Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent phone call to the White House was supposed to help find a diplomatic resolution to unrest in the Ukraine, but instead, it has the Democratic foreign policy establishment more worried than before. One prominent member to voice concerns is Leslie Gelb, who served as an Assistant Secretary of State during the Carter administration, and is the President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Gelb points out that Obama’s inclination towards diplomatic negotiation without the threat of military follow-through could encourage potential aggressors to act without fear of retribution. Writing for The Daily Beast, Gelb explains:
It’s bad enough that Obama thinks of the U.S. response to Russia in Ukraine almost exclusively in terms of diplomatic isolation of the bad guy, plus economic sanctions such as they are or might be, and a touch of military aid. But the real worry is that this has become his pattern worldwide. If potential aggressors come to think that their power grabs will be met solely by diplomatic harassment and some economic squeezing, they will be tempted increasingly to snatch whatever they want first and worry later. Greedy lawbreakers have been emboldened by Obama’s unenforced “red lines” in Syria. Same goes for North Korean rockets landing on South Korean lands without serious penalty. And the same holds for China’s new pattern of muscle flexing to establish its interests in the East and South China Seas. Ukraine only reinforces the pattern.
It’s clear that the Democratic establishment is increasingly worried. Their fear is not only that poor foreign policy choices will create crises for this President, but also that decades of building democratic credibility on foreign policy will have been lost unless the White House changes direction.