There is “no question” Russian President Vladimir Putin views the Obama administration as weak, former Vice President Dick Cheney said during an interview on Sunday.
“We have created an image around the world, not just to the Russians, of weakness,” Cheney said on CBS News’s Face the Nation. Obama “hasn’t got any credibility with our allies,” Cheney added, after the president backed away from a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who crossed Obama’s designated “red line” when he allegedly launched a chemical attack in August that killed more than 1,400 of his own people.
Republicans continue to say President Obama has acted passively in his response to the crisis in Ukraine, a country currently lurching toward the brink of war. The Russian government has threatened to suspend international inspections of nuclear weapons and recently moved more troops into Crimea, the contested peninsula in southeastern Ukraine.
Cheney criticized that approach on Sunday, suggesting Obama instead explore military options that don’t place troops on the ground, such as offering the Ukrainians equipment and training, or reinstating the ballistic missile defense program.
In a telephone call on Saturday with leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Italy, President Obama welcomed the unified stance the United States and European Union had taken against Russia’s military intervention. He led a similar conversation with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They all agreed on the need for Russia to recall its military forces to its bases and for the restoration of sovereignty and territorial integrity in Ukraine.
The Obama administration’s policies cause allies to believe Americans don’t follow through with their promises, Cheney said. The United States must “take steps that will guarantee and convey the notion – especially to our friends in Europe – that we keep our commitments,” he added. “So far that’s a doubt.”
Cheney is one of several Republicans who have publicly stated that Putin is taking advantage of Obama’s flaws. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin criticized Obama during a speech at CPAC on Saturday for his passive threats against the Russian leader. Additionally, she basked in a “told-ya-so” moment for predicting six years ago the current situation in Ukraine would occur under Obama’s leadership.
Several Republicans have blamed the crisis on the failure of the Obama administration to avenge the 2012 attack on Benghazi that killed four Americans. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Obama’s shortcomings have been recurring problems during the past five years of his presidency.
“Putin fears no retribution,” Cruz said on ABC News’ This Week. “Their policy has been to alienate and abandon our friends, and to coddle and appease our enemies.”
“Putin is a KGB thug,” he added. “When the protests began in Ukraine, the president should have stood unapologetically, empathetically for freedom. When the United States doesn’t speak for freedom, tyrants notice.”
Several GOP legislators, including Palin, made similar calls for tougher action in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia – another former Soviet republic. Putin, who was prime minister at the time, ignored accusations from the West and continued to move forward.
“Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Sunday. “I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.”
Gates denied criticism of the president that he “emboldened” Putin.
“In the middle of a major international crisis some of the domestic criticism of the president ought to be toned down while he’s trying to handle this crisis,” Gates, who served under both Obama and former President George W. Bush, said on Fox News Sunday.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the United States needs to have a respectful relationship with Russia, a notion that counters the beliefs of his Republican counterparts.
Obama and European leaders have made clear that Russia has a choice going forward, either to continue on the current path or take the opportunity to address the crisis diplomatically, Tony Blinken, deputy national security adviser, said Sunday on NBC News’ Meet the Press.
“But this is really a choice for the Russians to make,” Blinken said. “They have to decide whether they want to resolve this diplomatically or whether they want to face growing isolation, growing economic costs.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will visit Washington on Wednesday for meetings about the crisis.