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July 22, 2014

Even Democrats Baffled by Obama’s Foreign Policy

In the aftermath of MH17, the question is this: How will the West respond to Putin?

The facts continue to unfold about Thursday’s brutal attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which killed 298 people, and the evidence still points to Russian separatists operating in the Ukraine. The two questions on everyone’s minds now are: Just how complicit is Moscow in the attack, and what does the West, particularly Barack Obama, plan to do about it?

Secretary of State John Kerry made the round of Sunday talk shows to share what officials know so far. U.S. intelligence detected the launch of a surface-to-air missile in the region where the plane crashed at the time it was shot down. It has also been determined that the weapon used was an SA-11 antiaircraft missile, a very sophisticated piece of military hardware Kerry maintains could only be obtained and used with Russian help.

Russia at first denied any missile launch from the ground, claiming a Ukrainian military plane may have been responsible. This claim does not hold up, however, since Ukraine has no reason to be concerned with any airborne threats from the separatists in the east since they do not have an air force. Furthermore, intercepted radio traffic from the pro-Russian separatists indicate that moments after the crash they were discussing successfully shooting down what they believed to be a Ukrainian military transport plane. The Ukrainian and U.S. governments vouch for the authenticity of the transmissions.

The separatists, who originally kept a tight lock on the crash site, began allowing international investigators into the area over the weekend. They collected as many bodies as they could, and a train carrying the remains arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday. The separatists also turned over the flight data recorders.

The separatists’ change of heart to cooperate with the investigation, albeit in minor ways, comes as international pressure mounts to respond to this heinous attack and sympathy for the separatist movement in Ukraine erodes. They may also be getting orders from Moscow to cool off and cooperate until this whole thing blows over.

Vladimir Putin may be hedging his bets that Western governments will go back to business as usual after a few days of grandstanding. He’s done a fine job these past few years of keeping Europe and a weak American president at bay while he rebuilds the Russian Empire. He’s weathered criticism before, but there is hope this time that the anger stirred by this event will bring about a more muscular response. The threat of shoving Russia into an economic box and keeping her there might throw Putin off balance. He can quash open dissent at home, but he needs the support of the Russian business community to keep his strategy moving forward. If the money starts disappearing, then his supporters will start drifting away.

British, Canadian and EU leaders are calling for stronger, broader and far-reaching economic sanctions and a full withdrawal of Russian military personnel from the area. And Obama?

“Now is the time for Russia and Putin to pivot away from the strategy he has been taking,” Obama said in the White House Rose Garden. “If Russia continues to back these separatists … then Russia will only further isolate itself with the international community.” Not exactly a speech likely to strike fear in the heart of a former KGB agent like Putin.

Even John Kerry has sounded more direct and unequivocal in his public statements about the attack, and his name is practically synonymous with waffle. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went so far as to call on Germany to take the lead in crafting a response to Russia. Is it because she knows Obama won’t? She said on MSNBC Monday, “This is a very hard time,” citing Syria, ISIL in Iraq, the conflict in Gaza, and the war in Ukraine. “I’m not going to tell the president what to do, but I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter, and I think there ought to be increased attention.”

There you have it. Even the president’s own political allies here at home are calling on him to lay off the fundraisers and golf games and start doing some real presidential-type stuff.

The problem is that after six years of dreadful foreign policy decisions based on a clear disdain for American power in the world, if Obama were to come around now, would anyone even care?

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