is handling Russia how about SPELLING CLEARLY what you would have him do ????
That would work also with an ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE .....
It would probe once and for all to the night time comedians that you Conservatives can actually do more than complain !!
What do they want? A war with Russia? Mushroom clouds across the world? It's amazing, this situation is way, way more dangerous than anything the US has faced since the days of the cold war, and the right is playing politics with it. Foolish post-cold war, unilateral American bullishness is not appropriate for this situation. It's one thing for the US to fly off the handle and invade countries like Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan (The US does not stand on the moral high ground in this situation because of the aforementioned by the way), but Russia is a different state. It's powerful and of course has atomics. This is not the time for sabre rattling. This is not 1936 and the Crimea is not the Sudetenland, and Putin is not Hitler. Fools will state that this is just another repeat of that, but the situation is different, and more importantly, the world is different. Cooler heads have to prevail.
The Neocons just can't wait to start another war that they don't want to pay for, kill maim our soldiers that they will not support. What a bunch of morons we have attempting to lead this country.
We have these idiot neocons that want to start a war that they don't want to pay for, soldiers that will be killed and maimed that they will not support. What a bunch of morons we have in the Republican Party.
There is nothing that the USA can do in the Ukraine short of nuclear war. Oh! I get it. McCaine and Rubio want nuclear war. Poke the Bear often and he will eventually devour you.
Who cares what the war monger John McCain thinks? Why is he even relevant at this point? The fact that you think he has any credibility is embarrassing.
N. Korea gets nukes and we do nothing... Iran gets nukes and we do nothing... China takes over new sea territory and we do nothing... Now Russia invades Ukraine and we do nothing. Makes me think we're the "land of the greed and the home of the scared-e-cats!" I know there's no oil in Ukraine but come on... this has got to be worse than Iraq. Or... we're just so big and bad when we push around a little country like Iraq but when an actual world power challenges us, we run and threaten revenge "costs" like a scared child?
Well let's see, the US invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Panama, Grenada, Dominican Republic and South Vietnam when we thought it was in our interest to do so. Where do we get off telling Russia what to do?
The GNOP never met a war it didn't like and obviously would like to start another!
The Republican strategy for the Ukraine: blah blah blah agressive! blah blah blah action! blah blah blah. Vote for us because we are agressive! blah blah. we are action ! Blah blah. We are anti-gay! Putin is anti-gay. blah blah blah.
A week ago, the GOP said for Obama not to get involved. They emboldened the Russians to make this move.
Obama and Kerry are committed isolationists who will do nothing. The nation's first black President will preside over the re-enslavement of a democratic nation of 46 million people. How ironic!