Even President Obama’s most aggressive critics aren’t calling for a military response to the crisis in Ukraine. Plenty of voices on the right are demanding the White House do “something” and act “tough,” but practically no one is calling for the administration to start moving U.S. troops into position for possible action.
So what do Obama’s critics want to see? The preferred prescription is usually far less specific, but it usually involves calling for some combination of visa restrictions and economic sanctions.
Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the president has been preparing, as the White House announced this morning.
The State Department will place visa restrictions on individuals “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”President Obama has also ordered financials sanctions to be set up against those “responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine,” following days of threats that the United States may use economic pressure to move Russia towards a diplomatic solution.There’s no list of targeted people or companies yet, but a senior administration official tells NBC that it puts them “on notice they could be targeted for sanctions.” As for visas, the administration has made it clear that both Russian and Ukrainian individuals will be affected by the move and see their visas revoked.
The policy will not require congressional action; Obama made the move by way of an executive order. Whether or not congressional Republicans will pretend to find this outrageous – they recently decided they’re against presidential executive orders, but only Obama’s orders and only when the GOP disapproves of the underlying issue – is unclear.
Regardless, the administration’s moves raise questions about the sincerity and coherence of conservative criticism. Many of the responses Republicans have demanded – financial support for Ukraine, G8 meeting boycott, sanctions, visa restrictions – are the same responses the Obama administration supports.
So what is the political argument about, exactly?
E.J. Dionne Jr. has a terrific column today about the knee-jerk Obama-bashing that’s been so common since the crisis in Ukraine began in earnest.
What’s strange about the response to Putin’s grab of Crimea is how eager Republicans are to blame Russian aggression on past Obama failures — even as Obama proposes to follow policies on Ukraine that they are themselves prescribing. To paraphrase the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, they blame Obama first. […]A remarkably broad cross-party consensus has quickly coalesced around two propositions: the first, that we will not commit U.S. military forces in this crisis, but secondly, we should use every realistic form of pressure at our disposal to contain and then reverse Putin’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Must we pretend to disagree even when we agree?
That need not be a rhetorical question.