Opinion: Obama’s stunning blind spot on Russia

That was former President Barack Obama in 2012, when he called out Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a debate for saying that Russia was “without a doubt, our number one geopolitical enemy.”

“Because the Cold War ended 20 years ago,” Obama continued. “But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, as well as the social policy of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

The line killed, of course. But boy, does he hit differently now?

With Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the destruction of countless villages there which as of April 2 has killed more than 1,400 civilians, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and pushed millions of refugees to cross international borders or crowd trains. stations hoping to survive the next bombing, Obama’s joke feels more like a punch in the gut.

One would think that his smugness for Russia back then, and subsequent events that proved him dead wrong, would have humiliated the former president.

But if he feels any regret, he doesn’t show it.

At a conference titled “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy,” hosted by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and The Atlantic this week, Obama was asked bluntly if he wishes he had been tougher on Putin knowing what we do now.

Visibly upset, he replied, “Not really, because the circumstances were different.”

He explained that Crimea’s “attitudes towards Russia” in 2014 were different. He described a “very strong response” from his administration, amounting to only limited sanctions.

And he defended not arming the Ukrainians because “we were worried about making sure we didn’t give [Russia] an excuse for another raid”, and “you had training problems”.

He congratulated Europe for reaching today where he wanted it back then.

“I will tell that as someone who dealt with the incursion into Crimea and the eastern parts of Ukraine, I have been encouraged by the European reaction, because in 2014, I often had to drag them around kicking and screaming to respond the way we would have wanted.

And he amazingly explained how we got to a place where Russia believed it could invade a sovereign nation. He said Western democracies “have become complacent.” Apparently the kind of warning Romney was flagging back in 2012.

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It’s hard to imagine anyone being less self-reflective and more immersed in an obvious foreign policy mistake, and one they could easily argue helped pave the way for this current invasion.

But when you remember how awful Putin turned out to be in the years after the Obama debate ended, it’s actually much worse.

Less than two years after Obama essentially called Russia a JV team, Putin marched on Crimea, annexing Ukraine’s southern peninsula.
Around the same time, he joined forces with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to help him slaughter hundreds of thousands of Syrians, just as he had in Chechnya years before.
Putin always denies accusations that he murders or “disappears” his critics, but several were assassinated during the years of his presidency, including in 2013 and 2015.
It is well known that Alexey Navalny, an outspoken critic of Putin, was charged with false crimes for political reasons, jailed and poisoned. The Kremlin denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning.

Obama is no doubt aware of all this, but he said this week: “I don’t know if the person I met is now the same person who leads this office.” [against Ukraine].”

This is just weird. Revisionist. Amnesic.

And frankly, amazing. To his credit, Obama has been outspoken about his regret over the Syrian genocide and the mistakes his administration made. He has said that the war still “haunts” him.

But in Ukraine, would nothing have changed? This defies logic.

Romney was not prophetic in 2012, he was simply aware, he saw Putin for what he clearly was and understood the threats. You can forgive the misreading of Obama, but all this time later, with everything we now know, it’s very hard to understand his stubbornness.

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