Republicans call on Obama to act on Ukraine
March 1st, 2014
04:40 PM ET
8 years 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.

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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.

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

    rs, it's not the job of the Senators and Congressmen to give the President policy, or dictate to him what sort of actions to take, or sanctions against Russia to enforce.

    Had you actually READ the article, you might have seen this paragraph (3rd one in the story):
    "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."

    There's nothing that McCain said, that isn't absolutely true. If Russia (or, more specifically, Putin) don't ever get told what sort of punishment they might face, they have no reason to back down. You're right, in that the President needs to be calling on NATO and the UN to face down Russia, but all he seems willing to do is convey empty threats.

    March 1, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  2. steven

    I guess those old farts in the GOP want another war.

    March 1, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  3. STR009

    Obama's critics are not wrong when they say Obama better have a solid plan to extract "costs" before threatening them. Don't promise what you can't deliver. The GOP has no decent ideas, and they'll say Obama was wrong no matter what happens or why, but Obama is responsible for his own threats.

    March 1, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  4. bill

    "Gov. Romney, I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida. You said Russia ... the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years," Obama said.

    March 1, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. FishFan

    "Ukraine has a right to determine its own destiny."

    Then maybe the CIA should not have agitated for change and fomented violence during this and the Orange Revolution; The hipocricy of the USA and other western governments is disgusting.

    March 1, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  6. stuffthis

    Maybe he was on the phone w/ Putin. The GOP needs to shut the f up. Russia is not Iran, Iraq or any of the other small time terrorist supporting countries we have bullied lately. A unified response from the international community is what is needed. Not some cavalier cowboy response.

    March 1, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  7. As if

    Maybe we should ask Sarah Palin about this issue. She, in 2008, called this scenario exactly, to the very detail, and asked what the inexperienced community organizer would do. Her question was lambasted by the media, even foreign policy magazines as "strange".

    Maybe the leftist elitist media should have done more of a thorough job vetting a charlatan than skewering a female state Gov who dealt with countries (Russia, Canada) on a near daily basis.

    Where is your cruel, disrespectful parody now Tina Fey?

    March 1, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  8. Jeetu

    You can't send American troops at every international situation. That is what the republicans want the President of US to do. And at this time, I don't think it is possible or will reflect the US public sentiment.

    March 1, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  9. davelafreniere

    way to go republicans...start another war we don't belong in with no benefit or exit strategy

    March 1, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  10. McCainOwesUsOneFighterPlane

    As usual McCain offers no recommendations on what SHOULD be done. Like all GOP leaders he offers no solution but rather sees this as yet another opportunity to yell out "Hey, the President isn't acting tough and doing SOMETHING about this here situation."

    McCain, you still owe us one fighter plane that you lost in Vietnam. Wonder what would have happened if you actually fought another country with an air force.

    March 1, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  11. OnlyInMurica

    I agree, Obama needs to send the sons and daughters of Republicans off to die in another war. This time in Ukraine and Russia. Hurry up Obama, the Republicans want to fight.

    March 1, 2014 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. Bossman

    As usual the right has only criticism never any answers or solutions.

    March 1, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  13. Michael

    Once again, the right criticizes Pres. Obama without offering a scintilla of suggestion as to what action they would take were the GOP in the Oval Office. McCain is a world class hypocrite. Perhaps he consulted with Sara Palin, his would be VP, on a Russia strategy. At the end of the day Crimea wants no part of being part of Ukraine, It may be that other cities in the east and southeast of Ukraine will opt out of being governed by Kiev. If Russia were threatening to overtake Poland, that would be one issue and meriting a military response. To take oblasts that want to be Russian? That's not worth war, at any cost. McCain, go back to blustering and posturing, and let us know when you have any real ideas.

    March 1, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  14. Jim Statesville NC

    What would the Mighty Right have President Obama do? Send the US 6th Fleet into the Black Sea? Fly bomber sorties over the Crimea and Ukraine? Hey, I know let's reignite the Cold War and warm things up a bit. Just like the US, the Russians have a right to secure their borders and make sure they are safe. What if, let's say that Nicaragua sought to put down an armed rebellion in Costa Rica that threatened their borders? What if they invaded Costa Rica. Wouldn't that be a threat to the Panama Canal? What would the US do? Think about it. How would that be any difference from what Russia is doing today?

    March 1, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  15. sandmike

    Putin is obviously still upset about the disallowed goal.

    March 1, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  16. ZoZo

    much less why we should care about the Ukraine at all.

    Because Crimea and Ukraine at all is only interim goal for Putin-
    peculiar modern Sudetenland. And if the world community doesn't stop Russia today, than US will see Russian navy near Florida much more soon than expected.

    March 1, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  17. Mbane

    Let's invade Norway!

    March 1, 2014 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  18. Alexander G

    It has been 100 years since the 1st world war. World war III is on the horizon!

    March 1, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  19. Andrew Vrba

    Dear GOP,

    March 1, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  20. damonmosier

    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"

    Try reading the article:

    "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."

    March 1, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  21. Adam Smith

    Obama should indeed act – give GOPTP their precious guns and ship them and their families en mass to fight for 'freedom' in Ukraine – teach these dirty politicians to walk their talk.

    March 1, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  22. chill

    All these Senators are running their mouths, but what do they expect the US to do, send troops? Honestly, do they really think that the US withdrawing their ambassador or any of those other slaps on the wrist suggested will have any impact on Putin?

    March 1, 2014 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  23. emil

    I'm, not a fan of Obama at all but I think he is doing the right thing by waiting a bit before jumping into this and either saying or doing anything. Credit where its due

    March 1, 2014 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |

    Right rs and no doubt if he did anything it would be "why did he do that?!!!" Smoke and mirror is all they are and Stuffitu... right laziest.... so a "war monger" would be considered not lazy in your book? Ya lets get involved in something we have no business (again) in getting involved in! Not! Do you know how many similar conflicts are going on in the world – S. Sudan, Sudan, CAR, Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, The Congo to name a few...what do you say – should we do something about ALL of those? You're such a foreign policy expert and all knowing abt what the president is/isn't doing perhaps you should elect yourself to the position and try just one minute in office.... Zzzzzzzzzzz

    March 1, 2014 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  25. Niles

    As always, if Obama takes action, GOP complains. If Obama does not take action, GOP complains. The party of complaints and inaction needs to either completely reinvent itself or disappear. It needs to start with some of these low IQ dimwits like McCain who know just to run their clueless mouth.

    March 1, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
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