When Obama Undermined His Putin Pitch

by Elliott Abrams

There are some good lines in Mr. Obama’s speech in Brussels, and perhaps the best was this: “What we will do always is uphold our solemn obligation, our Article 5 duty, to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our allies. And in that promise we will never waver. NATO nations never stand alone.”

Alas, he did not think that was enough. So he added this: “Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force. . . . Now is not the time for bluster. The situation in Ukraine, like crises in many parts of the world, does not have easy answers nor a military solution.”

Why would Russia not be deterred from further escalation by military force? Logically, the measures NATO is taking, with Obama’s support, to reinforce Poland and the Baltic nations are precisely that: military force (however slight) is being used to deter further Russian aggression. If Russia invades eastern Ukraine, what are we left with but a military solution: the Ukrainians will fight, and we should supply them.

Mr. Obama’s stretch to reassure Putin that we have no military steps in mind undermines his whole pitch. It was superfluous and damaging.

But speaking of superfluous, what was this line doing in a speech about Russia, aggression, NATO, and Western solidarity: “Instead of targeting our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we can use our laws to protect their rights.” The West Europeans actually need no such advice. If Mr. Obama thinks this needs to be said, he ought to have delivered this pitch on his next stop — in Saudi Arabia. There, at least, it would have been a courageous thing to say, as it would be to call for a simple thing like religious freedom.