There are no good options in Ukraine


First, a timeline:


US intelligence does not anticipate a Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Russian forces arrive “uncontested” in Crimea, barricading roads, commandeering the Sevastopol airport.

Obama warns of “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”.


Putin requests permission to deploy the Russian military to Ukraine.

Within an hour, the duma grants, and the full Russian invasion of Ukraine begins.

As we can see, Russia takes American threats very seriously. And why should they? President Obama’s planned strike on Syria was stopped in its tracks (fortunately) by behind-the-scenes dithering, overwhelming popular opposition, and congressional uncertainty. Putin knows America has no stomach for military intervention after almost thirteen years in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So that leaves diplomacy. And what grand international effort would we join in that regard? NATO? It might as well be PETA. The UN? Russia conveniently gets to veto anything the Security Council proposes. There are certainly steps that we could take to start rebuilding that kind of international cooperation behind Ukrainian independence, and Marco Rubio outlines them well here.

First, President Obama should speak unequivocally and call this what it is: a military invasion. …

Second, President Obama should dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Kiev to show U.S. support for Ukraine’s transitional government, and urge our allies in the European Union and NATO to send representatives there as well. …

Third, the United States should rally our allies to boycott this June’s G-8 summit in Sochi, Russia. …

Fourth, any and all discussions and negotiations with Moscow on any issue unrelated to this crisis, including trade and other matters, should be immediately suspended.

Fifth, the U.S. and our allies should put forward a condemnatory resolution in the United Nations Security Council. …

Sixth, we should renew a push for eventual membership in NATO by the Republic of Georgia…

Seventh, the Obama administration should immediately add more Russian officials to the Magnitsky list, which places travel bans and other sanctions on them…

Finally, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid should immediately halt his effort to force a Senate vote on Rose Gottemoeller next week to be under secretary of state for arms control and international security. …

It’s a good list, and a good start. But where does it end? Even if he pulls out of Ukraine, Putin is likely to redirect his attention to another former Soviet brick. He’s in this for the long haul, rebuilding the Soviet Union piece by piece. Ukraine is the biggest gap in that wall, and he’s moving decisively to jam it back into place. Is Putin really going to be stopped ultimately by anything short of World War III? Probably not.

Ironically, that leads to two options for Americans to consider: invervention, or isolation.

If we go in now to back up Ukraine, we get pulled directly into war with Russia. But they’re not alone. Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and probably China would defend them. World War III indeed. It’s unthinkable.

And what if we do nothing? We pull back, as we did from Syria, recognizing that it’s not our fight. That vacuum could further embolden Putin, of course. Ukraine’s rebellion gets crushed in its promising infancy, and Russia picks a new target. But should we care? Is Ukraine (and a few other Soviet satellites) worth World War III? Is freedom worth it, if its not our freedom? Our answer is becoming an increasingly clearer “No” lately, but would it be different for a putative European ally who we’re diplomatically obligated to defend? I doubt it.

Might we avoid World War III by learning the lesson of World War I, which is rapidly becoming known as the “biggest error in modern history”? Perhaps we should take heed of the eery fact that the Great War began exactly 100 years ago this summer. Let’s not start the centennial celebration off with a reenactment in Crimea.

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