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.
I don't think Putin plans an all-out attack on the entire Ukraine. Putin is merely securing his military base in Sebastopol. By taking over the Crimea peninsula he prevents it from falling into the hands of Brussels and NATO if the Ukraine joins the EU. He had felt safe so long as the Ukraine was still ruled by his toady Yanukovich but now he feels he must act.
Good grief, if McCain had won the election we'd be at war with half the planet by now.
If Republicans think that revoking visas and recalling ambassadors would stop Putin from any of his goals, they are more naive than they claim the President to be.
I know exactly what Obama should tell Putin. Tell him that if he does anything to Ukraine that we will no longer accept his position when it comes to Syria and will be immediately making plans to remove Assad from power. And do not let Putin call the bluff.
Repubs just can't be happy unless the US is at war.
John McCain, the war hog, is right about one thing. Putin still has hopes to create a new version of the Soviet Union and wants the countries around Russia to be his puppets... Regarding Ukraine, he is more interested in protecting the Russian navel bases in Crimea and that's why the troops are there... He is not going anywhere else in Ukraine and he is sending a message that he is not moving the bases.. Want to go to war over Crimea everyone???
Not a single Democratic legislator was quoted in this article. The last time I checked, Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Don't we get to hear what they have to say?
We haven't even ended our last war. I don't think we can afford another one unless it's to preserve the physical territory of the United States.
bcrunner, you took the words right out of my mouth. McCain and the rest of the republicans are war mongrels. Never happy until we are in the midst of another war. Stay out of it. McCain and the rest of the republicans what have you done to help our Country??????????
Nuclear War. Have no doubt, that is what the messianic Christian Repbulicans are pushing for as they think Jesus will return to save us all. How much faith do you have in that happening? I like facts, and the facts say that a Nuclear War will kill all life on the planet short of insects. Don't believe me? Look up "nuclear fallout", specifically Strontium-90. It's a beta-emitting isotope with nearly the same chemistry as Calcium, it is readily absorbed into the body and replaces the Calcium in your bones and teeth irradiating you for decades(you won't live that long though). Strontium-90 is the nuclear boogeyman the press refuses to talk about concerning the Fukushima disaster because it would negatively impact the public's view on nuclear power plants.
Ignore the GOP hawks or the planet dies.
I am extremely concerned over Russia's actions in Ukraine not just because of the Russian's raising flags over there and sending massive troops over there but because of what Russia is doing as well with sending warships to Cuba. Those actions alone should send a big red flag to the white house that we the United States of America the world's super power whether we like it or not have to be the world's police whether we like it or not. If we step down in power our enemies will take advantage and destroy everything we worked hard to defend in this world as we have been world champions of freedom and democracy. It is time for Barack Obama to man up and show that he is our commander in chief and take actions to punish Putin for provocative military action. The president of the United States of America cannot afford to play out weak leadership and do nothing with a no policy diplomatic solution now. The United States of America has a obligation to defend our citizens at all costs and that would mean to remove the Russian warship in Cuba. Any of our enemies who interfere may it be Iran, North Korea, Venezuela with Maduro in charge and any other countries which support oppressive tyrant regimes have to be severely punished. It is a very serious and dangerous situation which would lead to World War 3. Putin is making a huge mistake by sending warships to Cuba as that is seem as inflammatory acts of aggression. I had no problem with the United States of America staying out of Syria and the affairs Russia had with its neighbors but when Russia send that warship to Cuba that changed my mind. If we are not careful Iran's warships and North Korea could come next if we don't do something about it now. We need the support of all our allies to fix everything that is wrong in the world today and support freedom and democracy for all countries around the world.
Republicans would have us go to war with Russia over the Ukraine. Well Ukrainians brought this upon themselves by overthrowing their government.
I am extremely concerned over Russia's actions in Ukraine not just because of the Russian's raising flags over there and sending massive troops over there but because of what Russia is doing as well with sending warships to Cuba. Those actions alone should send a big red flag to the white house that we the United States of America the world's super power whether we like it or not have to be the world's police whether we like it or not. If we step down in power our enemies will take advantage and destroy everything we worked hard to defend in this world as we have been world champions of freedom and democracy. It is time for Barack Obama to man up and show that he is our commander in chief and take actions to punish Putin for provocative military action. The president of the United States of America cannot afford to play out weak leadership and do nothing with a no policy diplomatic solution now. The United States of America has a obligation to defend our citizens at all costs and that would mean to remove the Russian warship in Cuba. Any of our enemies who interfere may it be Iran, North Korea, Venezuela with Maduro in charge and any other countries which support oppressive tyrant regimes have to be severely punished. It is a very serious and dangerous situation which would lead to World War 3. Putin is making a huge mistake by sending warships to Cuba as that is seem as inflammatory acts of aggression. I had no problem with the United States of America staying out of Syria and the affairs Russia had with its neighbors but when Russia send that warship to Cuba that changed my mind. If we are not careful Iran's warships and North Korea could come next if we don't do something about it now. We need the support of all our allies to fix everything that is wrong in the world today and support freedom and democracy for all countries around the world. I hope that we all act together and do what is necessary to insure that there are no further problems in the future.
The repubs surely have hit on the total solution: Revoke visas, recall ambassadors, move the G-8. Putin will wither under such hard-hitting measures. (That's sarcasm, in case you didn't get it, McCain.) And to think McCain almost was president and that Rubio, Corker and the likes could be one day.... Remember the resounding success of Bush and his neocons? The world isn't black and white like the repubs would like it to be.
Blast Iran and Syria.
Thank God McCain did not become president, else we'd be on the brink of war with Russia. And I'm not sure we'd be in any better shape with Hillary at the helm.
It can all end in the span of an afternoon, perhaps this afternoon. In less than an hour we can blast the world to nuclear ashes, and the lucky ones will be those vaporized by the initial thermonuclear blasts. No one talks about nuclear war anymore, but that does not mean it won't happen. We still have enough missiles pointed at each other to destroy the world several times over and no one will survive, not the survivalists in Montana, not the tourists in Tasmania, nor the tribesman in the jungles of Borneo. Everyone dies if we go to war with Russia. Everyone.
McCain never saw a war he wouldn't jump into if he could. Will do the same think we did when Russia invaded Georgia, sanctions. Not worth a fight, it is their backyard.
Why the heck is this our business and why do people think we are the world police? And why are republicans so determined to send our troops into international conflict that has nothing to do with us? We hear so much about controlling spending, we'll I am pretty sure sending Americans to the Ukraine would cost big money and result in dead soldiers. That's not ok in my book.
Ready, fire, aim. John mcCain won't be happy untill the whole world is at war. This guy is nuts or he is bought off by the industrial war machine. Come to think of it all our brave leaders are bought off by them. Our young men get killed, the arms manufacturers get fat and the politicians get their contributions.. Organized corruption all in the illusion of freedom, democracy and peace. Viet Nam Era Vet
Typical McCain/republican war mongers. I am grateful we have a President that does everything possible to not get into another war.
It is easy for the GOP, as usual to make make hasty recommendations without deep consideration for the situation. Another Iraq?
Viktor Yanukovych is our leader, duly elected. If western Ukraine wants to split off, fine. but don't make the rest of us suffer with the EU financial troubles. Eastern Ukranians want to be with Russia.
We do not recognize the coup! Have another general election! Mind your own business USA, unless Turchynov starts killing people. Split the country along the DNIEPER!
"We are all be repubs one day soon. you just dont kn0w it yet "
Well-stated, complete with grammatical errors (I hope that was the intention?).
Republicans never saw a war they didn't like.As long as it's someone elses kid getting blown away doing it.
Hey Mr. President, you gotta do something! What I have no freaking idea but come on just do something and once you do it I will then stab you in the back and say "Why did you do that?"
– Parachute McCain